The black smoke that had been billowing out for the duration of the journey was slowly turning into a faint fog. The interim between whistles grew shorter and shorter still, and the cooling breeze that had been rushing in through the small opening in the cracked window of the cabin was waning. Somepony was wandering the walkways outside the cabin, tapping on each door with a firm knock declaring “Next stop: Ponyville!”
Twilight Sparkle arose from the seat and dog-eared the page in the current text she was enthralled with; frustrated that she hadn’t finished it before her arrival. It couldn’t be helped though. She was too distracted by the task at hand, and for once, no amount of organization or planning was going to be enough for her to be ready for what was waiting for her.
The fog was becoming a mist. The whistle blasts grew longer and echoed through the passenger cars. The locomotive came to that inevitable screeching halt. No amount of eased braking could ever stop something so massive from jerking backwards upon stopping.
The jostling startled Twilight a bit, as the weight of her suitcase had shifted her center of gravity, and she stumbled horn over hooves into the door to her cabin. “That’s going to leave a mark,” she uttered to nopony in particular as she gently rubbed her horn. All these years and she still found herself speaking aloud as though Spike was at her side to giggle at her slight misfortunes and offer condolences.
In many ways, parting with Spike had been the hardest of all for Twilight. Her bond with each of the residents of Ponyville had grown strong over the years, but her and Spike had been together since his beginning. What they had was more of a companionship than a friendship, and while the companionship had come to a close, their friendship never did. The bond between them remained strong despite the challenges of growing distance and lapses in time between letters. Spike was still, at heart, a messenger, and there were the occasions they kept in touch, but it had by this point been at least half a decade since they corresponded. The last letters she recalled from him spoke about his new post running the Ponyville Post Office, and how occupied he was between there and being curator of the Hall of Records, which had been backlogged with entries from Twilight’s journeys of youth.
Once she had regained her composure, Twilight reached into her suitcase to find the scroll that had been tormenting her for the past three days. For the last few months she had barely slept, and now this had just added to her burden. With a furrowed brow she perused the decree from Princess Celestia one final time.
By the Royal Order of Her Highness Princess Celestia
To My Faithful and Loyal Friend Twilight Sparkle:
Twilight, your aid over the past fifteen years has been an invaluable asset to the Kingdom of Equestria, and neither I, nor my loyal subjects, could never thank you enough for your efforts. As the Royal Hoof, you have spent more time guiding myself and the kingdom than I ever did mentoring you. Equestria has since entered a long period of prosperity, and all of us have at last found the joy of peace.
All of us that is, except yourself.
Ever the studious one, you have tirelessly tasked yourself with preparations for the next possible disaster, as if possessed by the fear that something could go wrong. While I understand that such is, and has always been, your nature, should something ever go wrong, you would not be able to aid us in the state of panic you are in. It pains me to watch you toil endlessly over the kingdom, and that is why I must issue this order:
Take a vacation!
More specifically, I hereby banish you from the city of Canterlot for a period of no less than a fortnight. During this time, you will relocate to your defunct friendship research station in Ponyville, and, I hope, reunite with your old companions. Arrangements have been made for your departure and your stay. Report to Stallion Station this Friday at Noon.
I hope that you can find some inner peace during your journey, and I am eager to hear every detail upon your return.
H.R.M. Princess Celestia
P.S. Sorry for the harsh language. Luna insisted on it to get the point across. You’ll be back before you know it, so please try to have some fun!
Reading the note again frustrated Twilight even further, but knowing it was too late to turn back forced her to let out a sigh of relief and accept her fate. Celestia had never steered her wrong before, and perhaps she was right that this is what she needed. At the very least, she’d get to spend some time back at the Ponyville Library where she can review some texts not found in the Canterlot Archives. Twilight knew she had been working her hooves to the grindstone endlessly as of late, and perhaps the kingdom could do without her for the time being, especially in the capable hooves of Celestia and her sister.
Twilight departed her cabin and made her way to the exit of the train. As she approached the doorway she felt the sun shining, heard the birds singing, smelt some delicious cakes and apple pies baking off in the distance, and saw several ponies stylishly trotting about the town square. The town seemed just as quaint and happy as when she left it.
The few passengers on the train quickly found their ways and went about while Twilight was still gathering her bags together. Somehow she had more luggage than anyone on the train, but most of her belongings consisted of boxes filled with books she wished to donate to the local library. As the small crowd of arrivals dispersed she could see one small figure emerge, and approach to greet her. Seemingly unchanged as when she had left, Spike nervously mustered up a greeting.
“It’s so good to see you again Twilight. I’ve been expecting you. I hope the ride was pleasant. May I help with those?”
Twilight however was less able to contain her joy at seeing the young dragon again. She picked him up and hugged him tight, barely able to keep from squealing with joy, “Spike! You haven’t changed at all! I’m so happy you came to see me in.”
Spike began laughing as well while he struggled to breathe. “I’m glad you didn’t forget about me Twilight.”
“How could I ever do such a thing? You’ve been by my side for half my life and you’ve hardly grown at all.”
“Did you forget I’m a dragon? I’m not even old enough by dragon standards to begin sprouting wings, and besides there aren’t enough gemstones in this town for me to snack on anyhow.”
“Either way it’s great to see you again.” She finally let him go and Spike grabbed a couple of the smaller bags that he could handle.
“You sure brought a lot more with you than I expected. Unfortunately, your arrangements for the month won’t be ready for…”
“Did you say a month?” Twilight interjected harshly. She was taken aback and hoped there was some mistake. Twilight should have spent the last night packing, but instead she squandered the hours crafting an alibi for her visit. Being the proud and powerful figure she had become, it was simply too embarrassing to admit the truth to everypony.
The finalized plan she spent the night developing was to claim she was there to perform a census and evaluate the performance of the new magic-driven farms that were providing the kingdom with sustenance. The foundation of her story was quickly crumbling before she even had the chance to implement phase one of her devious back-story. She crossed her hooves and tried to milk more information out of Spike, “That won’t be necessary. I’m simply here to perform my duties to Her Majesty in the precinct and then return to my post at Canterlot. I scheduled ahead extensively and should be gone in a couple weeks.”
Twilight feared what Spike would say next. Does Spike know something I don’t? How much had Celestia told him about the situation? Does everypony already know? What will happen to Equestria if I’m stuck here an entire month? Her heart was quickly sinking into the pit of her stomach as her mind raced with the possibilities and the unknowns.
“Well I hope you can stay longer than that. I was shocked when my gut started rumbling and for the first time in years I spat out a letter from Celestia. I was so happy to hear that you were coming back to catch up with your old friends, although I found it odd that I heard about it from Celestia instead of you.”
“Great,” Twilight thought, “he probably knows everything, and between his blabbermouth and running the post office, everypony must have heard as well.”
“Anyway, it was such short notice that I barely made it here to see you arrive. I’m lucky the trains don’t run on magic yet and still show up late now and again.”
Twilight’s anxiety quickly dissipated, but she looked at Spike with a puzzled look on her face. “I’ve known about this trip for three days and planned every detail. It’s not like Celestia to give a last-minute notice.”
“Well,” Spike began to blush and rubbed the back of the scales on his head while softly chuckling “I haven’t really been ‘expecting’ you. It’s been years since I received any notes in that method. All the mail I oversee now travels by pegasus. When my gut started rumbling I thought it was some antique gemstones I found in Rarity’s boutique upsetting my stomach. I didn’t want her to know what was going on and she would flip if I wasn’t a gentledragon around her, so instead of doing anything about it I was just feeling more and more sick. Then about an hour ago it occurred to me that the feeling was actually somehow familiar, and before I knew it the letter came out. Guess over the years I forgot what it felt like when a letter arrived from the princess.”
With her worries now gone, Twilight began to laugh at her former companion, “That’s just like you Spike. Always worried about what Rarity thinks of you and forgetting who you are.”
Spike began laughing with her and dropped one the bags in his claws. “So because of the time constraints, your arrangements won’t be ready for a couple hours. I was hoping there was an errand you wanted to run in town before you settle in for your stay.”
Twilight already found herself letting her guard down from the ease of being around Spike again, and the urgent air she carried around herself began to fade. “Actually, there is. Most of these boxes contain some worn and older books that we replaced in the Canterlot Archives. I found them collecting dust in the lower catacombs and thought maybe they could find a home in the Ponyville Li…”
This time is was Spike who found himself shockingly interrupting his former companion, “NO!” He quickly tried to regain his composure and hide his embarrassment from yelling at Twilight. “I mean…it’s not ready yet.” He stopped and shuffled his feet while correcting himself again, “Actually, that’s where I made arrangements for you to stay while you’re here. I’m sure the townsponies will love the books you brought, but perhaps we can go somewhere else in the meantime until your space is ready?”
Twilight was curious about the sudden changes in tone from Spike. He had never tried to hide anything from her in all their time together, so it was obvious to her that something was up. Before she could play the accuser however, her stomach did the talking instead. A ghastly growl arose from inside her and suddenly it was Twilight doing the blushing. “Either I’ve started receiving letters from Celestia or the rush to make my train this morning left me without time for a proper breakfast,” uttered the embarrassed mare, as she continued to let her guard down.
A smile slowly crept across Spike’s face and he proudly declared, “Lunch it is then!” Spike and Twilight gathered the luggage and meandered towards the nearest café. Ponyville was still the same unchanging earth pony town that Twilight remembered. A few new buildings here and there, but it didn’t appear that any homes she remembered had been torn down.
Spike approached an outdoor table and beckoned towards the hostess, “Two menus please.” Spike used one of the suitcases he was carrying to prop up the seat of the chair and hopped on. “So what do you think? Is Ponyville still the same place you remember?”
“Well not much has changed it seems, but it has been many years so maybe my memory isn’t clear right now.” Twilight glanced over the menu. Compared to what she had become accustomed to during her travels across Equestria and beyond, the food out here was that special combination of primitive and nourishing. The smell of baking had been caught in her nostrils since she got off the train so her craving got the best of her. “Can I please have some coffee and a slice of pie?”
“Absolutely dearie,” the hostess turned her muzzle towards Spike, “and for you?”
Spike grimaced at the menu. He still had a sweet tooth but being the only dragon in town meant nobody around served any gemstones. He dropped the menu on the table and made his request, “Cheesecake please.” The hostess took the menus away and Spike turned his attention back towards the hungry unicorn, “Coffee? You always hated coffee. I used to be amazed how you would stay up all night without it.”
Twilight giggled “Yeah it was never really my thing until a couple years ago. I went to some far off land on a trade mission for Celestia. It was all they drank there, and when I returned home I found myself craving it all the time.”
“I’m sure being the Royal Hoof has sent you lots of interesting places. I know it’s been a while since our last letters, but most of what I knew about your goings on in Canterlot I read through the papers since you were too busy. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
For the next forty-five minutes Twilight went on and on about all the wonderful places she had been and the things she had seen and tasted around the world. She didn’t even notice the hostess return with her order. By the time she paused to think about what to tell Spike about next she noticed the ice cream on her pie had melted into a sticky white pool slowly drowning her tasty pastry. She took a bite and as soon as it hit her tongue, all these memories flooded into her at once. The food in Canterlot was elegant, but it was the equivalent of dressing up a pig, since most of the resources were grown with unicorn magic. The earth ponies out here in the sticks knew that hard work led to greater rewards and richer dividends.
“Twilight? Hello? Anybody home?” Spike beckoned for her attention. Spike realized the food had entranced her. He snapped his fingers in front of her and suddenly she came back to reality. “I guess all the food in Canterlot doesn’t compare, eh? You look like you’re right at home.”
Twilight was beginning to accept the fact that spending a few weeks, or maybe more, out here wasn’t going to be half as torturous as she feared. Do some reading, eat some glorious food, spend some time with old friends; it was everything she would have in a vacation if she ever had the time to plan one. She addressed the diminutive dragon who was clamoring for her attention, “Oh Spike I forgot what it’s like to have old-fashioned cooking. I don’t even have a kitchen in Canterlot, much less fresh food to prepare.”
Spike chortled towards her, “You sound like Rarity when she returns from one of her fashion debuts. She still puts on this air of elegance and formality, but she can’t deny that this is the kind of place she belongs in.” There was a dazed twinkle in his eyes as he spoke of his beloved. It was the one trait about the immature lizard that never ceased to amaze Twilight. His obsession and loyalty towards the fanciest unicorn in town was still a hilarious blend of adorable and disturbing.
In her head, Twilight recalled all the letters Spike had sent so many years ago. He was indeed quite proud of himself and the accomplishments he had made, but Rarity was still the most frequent subject of his letters. His love was still unrequited after all this time, but as time went on, that had become okay with Spike. He grew accustomed to always caring for her from afar and being the dependable friend who would be there for Rarity when she was in her darkest hour, which still seemed to happen on a regular basis on account of her being an unchanging pessimist and perfectionist.
As the conversation continued, Spike rambled about the object of his affection, and Twilight continued to wonder to herself about how Rarity felt about all the attention she received from her not-so-secret admirer. She imagined Rarity still feigning an oblivious attitude towards his attention, or that perhaps her career kept her distracted for all this time. As much as Twilight was enjoying the time with her closest companion, she was becoming all the more curious about what her friends had been up to and eagerly awaiting a chance to speak with all of them.
In the distance, the bellowing ring of the clock tower began echoing through the streets. When the sound of the fourth chime reached them, Spike looked like he had seen a ghost and leapt out of his chair. With a panic in his voice he rushed the unicorn sitting across the table, “Oh no, they’re going to kill me! We gotta go Twilight. We’re gonna be late!”
Spike began gathering Twilight’s belongings together while Twilight trotted inside the café to pay the tab. The café looked deserted. Chairs were on top of tables and there wasn’t anypony to be seen. As Twilight was about to call out she saw a note by the front counter next to a box. Twilight didn’t want to intrude but as she approached the counter she saw the note was addressed to her:
What a pleasure to see you again darlin! Sorry I couldn’t stay, there was something urgent calling me away from the bakery. You looked like you hadn’t had a pie like that in ages. I hope they’ve been feeding you during your travels. Please take the rest of the pie with you. I’m sure I’ll see you before you leave, but come back if you want more!
See you soon!
P.S. Tell Spike it’s on the house and thanks for the help!
Twilight opened the box and inside was an apple pie missing a single slice. A big smile swept across her face as the smell hit her again. Despite the instructions on the note, Twilight tossed eight bits onto the counter before picking up the gift and heading towards the door.
Before leaving, Twilight paused by the door. A frame hanging on the wall caught her eye. Inside was a panoramic picture taken from outside the café. In the foreground stood a proud mare holding a fresh pie with steam rising from the holes in the crust. The yellow earth pony had a proud smile on her face. On her flank was the image of a caramel apple coated in sprinkles. Twilight’s eyes began to water as she looked at the photo and the generosity of the now grown crusader touched her heart.
Outside, Spike was rearing to go. He smiled as he saw Twilight carrying a box as she exited the building. “That’s just like Apple Bloom,” he chuckled. “I don’t know how she stays in business when she keeps giving these treats away. She’s become a great chef, but she’s still a lousy businesspony.”
Twilight carefully placed the pie atop the pile before the two headed off through town. Spike was in quite the rush, and Twilight was having trouble keeping up the pace since Spike could barely carry anything and had left her to carry the rest with her magic. A tree was rising in the horizon, and Twilight instantly recognized the hollowed out home of her youth. It had grown immensely since Twilight’s departure many years ago, and she recalled the magic fertilizer experiment she had left in the soil before leaving. Too busy rushing from Spike’s frenzy, she let out in internal sigh. On the ride here she was worried there wouldn’t be enough space in the library for all the books she had brought with.
“We’re here!” Spike proudly declared while trying to catch his breath. He set down the bags so he could help Twilight with her load. Somehow Twilight thought to herself that Spike wasn’t speaking to her, and grew ever more suspicious of his behavior.
Spike seemed nervous as he approached the door, as if fearful of what lurked on the other side. He hoped they weren’t too late and that the library was prepared for Twilight’s stay. The door creaked open, and light crept into the seemingly abandoned library. A soft hush flew by on the wind and Twilight and Spike entered the dimly lit entryway. Inside the library was empty and still.
It was quiet.
As the door slowly eased shut behind them, Twilight let out a small “Eep!” Libraries were like a second home to her, especially this one, but at the moment she felt like she’d rather be anywhere but here. Light was a stranger to them now, and the only residents in the room were those stuck between covers on shelves.
The nervous lizard standing next her sheepishly questioned, “Are we too late?”
“Are we alone?” whispered Twilight with a blend of fear and obliviousness in her voice. This all seemed too familiar to her.
The pair was about to turn and run, but before they could, lights began to shine from every corner of the room. A quick succession of pops and explosions shook the old tree and the light glared off of hundreds of thousands of pieces of colorful tinfoil that turned the room into an instantaneous blizzard of color. A mare fell out of the ceiling and landed in front of them, quickly bouncing back up without a pause, squealing, “Surprise!”
Several dozen other ponies suddenly leapt from behind bookcases and structures, yelling in unison, “Welcome back Twilight Sparkle!” Upbeat music began blaring through the room and contagious smiles swept the faces of every mare and stallion in the room.
The guest of honor and her companion stood paralyzed with shock. Staring wide-eyed back at the crowd before her, Twilight didn’t dare move or even breathe. Time stood still as everypony awaited her reaction. Then Twilight took a sudden deep inhale, followed by everypony else, ripe with anticipation. The eyes on the ecstatic pink pony in front of her grew ever wider. As a squeal tried to part her lips, Twilight’s eyes rolled backwards and she collapsed on the floor.
“Oopsie daisy!” giggled the silly master of ceremonies. She turned her head to Spike, “I over did it again, didn’t I?”
“I warned you,” was the only response he could give.
Twilight awoke to a sugary sweet tsunami of ice-cold punch washing over her face. With a rapid breath she opened her eyes to see a huge crowd of worried ponies surrounding her from above. Several of the ponies sighed, while most broke into laughter.
An orange pony in a cowboy hat addressed the sleeping beauty, “Ya alright sugarcube? Ya gave everypony quite the scare.”
Twilight leapt to her hooves. “I scared you?’ she immediately retorted. As she finished her sentence she froze and her eyes began to examine her surroundings. She quickly recalled what had happened and the reality of the situation around her, and her nervous attitude melted away. She looked back at the pony she had just fumed at. “Applejack?” she asked, already knowing the answer. The earth pony nodded.
“And Pinkie Pie!” interjected the attention-craving pony holding an empty punch bowl. She looked at the bowl and realized what she had done. “Oh no! Now we’re out of punch. Be right back! I have a stash in case of punch-related emergencies!” and just like that, she dashed away, leaving the two old friends to greet and catch up.
Twilight broke into a fit of laughter towards the host. “She’s crazier than ever before!”
“Y’all dun’ know the half of it, Twilight,” Applejack paused and the look in her eyes grew serious, “believe me.”
The crowd of ponies in the room had by this point taken their attention back off the guest of honor and began enjoying the party knowing she was safe. The music was blasting. All the fillies rushed to the dance floor with glee. The colts were split between the ones who bashfully looked toward the fillies, and the others who lustfully eyed the snack table.
Twilight was awestruck. “This is amazing!” she said to Applejack. “Pinkie Pie did all this?”
“Well everypony helped howeva’ they could” Applejack responded.
“But Spike just found out I was coming to town a few hours ago. How could she get everypony together on such short notice?”
Applejack tried to resist snorting with laughter as she pointed in the direction of Pinkie Pie. “Ain’t too hard when y’all are the mayor of Ponyville.”
Twilight stared back towards Applejack in disbelief. Then her head shot in the direction the farmer motioned to see Pinkie Pie reaching into a crevice with her hoof, her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth as she fished around before pulling out a boxing glove and frustratingly tossing it aside. “Wrong punch,” she quipped before eagerly bouncing around the room resuming her search for refreshments.
Twilight’s attention sarcastically returned to Applejack. “You’re pulling my tail,” she accused. “Pinkie Pie? Mayor?”
“As sure as apples is red,” she said in a blank monotone before her resistance to laugh broke. “Y’all look like you’re about to faint all over again, sugarcube.”
Indeed, Twilight could have easily keeled over again in shock, but her logical nature brought her back to reality demanding an explanation. “That’s not possible,” she argued, “I mean, Pinkie Pie means a lot to us, but why would anyone vote her for mayor?”
Twilight hadn’t noticed their excitable friend return with glasses full of punch for her friends. Before they could realize she had heard the last few moments of conversation, she began bouncing around giggling at Twilight, “Because I’m friends with everypony!”
“What?” questioned the skeptic unicorn.
Applejack explained, “What Pinkie means is, when Miss Mayor stepped down, we had ta have an election for a new mayor, and at first the only pony in town interested in running was Filthy Rich. He was pretty darn much unopposed until Pinkie threw a hoof in the ring. Nopony took her serious at all. I knew Filthy Rich was going to win, but I love the heck outta’ Pinkie. She’s my friend, and I didn’t want her to get caught in a landslide, so I voted for her jus’ outta' respect.” Applejack smiled wide and laughed, “Turns out so did the whole town!”
Twilight stared at her two friends with her mouth agape while Pinkie continued to bounce and nod in agreement, “Yup! And now Ponyville is one never-ending par-tay!”
“Well not quite,” Applejack interjected, “but somehow things have actually been okay with Pinkie at the helm.”
Still in shock, Twilight congratulated Pinkie Pie, “Wow! That’s great Pinkie. I’m glad you’ve been able to keep the town afloat.”
“Silly filly. It’s a town, not a ship!” responded the quirky pony. “But thanks! It’s a lot of hard work!”
“Well, I’m really glad y’all are back in town for a spell,” Applejack said, “but go and enjoy the party. There are a lot of ponies that have missed you too. Promise me y’all will stop by Sweet Apple Acres before ya leave.”
“I wouldn’t dream of missing it,” said Twilight.
Applejack trotted towards the snack table and Pinkie leapt in front of Twilight. She grabbed the unicorn by the hoof and starting dragging her around the party, pointing out all the ponies Twilight hadn’t seen in years and reintroducing her. The party was in full swing and everypony was rocking the night away. Off in the corner across the room, Twilight could make out the obscured vision of an elegant, recognizable white unicorn. She tried to wave, but couldn’t get her attention, and Pinkie was still firmly pulling Twilight around and rambling about every little detail that had happened since Twilight left Ponyville. “Oh well, I’ll find her again later,” she thought as the night moved forward.
Pinkie Pie led Twilight upstairs and found the pony she had been looking for. “There you are” she proclaimed. The pony let out a soft ‘yelp’ when she heard Pinkie’s declaration and dashed behind a nearby bookcase for cover from some assumedly horrible fate. “I’m sure you remember this pony, don’t cha? Don’t cha? Don’t cha?” Pinkie questioned to Twilight, her head getting more and more uncomfortably close with each repetition.
The new pony tried to remain hidden, but curiously peeked around the bookcase to view what she was sure to be the cause of her demise. She recognized the violet unicorn before her, but remained hidden as if ashamed. “He-hello Twilight,” it spoke softly, drowned out by the music resonating from the floor below.
“Fluttershy?” Twilight asked the pony, who began to slowly hover out from behind the bookcase into full view.
The pegasus’ wings caught in her long, pink mane and the pony crashed into the floor face first. “mft mud foo mmmmmmmf” came the voice from the floorboards. The pegasus lifted herself up and tried again. “It’s good to see you,” she said while her eyes shifted between looking at Twilight and looking at the floor. “I’ve missed you ever so much.”
Twilight was overcome with joy at reuniting with Fluttershy and nearly knocked her small frame over with a powerful hug. “Oh Fluttershy, you’re as sweet as ever.”
“Th-thank you, but you don’t have to be so nice to me,” responded Fluttershy. She blushed and her voice quickly went into hiding again, softly whispering, “I mean, unless you want to.”
“You silly filly. Why wouldn’t I?” Twilight said back. She eased off her hug as she realized Pinkie’s attitude had been rubbing off on her for the past hour.
“I’m glad you came to visit,” Fluttershy said, her demeanor easing up as she took in the kindness of her old friend. A small fuzzy head popped out from behind Fluttershy’s luxurious mane. The creature’s face stared at Twilight for a moment before smiling and perking up its long ears.
“Angel? How are you doing?” Twilight happily asked the bunny. The bunny continued to smile back at her, and suddenly six more heads peeked out at different angles from behind the lead creature. Their eyes all lay fixed upon the unicorn before them. “Um, Angel?” questioned a confused Twilight.
“Oh,” Fluttershy expressed as she realized what had happened atop her head, “now be nice Angel, and stop messing with Twilight.” The creature in front hopped out and onto the floor, and the others quickly followed. The followers were all completely identical to their leader, except that they were a fraction of the size. “He still likes to mess with anyone he can,” Fluttershy softly giggled.
Twilight’s eyes lit up with envy. “Oh my goodness Fluttershy. They’re precious!”
Pinkie Pie suddenly took an interest in the conversation. “Yea, but Angel’s still an evil weevil bunny!” she coyly accused. Angel stared at Pinkie Pie angrily. Pinkie stared right back for a second before crossing her eyes, sticking out her tongue and breaking into laughter. Twilight and Fluttershy couldn’t contain themselves either, and the three giggled endlessly.
As they continued to talk about how awesome the party was, Twilight peeked over the balcony towards the floor below. She scanned the crowd, but could not find the white unicorn she believed she saw earlier, and assumed she must have left. She gave up on her search. The three continued to laugh and enjoy the festivities until Twilight came to a realization that something was still missing. She innocently asked Pinkie, “Hey, have you seen Rainbow Dash tonight? Is she here?”
While the party continued elsewhere around them, within their circle time stopped, and you could hear a pin drop. Pinkie froze on her hind legs in the middle of her dancing, and her usually kinky pink coif fell straight against her sides. Fluttershy hung her head low, far too scared to be the one to break the silence, and forcing Pinkie to do it. “We don’t see Rainbow Dash much anymore. She’s been a major party pooper” she said in a somber tone.
Fluttershy forced as much of a glare as her demeanor would allow in Pinkie’s direction for her lack of decorum. “What she means is, she hasn’t been social much since the book,” she said ever so quietly.
“Book?” Twilight asked. “Someone wrote a book about her? Why didn’t you tell me? I read everything!”
Pinkie Pie pulled a book off a nearby shelf and handed it to Twilight. “No,” she clearly spoke towards her, “it’s the book she wrote.”
Twilight peered down at the book in her hooves. It was instantly recognizable to her, and everypony in Equestria for that matter. It was A Wing and a Player, the bestselling novel by A.H.A. Snowbird. Twilight had read all his novels a dozen times at least, and read this at least double that. The already secretive author disappeared after it was published, and hadn’t released anything since.
Twilight recalled the plot in her mind. The story revolved around an up and coming athlete who had everything going for him. He was strong, famous, and everypony was there to watch when he went professional. Then, at the start of his career in the pros, he gets injured off the court protecting a young foal from certain disaster. He survives, but the injuries he suffers are permanent and force him into retirement from the sport he loved and his fame fades with it.
Twilight furrowed her brow at her friends. “What are you talking about? Everypony has read this! It’s practically required reading for all the colts and fillies in Equestria! I’ve read all his books, and this was the saddest story of them all. What do you mean Rainbow Dash wrote it?” she fumed.
Fluttershy cowered in fear of her friend’s anger, and Pinkie simply drooped her head and aimed her eyes up towards Twilight. “Look again,” Pinkie humbly requested.
As Twilight took another look at the book, she concentrated, but couldn’t figure out what her friends were talking about. Then, the puzzle solver mentality in her took over and it all made sense. The letters on the page began to rearrange and revealed that A.H.A. Snowbird was a pseudonym formed from an anagram for Rainbow Dash.
The book fell from between Twilight’s hooves and landed on the floor with a solid thud. She stared at her friends with shock, anger, and confusion. “What is the meaning of all this?” she demanded.
Pinkie sunk even lower and couldn’t say a word. Fluttershy was so afraid of Twilight’s reaction, but couldn’t watch her suffer. “We all read the book,” she shamefully admitted, “but before she started writing it, she sequestered herself and we’ve hardly seen her since. We’re too afraid to go talk to her about why she would write it.”
“What? Why?” Twilight yelled as questions became all she could muster and her frustration consumed her.
“Because,” Pinkie Pie replied with her head turned away from her friends, “A Wing and a Player is all about her.”
Twilight didn’t sleep a wink that night. She couldn’t. The rest of the party had gone by in a dull blur. Her body had acted on its own the rest of the evening, but the courteous attitude she showed towards the welcoming ponies was not her own. Questions raced through her mind, and she only found more queries to answer them with. Her world was torn apart with disbelief.
As Celestia’s namesake appeared on the horizon, Twilight remained seated on the floor of the library. The remnants of a solitary candle dimly flickered at her side, floating in a pool of wax. The flame faded into the sunlight that peeked through the windows and left behind a coiled, black wick that fell to ash in the lake it resided in. Twilight’s eyes were throbbing and bloodshot. She lifted a hoof to them to try and relieve the pain, but it only made her cry harder. It would appear to anypony that her anguish was the sole result of a night spent in tears, but that was only half true. Her tears fell on the pages of the open book below her, warping the paper and turning the letters on the parchment into a crooked mess of nonsense.
Reading the book again wasn’t necessary. After all, the number of times Twilight had previously scoured its pages before that night, as well as her innate sense of recall, meant she could almost recite each and every page nearly verbatim. Still, the naïveté of her inner voice continued to deny the truth she learned the night before. As she reached the final pages, the voice inside her grew silent, and the questions stilled as Twilight’s mind became a blank slate. Her swollen eyes remained fixed upon the book, unwavering.
“Why?” she sobbed aloud. The sound echoed through the library as though dozens of other ponies were asking her the same question. She yelled back at the echoes, “Why? Why? Why?” only receiving the same response back. Her barrage of questions to the echoes continued as her face collapsed into her foreleg. With her free hoof, she pounded the floor with each yell. She pounded and yelled until her throat refused to produce another sound and her hoof was numb. She lay there sobbing, unable to notice or feel the tinge of crimson that trickled down her battered hoof into the floorboards. The stream flowed down the grain of the wood and sank into a dam of paper from the “novel” that lay before the broken unicorn.
The door to the library opened gently, as if the pony opening it knew what awaited her inside. A guilt-stricken pegasus hovered into the room and found Twilight in her state of emotional agony. The unicorn lay in shock, her face in her hooves silently sobbing. Fluttershy felt too much shame to run away in fright. She flapped towards the unicorn. The breeze from her wings scattered pieces of confetti across the floor, still a mess from the previous night’s festivities. The evidence of the party just added another level of tragedy that Fluttershy fought through as she approached Twilight’s side.
Twilight didn’t even flinch as Fluttershy lay down next to her. The breeze of pegasi wings, combined with the revelation of the night before, meant there was only one pony it could be. Fluttershy couldn’t even look at Twilight, and for several minutes the two lay next to each other in the most awkward of silences. The presence of her friend eventually eased Twilight enough to face her friend. Trying her best to understand Fluttershy’s feelings through her scorn, Twilight’s voice spoke in a clear monotone, “Where is she?”
Twilight arrived on the edge of Ponyville at a house that appeared to have been long ago vacated. Many of the window shutters hung crooked from the frame, or had collapsed onto the yard in front of the house. The thick ivy made it almost impossible to discern the color of the house. It had the appearance of a swarm of tentacles trying to reach up from the ground to pull the house into the dirt. Twilight approached the fence gate, and with the slightest nudge it fell over onto the rock pathway with a loud clang.
This was enough to disturb the resident of the house. Twilight stared at the abode wondering if she had called attention to her visit. A curtain slid aside slightly in one of the second story windows, and Twilight could only make out the eyes that glared at her, no doubt recognizing the stranger at the doorstep. Twilight rapped at the door with her hoof, and a few moments later she was answered by a younger pegasus with a first aid kit on her flank. A small ‘x’ was formed in the corner of the cutie mark by the crossing of a bandage and a syringe, and her fuchsia mane lay tight against her body.
The pegasus in the doorway stared back at her guest for a short while before emitting a sigh. “I knew when Pinkie told me you were coming to town it was only a matter of time,” was the closest the pegasus could come to a proper greeting. “I’m guessing I know why you’re here, Twilight.”
“Scootaloo?” Twilight reacted with surprise at seeing the grown crusader. “Isn’t this Rainbow Dash’s home?”
“No,” replied Scootaloo, “it’s mine, but she’s lived here quite some time now.”
The response confused the unicorn even further than she already was. Twilight tried to place the pony, but her mind still remained fixed on her questions about Rainbow Dash.
The pony slowly nodded and somberly replied, “You obviously need to see her. Please come in,” the pony gestured Twilight inside, “her room is to the right atop the stairs.” Instead of guiding Twilight along, the pegasus simply walked away to the other room, so Twilight could come to terms with her friend in private.
The stairway seemed to never end as Twilight climbed it, and she felt like she was continually lifting her hooves in vain. She approached the door and softly swung it open. There was little in the room other than a bed and a desk where Dash was feverishly applying quill to papyrus. On the corner of the desk lay a few picture frames that either lay face down or sat up to show the pictures distorted through broken glass.
Dash pretended to not notice her visitor as she continued to piece words together. Her multi-colored mane was still the disheveled adornment Twilight remembered, but it was much longer than in her memories. Her one wing sat tucked against her side like a pegasus at rest, twitching slightly every minute or two. The other wing was barely visible as Dash’s mane attempted to obscure it. The visible part hung low beneath the end of her mane, the wing barely above the ground, motionless.
Dash set her quill in the inkwell and took a quiet, deep breath before turning to face Twilight. Despite her work in the written word, her conversational skills remained unchanged and unrefined. “Hey.”
Twilight wanted to do so many things at that moment. She wanted to hug Rainbow Dash and cry, but she knew that if she did it might just cause her friend more physical pain. Part of her wanted to run, to deny, to question her profusely. She couldn’t do any of it. All she could say was, “I read the book.”
Dash was less than shocked and shrugged at her old friend. “So has everypony else,” she said. Her attitude projected pride at her accomplishment as well shame at the truth Twilight was now aware of, and resentment for Twilight not knowing sooner.
“Why didn’t I know?” Twilight asked aloud, unclear whether she was asking this of herself of Dash.
Dash stared at Twilight as though she should already know the answer, but responded anyway, assuming she only asked due to her state of shock, “I tried not to tell anypony at first, but you can’t keep this hidden for long.” She waved her head to the side, pulling her mane away from the hidden wing. It continued to hang motionless, a large scar adorning the broadside. “I was always the center of attention. That’s what I wanted, but not like this. I wanted praise, not pity.”
“I thought you said you read the book,” Rainbow Dash said, a dry and feeble attempt to humor the unicorn.
“No,” Twilight paused briefly, “I mean what happened to you?”
“It’s not that different than what you read. Yes, I had done it. I got accepted as a cadet in the Wonderbolts. I worked as hard as I could for my first performance. The goggles felt like they were made to go on my head. I couldn’t have been happier.” Dash’s eyes lost their focus as she recalled painful memories. “It went perfect. I was perfect. I flew back to Ponyville as quick as I could, pausing only for a moment to soak in some of the fame from the paparazzi waiting for me.”
Twilight had read this story over and over on paper, but hearing it from Dash made it take on a whole new meaning. She was swept up in Dash’s words, and felt her hooves shaking beneath her, barely able to hold the heavy weight of her heart.
“Everypony was so happy for me. Even back on the ground in Ponyville, I felt like my head was all the way in Cloudsdale. I couldn’t stay long, as being a Wonderbolt was incredibly demanding. I was flying back to Cloudsdale, and everypony that had the wings to follow me tried, but nobody could keep up with Rainbow Dash! I flew ahead showing off a few of the tricks from my debut, not noticing something menacing in the sky.”
Dash’s voice toned down as though the memory still scared her, “A dragon was flying right at me. Of course, with my skill I had no problem getting out of the way, but instead of turning around and coming back at me, it just kept going; right towards the crowd following me. They tried to avoid the beast, but he grabbed one in his claws and kept flying with the unconscious pegasus in his grip.”
Dash’s sense of pride returned to her voice as she scolded herself, “Silly Rainbow Dash, always wanting to be the hero. I chased after the dragon, but I couldn’t just be straightforward about it. I knew the crowd of ponies was looking on and I kept trying to give a show. I caught the dragon’s attention and he tried to catch me, but the flips and twists I was pulling just made it dizzy and he dropped his catch.”
Dash walked towards the window and peered towards the sky as she resumed the story. “The pony didn’t wake up, and my foolish stunts left me too exhausted to catch up with the plummeting pegasus,” she paused before continuing. Her live wing was twitching faster. It appeared to ache either from the traumatic memory, or longing for the days when it glided swiftly through the skies. “With the strength I had left, I pushed, and felt a snap as I hit the sonic rainboom. I saved her, but my wing refused to move any further. I span out of control, only thinking of the sleeping pony in my hooves.”
Dash turned her head and stared at the wing that hung motionless from her torso. “I woke up in the hospital. They told me I crashed into the ground. Since I was carrying the passed out filly, my side took most of the damage. In particular, I had severed a nerve, and this wing would remain motionless permanently.”
Dash paused her story for a moment, and Twilight barraged her with questions and tears. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have done something! I’d have found a spell! I’d find better doctors! I’d get you new wings!” Her claims proceeded into silly fantasies and perverted nonsense.
Dash looked back at Twilight with appreciation for the sentiment, but it was clear that it didn’t make her feel any better. “I was in so much pain. I couldn’t think straight. The severed nerve left me without the ability to move the wing, but it still cried out in pain. It wanted to fly out of that hospital bed, but my wings were stuck. Trapped. Alone. And so was I.”
“No you weren’t! Your friends have always been here for you!”
“No. I was alone,” she repeated with a heavy emphasis on herself as she held a hoof to her chest. “All I had was my dream of making it. I realized that I had spent my whole life being selfish and demanding attention from everypony, and I started punishing myself for it.”
“You taught me to love reading, Twilight. I read every book I could find about ponies that had done great things. Things I would never be able to do again and things I had never done to begin with. And when I ran out of books to read, I started to write my own; grand adventures of ponies that didn’t waste their time on selfish goals.”
Twilight’s eyes kept weeping and her words were barely audible through the sniffling and crying, “Then why A Wing and a Player? Why? You didn’t have to do that to yourself! Isn’t that filly still alive because of you?”
Dash uttered a solid, solitary laugh, “That’s what she told me. That’s when I realized I was still being selfish by punishing myself. So I wrote one last story so I could find closure.”
Twilight’s breathing slowed, but the tears continued to flow freely. She had a sudden moment of clarity and galloped out of the room. Dash didn’t make any attempt to stop her, and slowly followed, muttering to herself, “Took her long enough.”
Twilight barged into the room downstairs where the doctor pegasus was lying down, waiting for this inevitability. “It was you!” Twilight cried. She fell atop the pegasus in a hug of exhaustion, anger and sentiment. Twilight was torn between who saved who, but the answers were more than she could handle anymore.
“Yeah,” the doctor responded. Rainbow Dash appeared at the entrance and smiled at the doctor, who smiled back before she looked back down at the sobbing pony holding her. “I was heartbroken when I saw how Rainbow Dash tore herself to pieces, and I blamed myself for everything. I swore to myself I’d find a way to fix it all one day. I’d make Dash better no matter what.” The doctor pried Twilight off of her and motioned to her side. “That’s when I got this.”
Scootaloo nodded as she acknowledged that Twilight had put the pieces together. “I was, and I still am, her biggest fan. I always put her first. That sonic rainboom is the closest a pegasus will ever come to real magic. It gave you your cutie mark, and it saved me so I could find mine. It wasn’t fair for Rainbow Dash, but that’s why I haven’t left her side.” Scootaloo looked at the injured pony across the room. “Someday, I’ll know how to fix it.”
The three ponies embraced, careful not to aggravate Dash’s injuries, and the tears turned to joy. Twilight was still sad about what happened to her friend, but she knew that it all turned out okay. Scootaloo and Dash weren’t quite there yet, but they were happy despite the turmoil.
Twilight was the first to break the hug and return to her inquisitive manner. “Wait, so why do Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy tell me they don’t see you anymore?”
Dash giggled slyly and admitted the truth, even though she knew it meant Twilight would tell the rest of her friends. “They don’t see me, but I see them. I’m still ashamed of my past, and I avoid attention, but I would never abandon my friends. You’re talking to the element of loyalty remember? How do you think Pinkie ever found the punch last night? Nowadays she’s so distracted she wouldn’t be able to find Equestria on a map!”
Twilight’s eyes grew wide with shock. “You were there?” She paused and then recalled the rest of the night then glared at Dash and chewed her out. “Didn’t you see how upset I was when they told me about you? You’ve been helping them, but I was suffering so much!”
Scootaloo nudged Twilight while her head hung in shame, “I’m sorry Twilight, but that was my fault. I told her it’d be better for you to find out this way.” She motioned to Dash, “She’s usually pretty defiant about doctor’s orders, but I had Fluttershy teach me ‘the stare’ a few years back. It’s as good with patients as it is on woodland creatures.”
The three broke into laughter for a while, and Twilight grilled Dash with all kinds of other questions about the past years. She asked about all the books she had written, and then teased her about some format errors she found in her first editions. Before she left, Twilight made Dash promise to confront the rest of their friends about the truth behind her seclusion, then made Scootaloo promise not to put them through the same horror she had just lived through with the reveal.
By the time she returned to her quarters in the library, Princess Luna’s work hung high above the clouds. The twinkling in the sky made Twilight suddenly realize how exhausted she was from the emotional roller coaster she had been riding since her arrival. She cast a spell to help her fall into a deep sleep, and then realized she forgot to make sure that a certain somepony wasn’t still watching her in secret. She checked the windows and the coast seemed clear. As she tried to reach the bed, she fell short and her body slipped into hibernation.
Outside, Rainbow Dash shook her head in pity at the sight she had just beheld from one of Pinkie Pie’s hiding spots she frequented. Very carefully, Dash cracked a window and crept in. She pulled the blanket from the bed and draped it over the comatose unicorn before lying down next to her for a few minutes. She took one last look back as she left the way she came to make sure she hadn’t disturbed the dreaming creature.
Dash turned to leave and was greeted by an unfriendly glare from Scootaloo. Dash nearly screamed loud enough to wake everypony in town, not to mention the one under a spell just behind her, but Scootaloo muffled her with her hoof. “How many times am I going to come after you before you listen to your doctor and stay in bed?” she sighed at her patient. “Even Twilight told you that you need to stop playing in the shadows.” Dash simply smiled and galloped back to the house, still faster on land than most earth ponies. She barricaded the doors and snickered in anticipation of Scootaloo’s usual reaction to the prank she had pulled hundreds of times prior.
Twilight clutched the blanket tight and muttered to the pony in her dreams, “Promise I’ll see another sonic rainboom someday.”
Celestia’s companion came later than usual this day. There were certain ponies in the kingdom that had earned an extra hour or two of sweet slumber, and the ponies seemed to appreciate and take advantage of this. Most of Ponyville was using it to spend a few extra minutes enjoying that egotistical fantasy that resided within the deep recesses of a pony’s mind. It meant something different to every pony. For some it would mean a spare moment to run around a gorgeous meadow on a sunny day and for others the extra time in that same meadow to enjoy the embrace of their special somepony. Ponies dreamt of mountains of cake and sweet things; of fame and fortune; of being young again. Sometimes it was to Celestia’s advantage to let Luna have her time to shine, even if nopony knew it.
Twilight’s form lay unconscious and sprawled on the floor of the library. Her hooves spread out awkward and sporadic. Anypony looking at the scene would wonder how somepony could rest comfortably in such a position, but there she laid, in her deepest sleep in half a decade. Something about the combination of the spell she used the night before, the events of the last few days, and the late arrival of the morning sun had aligned to create the perfect night of rest for the unicorn, even if her place of rest was less than ideal.
Twilight’s dreams during the night were varied and unpredictable. At times, the dreams clearly referenced the day before, and she saw clear visions of an older Rainbow Dash coaching a squad of Wonderbolt cadets on the importance of discipline, hard work, and other things that the real-world Rainbow Dash knew little about.
There were gaps in her slumber where she replayed memories of her filly days. She saw the days when Shining Armor and she would waste the day away playing make-believe. Twilight always wanted to play Starswirl the Bearded, while her brother would take the storyline towards a war-oriented fantasy. Being the older sibling, he always got his way, and before long the story would progress to a point where Twilight would injure herself. Shining Armor hated nothing more than seeing Twilight cry, and would use his already impressive magic skills to heal his sister, and then they’d play Starswirl until the sun set.
Twilight’s dreams of days past progressed. Now she was a full grown mare. It was one of her first missions as the Royal Hoof that had taken her away from the kingdom. During one dark evening, as her party rested on their journey to the outer kingdoms, she had snuck away from the royal guards that kept her from enjoying the new world she now had the opportunity to see. She wandered through trees of various colors unlike anything in Canterlot, and saw animals her books had taught her were long extinct. Her memories focused on a lake, and on music. She remembered a stallion with a stringed instrument that played sweet melodies that echoed across the ripples in the water. She spent a long night talking with the stranger, exchanging stories about their homelands and each showing deep interest in the others background. Twilight felt at ease being around a pony with a thirst for knowledge like herself, and it reassured her that her mission would be a success.
The sun was becoming clear on the horizon in Ponyville, and the first residents were groggily waking up. A blade of light pierced the small gaps between the curtains in the library. It slowly eased its way towards the unconscious pony in the center of the room.
Twilight’s dream was growing more vivid with each moment. The mysterious stallion and she had spent the entire night talking about this and that, and the sun was rising on the edge of the lake. The burst of light gave Twilight the clarity to realize she was supposed to be back at the camp, as her traveling companions would soon be waking and wondering where she was. Her new friend urged her to move quickly, understanding the gravitas of the situation simply from the sight of Twilight’s pupils shrinking with the realization of what was happening. He pointed out the quickest way back from where she came, and Twilight took off at a quick gallop. She had only gone a few steps before she came to a quick halt, turned back and gave the stallion a rushed, but gentle kiss. Before the stallion realized what had happened, Twilight had reared around and galloped into the forest towards camp.
The sunlight that made its way through the library paused before reaching Twilight, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When it had decided she had slumbered long enough, it made its presence known. The warmth softly pulled Twilight back from her dream world, and a drawn out yawn crept it way out. The real world slowly came into focus, and as her eyes tried to line up the images around her, she peered to see if the stallion she was just next to was beside her. Once the setting of the Ponyville Library became clear, she realized it was just a dream, and wondered to herself how long it had been she had dreamt of that magical night on the lake.
Twilight lay on the floor for a while longer, still getting her bearings. Despite the long, deep sleep, her flank was aching, and she realized how far she had wandered from her bed. She got up from the floor, and her hind legs quickly gave way beneath her, as she realized her awkward sleeping situation had compromised her fragile frame. She sighed heavily and pulled herself to her feet.
The memories she had relived during the night had quickly left her mind and been replaced with the desire for coffee in large quantities. She took a glimpse in the mirror at her disheveled mane, and tried to tame it with her hooves before heading outside. A single tuft refused to straighten itself, and after a few attempts, she decided coffee was more important than hygiene and wandered into town.
Outside her makeshift hotel, the town was already bustling. Twilight wished she had taken more time to refine her appearance, but her craving grew stronger with each passing moment, and it was now demanding not just java, but muffins as well. She made a beeline for the bakery she visited after her arrival.
The door to the bakery swung open, ringing a small bell to announce the arrival of a customer. Apple Bloom looked up and saw the starving unicorn and smiled. “Couldn’t keep away, could ‘ya?” she said as she motioned her old acquaintance inside. “Finished the rest of that pie already eh?”
Twilight approached the counter and let her stomach do the talking. A long, audible groan signaled that her stomach knew food was near. Twilight blushed deeply before answering. “Actually, I was so preoccupied yesterday that I forgot to eat. I’ll take whatever’s fresh this morning, and bring me some coffee please.”
“Morning? Lunch rush has already come and gone darlin’.” Apple Bloom fetched a plate of treats as Twilight approached the nearest table. “I know you’re on vacation, but wastin’ all your time in bed’s no good.” She left the treats at the table and poured Twilight a cup of coffee.
Twilight stopped Apple Bloom before she could retreat back behind the counter. “Leave the pot,” she requested, knowing she would consume the entire container before it grew cold.
Apple Bloom laughed as she complied, “You look like you had a run-in with Discord on the way here darlin’. Sure you don’t wanna talk ‘bout it?”
Twilight stuffed a muffin and a cookie in her mouth, and let out a long, satisfied hum. Her stomach temporarily silenced, she was at last able to answer. “It’s nothing. I just,” she paused to take a bite, and her cleared mind recalled her dreams, “didn’t sleep well.” She stared for a moment at the black brew in her cup before consuming the contents in a single gulp. Twilight searched for a way to change the subject. “Thanks again for the pie the other day. All this stuff is delicious. It’s good to see you’re doing so well.”
“Wouldn’t have none of it if it weren’t for A.J. and Big Mac’s help.” Apple Bloom’s smile grew wider as she spoke about her siblings. “They bring me the freshest apples from the farm ev’ryday so I can make my tasty treats. I dunno how Big Mac finds the time between the farm and Apple Bushel.” Before Twilight could inquire about the details, the bell rang, and the two looked up to see Fluttershy in the doorway, saddlebag in tow. “Howdy, Fluttershy! The usual?”
“Yes, please,” Fluttershy saw Twilight eating one of the muffins she had come for, “um, that is…if there’s any left.”
“Come now, Fluttershy. I’d never let you down,” said Apple Bloom as she went toward the back to fetch a box of her favorite zucchini muffins. She pulled out a tray of cookies and set them on the counter. “You look right near famished girlie. Take one.”
“Oh, thank you. I’d love to if you don’t mind.”
“’Course not darlin’. Eat up!” A loud ringing came from the back room and a puff of smoke crawled across the entryway into the front of the bakery. Apple Bloom stamped her hoofs on the ground in disgust. “Not again! I swear I’ll never get this right! ‘scuse me ladies.” She dashed away into the kitchen.
Twilight recalled how she had coldly pushed Fluttershy away the day before and tried to apologize. “Hey Fluttershy. I’m really sorry about how I acted the other day. I was just so upset, but it was no excuse to treat you like that.”
“Oh no,” she said in her soft voice, trying to turn the apology back towards Twilight, “I’m sorry you had to find out about Rainbow Dash like that. I must have ruined your welcome back party.” Fluttershy fiddled her hooves a little bit and hesitated as she spoke, “Did you find her? Is she doing ok?”
“Yeah. It was tough to see, but it turns out she’s in good hooves,” Twilight said with a slight somber tone that then proceeded into a snicker, “and she’s been keeping a close eye on you girls too.”
“Oh yeah,” Fluttershy paused and kept staring at her hooves, “we already knew about that.”
Twilight cocked her head in confusion. “You did? How?”
A loud crash came from the kitchen, followed by clearly audible, “Dag’nab it!”
“Um,” the quiet pegasus continued to speak nervously around her old friend, “Pinkie figured it out. She said her hiding spots had become,” Fluttershy searched for the right word, “compromised.”
Twilight remained puzzled. “If you had it figured out, why didn’t you confront her?”
“Um, well. Applejack and I told Pinkie to stay quiet about it.” Her eyes grew wider and she attempted to redact her statement, “I mean, it was mostly Applejack. I wasn’t going to make anypony to anything they don’t want to, but I did agree with Applejack that we should ‘just let Dash be Dash.’”
Twilight agreed with the kind pegasus. “Well, after my visit with her last night, I think you made the right decision, but I hope she gets a little bit more social about her ‘visits’.”
Apple Bloom emerged from the kitchen, her face and hooves marked with soot and white foam. “Sorry ladies. I’m gonna have to close up shop for a bit. We gots a bit of an emergency in the back. Probably gonna take me ‘til mornin’ to clean up the mess.”
Fluttershy and Twilight both offered to stay and help, but Apple Bloom insisted nobody see her kitchen until her ‘secret experiment’ was successful. The two customers barely had time to leave their bits on the table before Apple Bloom was quickly shoving them out the door, then rushing back to contain the fire that had returned for a second round of battle with the pastry chef.
Twilight hoped she could spend a little more time with Fluttershy since the opportunity had presented itself. “Do you have anywhere else to be right now Fluttershy?” she asked, knowing the naïve pegasus wouldn’t refuse any request made of her.
“Well I still have a couple hours and need to go get some carrots for Angel and his family, and some medicine for a nervous little skunk before he makes my cottage uninhabitable.” She hoped Twilight wouldn’t mind, but retained her usual meek demeanor, “You can come along, I mean, if you don’t want to, I’ll understand. It’s just that, I’ll be making dinner tonight, and maybe you’ll stay?”
Twilight was delighted with the idea. “I’d love to! I was hoping we’d get to spend some time to catch up while I’m here. I’ve been dying to know what you’ve been up to,” she said as the two headed towards the nearby farm stands.
Twilight was engrossed in a story as they approached the cottage. Despite her curiosity about how the years had affected Fluttershy, it was Twilight who did most of the talking. She told Fluttershy a tale of when Celestia had decided she was bored with the royal food and decided to try her hoof at cooking herself. “So when the cake still came out soggy and undercooked, she thought she could firm it up by sticking it in the freezer!” Twilight laughed so hard she almost dropped the groceries she was helping Fluttershy carry.
“Oh dear, that’s no good. Someone could get sick from eating that,” Fluttershy politely giggled with her friend, but she seemed more concerned with the well-being of the royal subjects that were victimized by the princess’ cooking.
“She said she was the greatest cook in the kingdom five hundred years ago, but hadn’t had the time to practice in two centuries.” Twilight made a queasy face as she continued, “She took the first bite and immediately her face started drooping and she went to throw it out, but I tried to reassure her and took a big piece. I was sick for a week, and Celestia swore never to cook again.”
“Well I guess there’s something’s even a princess can’t be great at.”
“That’s not even the best part!” Twilight said as Fluttershy opened the door to the cottage, “Luna found the leftovers that night and ate the whole thing! Celestia had to do her job for a month while Luna was bedridden with stomach aches,” she howled with laughter while she set the bags on a table.
“Oh dear.” Fluttershy was not nearly as amused by this detail as her friend, and showed genuine concern for the princess. For a moment, it seemed that her face expressed that she hadn’t comprehended that these events had already come and gone.
Fluttershy’s cottage was remarkably similar to how Twilight remembered it. She had an old style to her that never changed much, and Fluttershy didn’t really have time to redecorate even if she wanted, due to all the young creatures that occupied her time. Twilight couldn’t pinpoint the reason, but it did seem cozier than she remembered. The space seemed a bit less spacious, and in some places a bit messy, which was quite uncharacteristic of the pegasus, but it seemed otherwise unchanged.
Fluttershy hovered towards the kitchen. “I’m going to make some tea. I mean, that is, if you want some.”
“Sure. That sounds wonderful.”
Twilight was still admiring the cottage as Fluttershy returned, and the pegasus was worried her friend had noticed something wrong. “Oh, I’m sorry it’s such a mess right now. I just haven’t had the time or help lately.”
Twilight quickly tried to reassure the high-strung pony and giggled, “No Fluttershy, I was just surprised how little has changed here. You cottage looks as beautiful as I remember it.”
Fluttershy felt reassured, but still struggled with the compliment. “Um, thank you. It’s been a bit crowded, but I try to keep it nice.”
As Twilight kept peering around the cottage, she caught a glimpse of herself in a nearby mirror, and realized she had forgotten about her unkempt appearance. “Oh dear,” a horrified look appeared on Twilight’s face, “I forgot what a rush I was in this morning.”
Fluttershy felt a little more at ease around her friend’s imperfections. She directed her towards the powder room, and Twilight rushed away. The kettle began to whistle in the other room, and by the time Twilight returned with her mane back the way it should be, Fluttershy was returning from the kitchen with two steaming cups of bergamot tea.
Twilight took a sip of tea and was wondering where to begin asking Fluttershy about her experiences over the past few years when she heard the front door to the cottage opening. She turned and saw a small filly standing in the doorway. Twilight was intrigued by the small pony’s resemblance to her friend Applejack. Her orange color was a near identical match, and the only differences Twilight could pick out other than size and age were the shorter, tamed tail and small wings sprouting from her back.
“Who’re you?” the filly spoke with an attitude also reminiscent of Applejack.
Twilight was about to ask the same question, as well as why the filly was looking at her like some sort of intruder. The filly looked at Fluttershy to answer the question, and Twilight followed her lead. The filly entered the cottage and was getting a closer look at the stranger. She was uncomfortably close to Twilight, sizing her up from every angle.
“Apple Bushel, that’s not how we treat guests. Please, be a little nicer” Fluttershy addressed the miniature pegasus.
“Apple Bushel?” Twilight’s gaze wavered between the two ponies searching for answers. Suddenly the resemblance to Applejack was making more and more sense. Even the freckles were in the same place. Twilight picked up the small pegasus with glee, “Oh my goodness! You look just like your mother! I can’t believe Applejack had a filly.”
The filly was a bit perturbed by the stranger picking her up, but she was more confused by her phrasing. “Auntie A.J.? What are you talkin’ about lady? Put me down this instant!”
Fluttershy was giggling at the interaction between the two, but needed to clear things up and properly introduce the two. “Apple Bushel, this is my friend, Twilight Sparkle.”
“Wait, you mean THE Twilight Sparkle? The one Auntie A.J. tells all those stories about?” The young pony’s confusion over the stranger’s identity turned to shock that the pony she heard about was real. She looked at Twilight with a newfound interest and began barraging her with questions. “Oh my gosh! Is it true? Did y’all really fight with Auntie A.J. against Nightmare Moon? Were ya scared? How’d ya do it? Tell me everything!”
“Apple Bushel!” Fluttershy tried to stop the filly, but her voice was too soft to be heard by the inquisitor.
Twilight wasn’t sure which question to answer first. The filly she held in her outstretched hooves had stopped struggling and the two stared at each other. A large smile was forming on Apple Bushel’s face over the fact that the pony before her was real and not just an element of Applejack’s stories.
“Twilight?” Fluttershy tried to get her attention, and after a couple moments, Twilight acknowledged that someone was addressing her and turned her head. “Twilight, this is Apple Bushel, my daughter.”
There was a loud crash as Twilight lost her grip on the small pegasus, whose wings were still too small to prevent her from hitting the floor with great force. “Ow! What’d ya do that fer?” she asked as she rubbed her sore flank.
Twilight sat frozen and stared at the filly in shock. Sure enough, the wings couldn’t have come from the Apple family of earth ponies, but the resemblance was just too uncanny. “But, she looks just like Applejack! How is this possible?” Twilight asked as she stared at Fluttershy in shock.
“I guess that’s no surprise. She does get more of her looks from her father.”
“Eeeyup,” came a voice from the front of the cottage.
“Daddy!” the little filly exclaimed with joy and rushed to the newcomer’s side. There stood the largest stallion in town. Despite the dirt on his face from a hard day’s work, there was no mistaking Big Mac with any other pony around. Even with the large basket of apples hanging from his mouth, a smile formed as Apple Bushel ran up to him.
“Welcome home Mackie,” Fluttershy welcomed him in with a nuzzle and tried to help him with the basket of food he had brought from the farm for dinner. The weight was too great for the much smaller frame of the pegasus, and she nearly spilled the entire contents across the floor.
Twilight hadn’t moved an inch as she watched the scene before her unfold. The three together looked just like the setting from a family portrait. Her mouth agape, she failed to form words as she pieced the details together. Her gaze shifted from pony to pony, but spent most of its time fixed on Apple Bushel. The shade of her hide wasn’t from her relation to Applejack, but a perfect mix of the deep red stallion and light yellow pegasus. The filly was an odd mish-mash of her mother’s weak wings and small frame, and her father’s stance and charisma.
Apple Bushel tried to flap her wings hard enough to get atop her father’s back, but her age and the wing ability she inherited was too weak to get her more than a couple inches off the ground. Big Mac gently grabbed her mane in his mouth and flung her swiftly aboard as he entered the cottage. The family of three began to take notice at the odd silence from their guest, and their attention turned to her.
Twilight spoke each word slowly as she took in the reality of the situation, “You mean you?” as she pointed at Fluttershy, then towards Big Mac with her other hoof, “and you? And this?” Her hooves convened in the direction of the filly atop Big Mac’s back.
“Eeeyup,” Big Mac spoke with pride and excitement as he turned his head to nuzzle the filly riding him into the cottage. He was still a pony of few words but strong emotions.
Apple Bushel giggled at the gesture, “Daddy that tickles! And you’re going to get my wings all dirty!”
Fluttershy agreed, “She’s right dear. Go wash up, and Bushel and I will start on dinner.” Fluttershy flapped her wings and picked up Bushel off his back, and Big Mac headed out the back of the cottage towards the well. “Bushel, go wash the carrots in the kitchen. I’ll be there in a minute.” Fluttershy turned her attention back to her ignored guest, and decided it was only fair she get some sort of explanation. “Sorry if I shocked you a bit.”
Twilight began to regain her composure a bit. She was still shocked, but now it was by how different Fluttershy acted around the other two members of her family. Her meek attitude drifted away and now she was noble. Romantic. Motherly. It was nothing like the Fluttershy in Twilight’s memories. “Wow. I can’t believe this,” Twilight corrected her words as she spoke, “I mean, I’m so happy for you, but how did this happen? I mean Big Mac is,” she paused but couldn’t find the right adjective to describe the stallion, “he’s Big Mac.”
Fluttershy giggled and understood why Twilight might not understand the love that had bloomed between her and Big Mac many years ago. Her voice still soft, but confident, she addressed her friend’s concerns, “Yeah, he’s quite the stallion, and he makes me so happy.” She peered out the back door at Big Mac as he splashed water on his face. Their gaze met and he smiled back at her. “He’s a pony of few words, but somehow I just understand him. It’s kind of like how I understand the woodland creatures that wander around. He’s a lot more than you think, and different than any pony I’ve ever met.”
“But how did it happen in the first place?”
A boisterous voice came from the kitchen, “Auntie A.J. says she tricked Big Mac into it!”
“Apple Bushel, hush!” Fluttershy glared at the filly.
Unlike most creatures that got stared down by the woodland whisperer, Bushel just giggled. She ignored her mother and spoke towards Twilight, “Auntie A.J. says Fluttershy can stop any animal in ‘der tracks with ‘the stare’, but ma forgets that ‘the stare’ is in my blood. Whatever that means.” Bushel glared back at Fluttershy and then puffed out her cheeks and formed a silly expression before returning to her chores. Twilight found herself laughing at the little filly’s defiance.
Fluttershy sighed before returning to her conversation with Twilight. “Applejack keeps putting these ideas in her head, but she’s kind of right.”
“About which thing?” Twilight queried.
“Both. The stare just isn’t effective anymore since I grew close to Mackie, and Bushel is just completely immune,” Fluttershy snickered a little bit, “but you should see how obedient Angel is when she stares at him.”
“So is it really Applejack’s doing that got you two together?”
“Well, kind of, but she shouldn’t have gone about it the way she did. I was pretty lonely at the time. Angel and a lot of the other woodland creatures were starting families, and while their young ones still needed my care from time to time, there just weren’t as many creatures around. Applejack noticed that I wasn’t coming around as often for food for the animals, and I was too shy to admit the whole truth about the issue, but she knew I wasn’t being fully honest, and took it upon her to fix things.”
Bushel’s voice echoed from the kitchen, “All done ma! When we eatin’?”
Fluttershy put her story on hold for a moment. “Soon dear! Go see if you can help your father with anything.” Bushel trotted out the back of the cottage and Fluttershy turned back to Twilight. “Mind helping me a bit?”
Twilight wasn’t about to leave Fluttershy’s side until she heard the rest of the story. “Only if you tell me the rest of what happened.” The two headed to the kitchen and began work on a stew. Twilight helped the best she could, but wasn’t much help as her attention was focused more on Fluttershy’s story.
“Applejack was determined to get me alone with somepony, and tried to urge Big Mac to visit me with an apple delivery, but he’s a lone stallion himself. He prefers the work in the fields to the work with the customers, and wasn’t too interested in letting Applejack set him up with another pony, especially one of her friends. So she got crafty.”
Fluttershy held one of the apples Big Mac had brought home and eyed it closely as she continued. “Applejack took a bunch of bad apples to Rarity, and asked her to use some magic to make them look edible. Then she tricked Mackie into eating a bunch, and he got pretty sick. Rarity’s magic was so good at making things look pretty that even Applejack ate one without realizing it.”
Twilight laughed a bit as she imagined the expression Applejack would have on her face before realizing she had eaten one of the bad apples. Her laughing distracted her, and she nearly cut herself with the knife she was wielding to dice the potatoes.
“Applejack got a little ill, but Big Mac was bedridden. I showed up the next day for a crate of apples, but Applejack begged me to help with her brother. I couldn’t stand seeing him so sick. At first I forgot I was taking care of another pony, and treated him like any other woodland creature. I ended up staying there the whole weekend, never leaving his side. He talks a lot in his sleep, and I felt like I got to know him without him knowing me. Even when he was awake, he was too sick to know what was going on. I think he thought Applejack was taking care of him.”
Fluttershy blushed as she continued, “I was asleep when he finally came to. Applejack said Mackie looked so confused when he saw my head dozing off at the foot of his bed. He was afraid he’d done something terrible, but Applejack cleared it up and told him that I was there the whole time making sure he got better. He insisted on repaying the favor to me, and after all I knew about him by then, I wanted him to know me instead. For once I wasn’t afraid to let someone know who I was and Mackie was such a great listener. It wasn’t long before our friendship grew beyond, and then Bushel…”
Fluttershy paused and Twilight became ever more curious about the young filly. The two ponies could see Mac and Bushel outside the kitchen window. Bushel was trying to buck trees like her father, but her pegasus body didn’t house the strength to knock even a leaf off the trees outside the cottage. She was becoming frustrated and walked back towards the cottage, giving up. Mac stood in her way and with a simple, “Nope,” he turned her back towards the biggest tree in the backyard. Bushel only looked at her father like he had lost his marbles, but just pulled the sprig of wheat from his teeth and nodded. When her back was turned, he made his way to the other side of the tree. He let out a strong buck simultaneously with Bushel, and there was a sudden rain of fruit descending upon the filly. It quickly piled up around her and she was consumed by a mountain of apples.
Once the shower of fruit subsided, she poked her head out of the top, proudly proclaiming her accomplishment to Mac. “I did it! I really did it! I’m gonna get an apple cutie mark in no time!”
“Eeeyup!” Mac exclaimed as he pulled Bushel from the pile of fruit.
Twilight and Fluttershy were giggling as they watched. Fluttershy had little else to say about her relationship with Mac, and as the father-daughter duo returned to the cottage with their harvest, she said to Twilight, “Bushel just kind of happened, and we couldn’t be happier about it. She’s been a blessing, and just brought us closer together.”
The four ponies joined around the table to enjoy the wonderful meal. Bushel was unusually talkative compared to her parents, and was talking about the latest pony in her class to get a cutie mark. She was debating aloud with herself about what kind of apple she wanted her cutie mark to be, and Fluttershy kept reassuring her that apple or not, her cutie mark would be as special as she was. Fluttershy looked to Mac to reinforce her point, only to get another, “Eeeyup,” from her love, resulting in resounding laughter from everyone at the table.
Fluttershy insisted on walking back towards the library with Twilight, so they could catch up a little more before the day ended. In her head, Twilight reflected on the romance her friends had found, and her thoughts drifted back towards her dreams from the night. She wondered if the pony she shared that kiss with forgot about her. Perhaps he had a special somepony already before that night, and she had crossed some line without knowing it. Twilight was beginning to regret how her years as the Royal Hoof had occupied her, and despite all the reading she had done, it was no substitute for the real feeling of affection. It was a form of friendship she hadn’t found since that night, and now she wished she had spent more time searching for it.
Twilight was brought back to reality by a pink flash that rushed past them. Fluttershy was nearly blown away by the resulting wind, and Twilight’s mane returned to the disheveled appearance she had worked so hard to correct. “What in the hay was that?” asked Twilight, a bit more scared than curious.
Fluttershy regained her footing and responded, “It must have been Pinkie. She plans too many parties at once and then this is the result.”
“Did somebody say my name?” Twilight looked down at the voice coming from beneath her. Pinkie Pie had somehow crawled between her hooves without her noticing and was staring at her with a wide grin. “Yay! Twilight! I need your help oh so badly! Quick! Streamers or balloons?” she exclaimed as she seemed to pull materials out of nowhere.
Twilight was taken aback and didn’t quite understand what was going on. She pointed at the balloons, and asked, “What are all these for?”
Pinkie ignored the question and took Twilight’s response as a valid answer for balloons before quickly moving to the next question. “Cake or cookies?”
Fluttershy responded this time. “Pinkie if you’re the mayor can’t you make these decisions on your own?”
Pinkie took an exaggerated, patriotic pose as she responded, “Pinkie is the mayor by the ponies, for the ponies! Pinkie means democracy! Pinkie means answers!” Something about her voice made it sound like she had said this many times before, and Twilight wondered if it was from a poster or some other election material. She let out a loud gasp before excitedly grabbing Twilight, “Quick, there’s no time! Sharks or bears?”
Now both Twilight and Fluttershy were confused, and at the same time quite concerned for the attendees of whatever party Pinkie was planning. “Pinkie, are we even talking about a party?” Twilight inquired.
“No silly filly, we’re talking about the greatest extravaganza Ponyville has ever seen! I just don’t know why yet, but my ‘Pinkie sense’ says something big is coming, and I need to be ready to celebrate!” Twilight and Fluttershy stared at her puzzled. Her answer still didn’t explain the broad range of questioning. “Come on you two! I need your help!” Still she only got questioned stares in response. She was hopping around faster and faster, and even for Pinkie, she seemed high-strung. “Fine. I guess it’s up to Mayor Pinkie this time.” Pinkie gave up and dashed away, leaving the two to try and piece together the mystery.
There was a long silence before Fluttershy decided it was no use worrying about Pinkie. “Well, thanks for coming over for dinner Twilight. I should be getting back and make sure Mackie isn’t letting Bushel stay up late again. She’s beyond control when she doesn’t get enough sleep.” Fluttershy and Twilight hugged briefly, with Twilight squeezing a little harder than she should have, and then parted ways.
Twilight returned to her chambers in the library and did a little bit of reading and reorganizing of the shelves before she realized how high Luna’s former prison was hanging in the night sky. She blew out the candles and crawled into bed, wondering if she would have anymore unusual dreams.
Before she could drift off to sleep, there was a loud scraping noise outside her window, and a startled Twilight fell out of the bed. She approached the window and saw Pinkie wearing a hard hat and holding a saw. She was building something and fast. It was too dark for Twilight to determine what it was or why Pinkie had to do it now, and she was too tired to question it. She dragged her tired body to the bed and pulled the pillow over her head to muffle the noise.
It was going to be a long night.
Oh, sweet Celestia, the noise!
The grinding and pounding sounds echoed through the library the entire night, as a sleep-deprived Twilight lay motionless in despair. Thwack! Her hooves lay at her sides and her eyes stared straight at cracks in the ceiling that seemed to grow wider with each blow of hammer to nail. Zurrrr! Each swipe of the saw grinding away a cut in the lumber made her body inadvertently hop as the structure shook. Bizzzzz! With every hole drilled in the wood, Twilight’s pupils shrank another fraction of a millimeter. The rush of blood toward the backs of her eyes swelled thicker and thicker, as if the flow was coming in faster than it was going out. Every nerve in Twilight’s head was crying out in agonizing pain.
The roar of the tools and machines outside came to a halt, and yet Twilight remained still. Her every thought was focused on dulling the pain in preparation for the noise to pick up where it had left off. She waited and readied herself for the coming onslaught of pain, but it never came. After several minutes teetering on the edge of sanity, she dragged her aching form towards the window to confirm her suspicions.
In the commons outside the library, there stood an enormous structure. Easily as tall as it was wide, Twilight stared at the monstrosity trying to determine its purpose and the reason for its rushed construction. She could not even determine the true shape of the structure, as Pinkie Pie was right then securing the last corner of a gigantic canvas that hid the identity of the work that lay beneath it. As she finished tying it to a post in the ground, Pinkie Pie caught a glimpse of the lavender unicorn watching her, and she began feverishly waving in her direction with a silly grin plastered on her face.
Twilight flinched at the knowledge she’d been seen spying on the events outside her window and backed away. She turned around to be greeted by the same pony she was only a moment ago spying on from her bedroom perch. Pinkie stood only inches away from the edge of Twilight’s face with a smile that seemed to grow past the point that her face could contain it.
“Did’ja see it? Did’ja? Did’ja? Did’ja?” Pinkie questioned excitedly, her volume seeming to surpass its maximum level with each utterance of the question.
Her ears already incapacitated from the constant noises through the night, it wasn’t the force of Pinkie’s voice that flung Twilight back against the wall, but the shock of her sudden appearance. Her chest was rising and receding rapidly as her hooves lay outstretched at her sides. The remainder of her pupils faded from visibility as she collapsed to the floor beneath her, leaving behind a deep silhouette of Twilight’s frame deep in the wall of the library.
“Oh geez, not aga... ” was all Twilight heard before she lost consciousness.
Perhaps it was the fright Pinkie had given Twilight, or her sleep-deprived state, but it was several hours before Twilight regained consciousness. Her eyelids twitched a few times before parting ways to return her to the land of the living. She groaned as her eyes tried to focus and gather her surroundings. Multiple fuzzy clouds of pink were moving at a furious pace across the room from her, repeating same motions over and over. Twilight heard two quick thuds and a swishing sound playing in her ears.
The clouds centered together as the room came into focus, and Twilight could see Pinkie going through a stack of forms on a desk. Pinkie was going through the forms in quick succession. With a quick browse of the contents she stomped her hoof into one of two pads of ink, stamped a hoofprint on the form, and grabbed the next one in the stack.
Twilight peered around the room. It quickly became apparent she was no longer in the library. Plaques and pictures hung on the walls. One showed Pinkie and Miss Mayor shaking hooves in front of city hall. Another had Pinkie holding a giant pair of scissors as she split a thick piece of ribbon in two. The largest photo showed Pinkie standing at a podium with one hoof pointed high in the air, while behind her hung several copies of the same banner displaying a picture of her face with the caption of ‘Pinkie’ beneath. In every picture, Pinkie had the same silly grin on her face towards the camera. Either Pinkie had become rather skilled at photo opportunities, or her face had been stuck like that for a long time, and Twilight began to consider both to be valid options.
Pinkie took notice of the awakening mare and made an honest attempt to contain her excitement this time when approaching her. She hopped across the room, leaving a hoofprints on the floor with each hop from the remaining ink that detached itself from her hooves. “Wakey wakey sleepyhead!” she sang as she bounced in place in front of Twilight.
Twilight slowly rose from the floor. Her horn let out a slight glow as her hair attempted to rearrange itself to its regular appearance. “We really have to stop meeting like this.”
Pinkie’s hopping paused briefly as she spoke, “Sorry.” She quickly resumed her enthusiastic bouncing as she continued, “It’s just that I worked real hard on it, and I wanted to know what you thought.”
Twilight recalled the mystery structure outside her house. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t get a good look before you covered it. Why’d you have to keep me up all night anyway?”
Pinkie ignored the question and gasped loudly. “That means,” she paused as she shuddered with excitement, “it’s gonna be a surprise!” Pinkie’s voice became hushed as she spoke, pausing between words, “And I… Love… SURPRISES!”
Twilight became ever more fearful of what Pinkie was planning, and visions ran through her mind of an apocalypse brought about by Pinkie’s over exuberant partying. She shook her head to clear the thoughts of death and destruction at Pinkie’s hand and tried to change the subject. “Pinkie, where are we?”
“Oh, you were in a really deeeeeeep sleep,” Pinkie replied with an exaggerated groan, “and I wanted to wait for you to wake up, but I’m a busy pony now. So I had my goons carry you back to my office so I could get work done.” Pinkie opened the door to the office, and motioned to two ponies that stood at attention with dark sunglasses shielding their vision.
“Madam Mayor, I’ve told you repeatedly we’re not goons, we’re,” the door slammed back in the guard’s face before he could finish his statement.
“Anyway,” Pinkie continued unfazed, “I really wanted to know what you thought about my surprise.” She waved her hooves up and down to punctuate herself and winked. “But I didn’t know it was going to be a surprise, and now it is and I’m super excited about it!” Pinkie continued to bounce in place as she spun around endlessly. “So how have you been enjoying Pinkie Pie’s Ponyville? Have you seen everypony yet?”
Twilight’s shock at Pinkie’s quick tone and actions was slowly fading as she realized there was no way to contain the limitless energy the candy-coated pony possessed. “Well, the town seems to have,” Twilight choose her words carefully, “survived.” She recalled for Pinkie her experiences of the last couple days, including the parts where Pinkie had kept her up all night and then dragged her lifeless body halfway across town. She made sure to put special emphasis on the details Pinkie was already aware of to reassure her of the chaos and stress she had caused.
“That’s great!” Pinkie laughed back at her friend’s story.
Twilight raised an eyebrow and wondered which parts of her story Pinkie was tuned in for. She gave up on lecturing her friend about her randomness and turned her attention to the pictures that hung on the wall. “I almost didn’t believe it when Applejack said you were the mayor, but I guess it must be true. You’ve been one busy pony.”
“Yup yup!” Pinkie chuckled in response. “Ponyville’s been ay-o-k with Pinkie around!” Pinkie grabbed Twilight’s hoof and pulled her away as they fled the office. “C’mon! There’s something I have to show you!”
Twilight found it rather impossible to resist the urging of her friend, since they were already out of the building and down the street. The pace at which Pinkie moved made her dizzy. Through the bouncing and spinning, Twilight could swear she saw the white unicorn from her welcome party, but before she could confirm her suspicions, Pinkie’s tugging had pulled her far from view.
Twilight’s eyes were still spinning in their sockets well after Pinkie had arrived at their destination. Pinkie was bouncing around her friend in circles repeatedly cheering, “We’re here!”
“Um, where is ‘here’?”
Pinkie pointed at the door to the building before them, “Right here, silly! You know Twilight, after all the years we’ve known each other, you still ask lots of obvious questions.”
Twilight would have rolled her eyes in sarcasm, if only they would have stopped spinning and surrender control back to her. “Pinkie, why did you bring me here?”
“Because it’s Party Party Headquarters! And I’m here to give you the grand tour!”
Twilight’s confusion continued to grow, and she was feeling the onset of a migraine forming. She pounded her head against her hoof, which did nothing to ease her headache, but it did return her eyes to their proper place. Her attention returned to Pinkie’s nonsense. “Party Party?”
“Party! You’ve got it!”
“No Pinkie, what in the hay is Party Party?”
Pinkie declined to respond, and instead pushed open the door to the building. A bright ray of light from inside forced Twilight to shield her eyes as she approached. The inner workings of the building slowly came into view. Everywhere Twilight looked she saw different machines churning away at a fast pace. Dozens of ponies were meandering between the machines. They all wore unusual hard hats with colorful cones sitting atop them. Most were either staring at clipboards or pressing various buttons that operated the monstrous machines.
Twilight gazed closer at the machines lining the corridors of the facility. On one end of a machine, large rolls of foil of various colors were being pulled into the body of the contraption. At the other end a river of multicolored dust was rolling out on a conveyor belt. Another machine in the distance was spitting out roll after roll of crimped paper streamers. There were machines making candies, while others made balloons or fireworks. The room was full of color and noise like she had never seen.
Pinkie Pie grabbed two hard hats off a nearby rack and plopped one on her head, and the other on Twilight. Twilight could see now that attached to the top of hard hat was a party hat, complete with a fuzzy ball at the tip. “Um, Pinkie? Why are there party hats attached to these?”
Pinkie stared at her like the answer was obvious. “Because hard hats are booooooring! Duh!” Pinkie led the way down the center of the room past each machine. Several ponies took note that their foreman was in the room, and many were approaching her with questions as they walked.
“Miss Pie, the ponies upstairs want to know what we should do about the wrapping paper shortage?” the first worker inquired.
“Can’t we just sell the foil rolls for the confetti machine as wrapping paper?” Pinkie still had a surprising level of insight despite her quirks.
“Brilliant!” The pony dashed to the confetti machine to stop production.
Another worker approached the spirited leader. “Ma’am, we have the new ‘Birthday B’s’ jelly bean prototypes ready to sample.” The pony began tossing candies into Pinkie’s mouth one by one, never missing despite Pinkie’s erratic bouncing. “Banana.”
“Mmmm,” Pinkie hummed approvingly.
“MMMmmmm,” Pinkie strongly approved.
The worker made quick notes between candies, measuring the length of Pinkie’s moans to determine which would be good sellers. “And this one,” the pony spoke nervously, but before she could decide whether to let Pinkie sample it, the candy had been swiped from her hoof and popped into Pinkie’s mouth.
Pinkie’s face went through a rapid shift of different emotions. Her face was contorting and spinning rapidly. Twilight and the worker pony knew this couldn’t be good, and began to back away in fear of what could happen next. Pinkie spat the candy out and grabbed the worker, shaking her vigorously. “What in the name of sweets and candies was that supposed to be?”
“Blue cheese cake?”
Pinkie began rolling on the floor with laughter, breaking her words apart. “It was,” she snickered, “supposed to be,” giggle, “blue… Hehehehe… BERRY cheesecake!”
The worker looked dumbfounded and rifled through the notes on her clipboard. There in Pinkie’s hoofwriting, it had clearly been written as ‘Blue Cheesecake’, but none of the worker’s had dared to question Pinkie’s genius thus far. The worker penned furiously at the notes and attempted to clear things up. “Oh, yes ma’am. That’s clearly what it says. That’s our mistake.” The worker turned and yelled up to a few unicorns operating the controls, “Okay boys! Change of plans! Shut it down and back to the drawing board!”
As Pinkie and Twilight neared the end of line of monstrous contraptions, another pony approached with a clipboard in hoof. “Madam Mayor,” the worker addressed her, “we have the results from our focus groups for new holidays, and the results are through the roof.”
Pinkie was more than pleased somepony had come to her with good news. “Goody! More holidays means more parties! And what pony doesn’t like to party?” Pinkie busted open the door at the end of the warehouse with great force, and her and Twilight entered into a large conference room. Charts and figures lined the walls, detailing every aspect of production within the factory. Pinkie was excitedly bouncing around Twilight eager to hear her response to everything. “So what d’ya think? Isn’t it the most super duper fantabulous thing ever?” she shouted.
Twilight was amazed by the contents of the building, but still rather confused. “Pinkie,” she said in a shy tone, “I’m not quite sure what I just saw, but it looks rather amazing. How did you do all this?”
“Oh, it was easy peasy,” Pinkie replied. As was usual with Pinkie, the answer came too quickly to catch all the details or figure out what was true and what was just Pinkie’s random imagination. “When I went to run against Filthy Rich in the mayoral election, everypony raised this big stink about parties. And I mean, I love parties, but they were all asking me if I was with a Republiclydessdale or Democanter party. I mean, I kept telling them I think all parties are super duper, but everypony insisted I pick one.”
Pinkie was making erratic hoof motions as she talked and visualized the exhaustion that the citizens of Ponyville had put her through. “I said ‘Can’t I go to both parties?’, and then somepony said I should go to a third party! I was already having enough trouble with everypony telling me about two parties, so I’m like ‘Three parties? Can’t it just be two parties?’ I mean, Party Party Party? It’s just so exhausting! I said ‘Party Party is enough!’ and now we have Party Party!”
Twilight tried to piece through the explanation for which parts made any sense, and found none. She tried to play along, since she knew any further explanations from Pinkie would be a fruitless ordeal. “Ok. So what does the run for mayor have to do with this factory?”
Pinkie giggled and dashed across the room. An instant later she was back with an easel in her hoof containing a stack of large cards. The one in front had a logo of Pinkie’s smiling face encircled with the words ‘Party Party’ written in an odd font comprised of various party goods. Pinkie excitedly smacked a hoof against the card as she spoke, “Because this is what Party Party is all about!” She flung the first card away to reveal a card with a math equation. She pointed to the variables as she explained, “Party Party is based around a simple philosophy: ‘fun’ plus ‘parties’ plus ‘ponies’ equals ‘profits’!”
Twilight’s head turned sideways in confusion as she pondered how anything Pinkie was saying could make any sense. It couldn’t all be crazy rambling. The ponies in the factory were working hard, and they seemed rather happy. Not to mention that Ponyville as a whole was surviving, so something Pinkie was doing must be working. She had so many questions, but couldn’t get a word in edgewise as Pinkie barely paused to breathe during her presentation.
Pinkie pulled away the equation card and tossed it aside. The next card was a cartoon drawing of a muffin divided in sections and labeled. “When all the citizens of Ponyville started asking me about all their problems, I was so upset about how sad everypony was. With all these sad ponies, our economy was collapsing, because everypony was too sad to do anything fun, and everypony just got sadder! And when they got even sadder, the economy just got worse and… ”
“Pinkie, are you going somewhere with this?”
Pinkie realized her point was made, and perhaps her downward spiral of sadness and economic turmoil could be shortened this time. She motioned to the chart as she spoke, “I looked at the spending habits of everypony in town, and found that they spent a lot more when they were having fun, and nothing is more fun than parties! So if we had parties all the time, ponies would spend more, and the local economy would be re-established!”
For once, the things Pinkie was saying weren’t just making sense; it was a stroke of genius. Twilight felt genuinely frightened that such an idea had come from Ponyville’s number one party pony, and that it had actually worked. Her eyes wandered back to the chart Pinkie was pointing at, and realized again that Pinkie still had a bit of crazy in her. “Why did you make your pie chart into a muffin?” she asked.
Pinkie’s head swiveled to look at the chart, and then back to Twilight. “Because this is the muffin chart silly!” She fiddled with the stack of cards and pulled one from the back of the stack. “This is the pie chart!” she said as she held it in front of Twilight’s face. The line graph on the card was nothing like a pie chart, but upon closer inspection, it was a track of the ‘pie : fun’ ratio that Pinkie had developed.
Having always been the scientist of the group, Twilight was curious which of Pinkie’s theories were developed through any form of scientific method. In all the books she had ever read, she hadn’t come across a text of pony economics and the effect from parties thereof. Then again, most of the scientists and economists in Equestrian history didn’t possess Pinkie’s quirks either. The smartest ponies in Equestria would have a difficult time understanding Pinkie logic. She thought to herself that it was silly to question it if it was working so well for Ponyville.
Pinkie spent much of the rest of the afternoon showing Twilight her accomplishments in the world of politics. There were stacks of records of all the parties she had the town throw, and all the local businesses that had open and thrived as a result. There were plenty of photos to go with her records, and Twilight began to notice a pattern as they went through the records. All of Pinkie’s closest friends had shown up to the parties and played a role in helping them succeed, but over time, she noticed how some showed up less and less. She knew Rainbow Dash’s excuse, and as she looked closer, there were little glimpses of her hiding from the other ponies.
However, it wasn’t just Rainbow Dash that wasn’t showing up. Applejack had showed up to every single party for the first few years, but then her appearances became sporadic. The same could be said for Rarity, except there was a noticeable shift in Rarity’s appearance through the records. Her expressions were so happy for several years, but in the last few records, all the pictures of her made her look sad, or sometimes angry. Then, there stopped being appearances of her at all. Twilight couldn’t seem to make heads or tails of this turn of events. She knew she had seen her at her welcoming party. If she didn’t want to be around her friends, why would she have shown up at all?
Pinkie’s boundless amounts of energy reserves were slowly wearing thin, although it was not something most ponies could notice. Twilight and Pinkie were returning to the library, and her bouncing was a little slower than usual. The realms of Luna were hanging high above them, and both ponies let out long yawns of exhaustion. Pinkie was surely drained, as even her yawning was slow. Her exaggerated yawn brought forth a stare from Twilight.
“What?” Pinkie yawned. “I thought you were having a yawning contest.” Her yawning became more and more frequent as she spoke, “Partying is hard work you know. It’s enough to make a pony… ” she tried to finish, but her eyes drifted shut, and she began to snore.
At first, Twilight didn’t believe she was actually asleep, since she somehow continued to bounce as she snored in the street. After a few moments, she decided that the party pony needed to find her way back, so Twilight spun Pinkie in the direction of her home, and gave her a little push. Pinkie continued to bounce off of the horizon, snoring the entire way. There was a slight crash as she disappeared, but before Twilight could rush to find out if her friend was okay, the sounds of snoring and bouncing returned, and the sound gradually faded into the distance.
Twilight was feeling a similar level of grogginess as she approached the library. As she entered and found her way to her bed, she saw a note and an apple sitting on a nearby desk. The apple was bright and shiny, and its brilliant red hue could only have come from one place in all of Equestria. Twilight took a bite as she read the note.
Doing anything tomorrow? There’s a lot more where that came from!
The first bite of the apple was crisp and juicy. There were no sweeter fruits in all of Equestria, and one bite would have any pony craving more. Twilight was no exception. She picked the fruit clean as she climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep.
A solid thud shook the library, followed by another, and another. Twilight had had it with interruptions in her sleep, and approached the window quite heated. As she looked down at the ground, she saw a comatose Pinkie repeatedly bouncing into the same knot in the base of the tree. Twilight did not dare attempt to wake her, and wasn’t about to lose out on a good night’s rest. Her horn glowed slightly and a sticky pool of glue formed beneath Pinkie. Despite being pinned to the ground, her body still made bouncing motions while stuck in place. Twilight sighed as she grabbed the apple core. She flung it at Pinkie’s head. It connected with an uncharacteristic clang against the side of Pinkie’s head, and Pinkie’s body stood at attention for a brief moment. Her body then collapsed into the puddle and resumed snoring.
Twilight returned to her bed, wondering if she knew how to reverse the glue spell, or if there was some sort of solvent that she could release Pinkie with in the morning. She resolved that it was something that could be taken care of when the sun had returned. A good night’s rest would do the hard-working party partier some good.
Celestia’s arrival on the horizon proved uneventful this morning. The sun was a constant, unchanging event in everypony’s life. Ponies rest. Ponies dream. Ponies rise. These cycles of repetition tend to go unnoticed, except by those select few that govern these events.
Twilight Sparkle was slow to rise this morning. A good night’s rest had eluded her thus far during her time in Ponyville. Long nights, loud noises, and lost memories had haunted her every chance for a comfy rest in a warm bed, and now she was taking advantage of the opportunity. She had no silly dreams or crazy interruptions, and while most ponies would consider it a boring night of rest, boring was all she craved at this point.
The antithesis of boring was waking up just outside Twilight’s abode to a rude surprise, and Twilight was sure to hear about it. That is, if during her collapse into unconsciousness, Pinkie hadn’t fallen muzzle first into the pool of adhesive beneath her. Pinkie groaned for attention to her plight, only to have her sounds drowned out for the first time in ages.
Twilight reached out, still trapped in slumber, for an alarm clock that wasn’t going off, nor was it even there. As her hoof came down with a hard knock against the wood of the end table a few times, she pried her eyelids apart. So used to hard work and short nights, her instinct told her that a loud ringing was going to call her to her duties in Canterlot, but as her current setting registered against her retinas, she realized she was a far way from her chambers in Canterlot.
Rising from the bed with the speed and grace of a tortoise, Twilight found the note that had accompanied her midnight snack. The memories of the previous night came rushing back, and Twilight made a mad dash for the window. The window flew open with such force it cracked the middle as it smacked against the side of the tree. Twilight peered down at the pink mess lying face-first in a pile of her spell’s byproduct and feared the worst. “Pinkie,” she yelled out at the motionless heap, “are you ok?”
Pinkie’s curly mane twitched wildly with her response. “Mmmm mmmff mmmmmmmmm MMMMMM!” was the response that made it through the thick glue to Twilight’s ears. Twilight loosely translated it to, “Do I LOOK like I’m ok?” and galloped as fast as her hooves could carry her out of the library and to her friend’s side, levitating a book on magical solvents with her as she ran past the shelves.
Twilight was too busy searching the book for the right remedy to this situation to realize she was running right into the puddle herself. Her front hooves were immediately halted by the magical bond her creation held, and her forward momentum sent the rest of her body forcefully into the muck. Pinkie could only roll her eyes in disapproval as she now found her former captor and current savior in the same situation.
The two exchanged exaggerated groans of frustrated laughter as Twilight regained her composure. Her horn let off a soft light as the book floated back towards her and flipped pages seemingly of its own free will. After a couple of disappointed moans, Twilight’s muffled voice turned positive and her horn glowed brighter. The mess beneath them began to diffuse into the earth beneath them. Pinkie pushed against the ground for freedom, and as the last of the glue let go of its hold on her, her body somersaulted backwards several feet.
Twilight arose with a bit more care and approached Pinkie to apologize for her selfishness the night before. “Are you alright Pinkie?” she sheepishly asked.
Pinkie rebounded like the invincible pony she had always been, simply happy to be bouncing again. “Okie dokie lokie!” she responded, Twilight’s indiscretions seemingly banished from her mind already. Instead, Pinkie’s attention turned to the blunt weapon that Twilight had bruised her with the previous night. “Say, is that what I think it is?” she curiously questioned as she approached the stripped bare fruit.
Twilight found most of Pinkie’s actions curious and odd, but she couldn’t imagine why Pinkie would take such an interest in the leftover remnants of the snack. “Um, it’s just an apple,” she said as she recalled the fruit’s delicious and complex flavors that had danced on her tongue the night before.
“No! This isn’t just any apple silly,” Pinkie corrected the lavender unicorn as she inspected the core from every angle. “The bright sheen of the skin! The rich, juicy flesh! The aromas of earth and ripe age!” she rambled as she held the scrap in her hoof. She peered at it closely with one eye and gave a deep inhale to verify her suspicions. Needing more proof, she gave a long, carefully slow lick up the remains of flesh that clung onto the core.
Twilight could only cringe as she played audience to the spectacle before her. Pinkie was never the epitome of table manners, but the sight of this was beginning to make her queasy. Fairly certain that the fruit tasted better going down than coming up, she tried to bring a halt to Pinkie’s actions before the latter became reality. “Pinkie seriously, do you absolutely have to do that?”
Pinkie made a sharp glance towards Twilight, apple still in hoof and her tongue still clinging to the fruit as she spoke. “But it’s a crime not to appreciate an apple of this quality. I should know, I wrote the law.” Pinkie got uncomfortably close to Twilight as she questioned her. “Do you truly not know what this is?”
“My apple from last night?”
Pinkie’s eyes lit up with a fire of jealousy. “So you do know? Aren’t these just great? I mean, I’ve only had a few of them myself, but they’re absolutely fantastic!”
“You’ve had dozens of apples Pinkie. I’ve seen you consume bushels in a single gulp.” Twilight recalled several times when she was convinced that Pinkie was more than just a pony, but a parasprite in disguise slowly draining Ponyville of its natural resources.
“Nuh-uh, this is different. This came from Applejack’s private orchard!” Pinkie stared deeply at the core as she spoke, “Even I don’t know her secret, but these are thousands of times better than anything that comes from the Sweet Apple Acres harvest.” Pinkie uncharacteristically turned her head slowly towards Twilight. “Say, how did you get your hooves on one of these?” she said accusingly.
Twilight could feel sweat pouring down her brow as Pinkie suspected her of some nefarious deed. “It was here when I got home last night. Applejack left it with a note about coming to visit her,” she replied nervously, hoping Pinkie would see she was telling the truth.
“Oh,” Pinkie backed away slowly as she spoke, “I guess that’s plausible.” Her attention returned to the remarkable remnant of apple in her hoof. “Say, if she gives you anymore of these, can you save one for me? I’d come with you, but I’ve got my hooves full with Party Party business all day. Don’t tell her it’s for me though. She’s real protective of these and she’s tired of me asking for more. I don’t see what the big deal is, she’s gotta’ have hundreds of them, but she says it’s a secret, and I’d never intrude on a secret.” Pinkie’s eyes grew serious as she repeated, “Never.”
“I’ll see what I can do Pinkie, but I’m just going over to catch up with her, not to freeload on apples.”
“Okie dokie! Thanks Twilight!” Pinkie bounced away as she spoke, and after a couple steps, collided with the covered attraction she had built a couple nights before. Pinkie waved away some imaginary birds tweeting around her head and steadied her stance. “Now who would leave something this big just sitting in the middle of the road?”
Twilight provided some insight from afar, “You did!”
“Oh right, that totally sounds like something I’d do,” Pinkie giggled and resumed her bouncing exit.
Twilight held a hoof to her face and shook her head. She imagined how a pony with pudding for brains could run this town, and an image crossed her thoughts of what Equestria would be like if Celestia had the misfortune to have her crown handed down to Princess Pinkamena. She shook her head violently to clear herself of the thought, and resolved to never imagine such a thing again.
The sun sowed blessings down upon Sweet Apple Acres, and the trees and grass waved approvingly as a thankful gesture. The breeze flowed down the path to the farm to welcome a visitor, and Twilight’s mane gently flowed with the gentle push. The view from the top of the hill leading down to the orchards was breathtaking. A full prism of colors that protruded from the farm. Each leaf on the trees was vividly alive and prosperous. The farmhouse displayed a steadfast grace from all the long-endured years of harsh winters and coats of paint that didn’t quite match the original firehouse red shade, which peered through in some areas.
It was the start of the harvest season, and the apples hung from the trees proud of this fact. Months of hard work had been put into each and every fruit, and they appeared eager to be enjoyed by everypony in town. One by one, the trees awaited a strong buck from one of the two hardest workers in Ponyville. As Twilight sauntered down the hill towards the farm, she came across the first of the two. Big Mac was hard at work in the fields, his strength hardly contained by a single tree. Most of his kicks were so strong that fruit would fall from trees nearby his intended target. Apple Bushel and a couple of her schoolyard chums were competing to see who would catch the most apples in their basket as a torrent fell from each tree.
Apple Bushel was the first to notice Twilight approaching the farm and dropped her basket as she trotted over towards the fence. “Hiya’ Twilight!” She motioned her friends over and proudly showed off Twilight to them. “Hey girls this is the famous Twilight Sparkle my Auntie A.J. is always talking about.”
The foals both replied in unison, “No way!”
Twilight knew a barrage of questions about the Elements of Harmony couldn’t be far off, and was hoping to avoid such a situation. “Have you seen Applejack today?” she asked.
“Eeeeyup!” the massive stallion responded as he adjusted the wheat sprig in his teeth. He motioned a hoof towards the barn.
Twilight thanked him and excused herself, reminding the foals to not give Big Mac too much trouble. They simultaneously promised they wouldn’t, then proceeded to run in circles around the stallion while he returned to work. Big Mac barely seemed bothered by the foals’ antics. He was a steady worker, not a fast worker, so having Apple Bushel around was more encouraging than it was disruptive.
Twilight found Applejack on the south side of the barn, sorting through an endless pile of apples. The earth pony heard her approaching and let out a large smile as she came into view. “Hey sugah’cube. Guess you got my note,” she said as she dropped her work to give Twilight a strong hug. Applejack could feel Twilight’s stomach rumbling, and handed her one of the apples from her approved stack. “Care fer’ one? Y’all look right famished.”
Twilight resisted the urge to drool as she took the humble offering. “Yes, please!” she devoured the apple in two bites as she spoke. “Why aren’t you out in the fields? Big Mac is a strong worker, but he’s never been able to handle all the harvesting on his own.”
Applejack pulled her Stetson forward on her head and motioned to the to-do pile behind her. “Ah still get out in the fields when ah can, but there’s more to be done on the farm than jus’ harvestin’ right now. Care tah’ help Twi?”
Twilight wasn’t about to let her friend down. “Sure, if you don’t think I’ll get in the way.”
“Aw, horsefeathers. Ah ain’t no foolish foal no more. Ah’ll take all the help ah can get.” The pair sorted through the pile, removing the unhealthy apples as they continued their conversation. “So ah heard Pinkie was giving y’all some trouble the other day.”
Twilight recalled Pinkie’s construction project that had kept her up a couple nights prior. “I just don’t think I understand that pony. We may be friends and all, and I love her to death, but I don’t know why she does the things she does.”
“Best tah’ not try and understand, sugah’cube. That’s likely tah' drive the likes of anypony crazy.”
“You should have seen her this morning. She went practically bonkers over that apple you left for me.”
Applejack’s eared suddenly perked up, nearly knocking her hat right off her head. “Please tell me she didn’t eat it.”
“No, I ate it last night. She just,” Twilight cringed as she recalled how Pinkie practically molested the leftover apple, “admired it a little too closely.”
Applejack cringed as well, and Twilight made the assumption that Applejack had seen a similar situation in the past. “That darn mare. Twice as good at clearing a room than she is at fillin’ it sometimes.”
Twilight could only laugh in agreement. As she continued to assist with Applejack’s sorting duties, she again became inclined to ask why Applejack wasn’t in the fields. “So why isn’t Granny Smith out here doing this? She was always the best at finding the bad apples.”
Applejack didn’t even flinch or take her eyes off her work as she responded. “Gran’s been gone goin’ on seven years Twilight,” she said with a small attitude of disdain towards the deceased mare.
Twilight stopped working and felt ashamed at her faux pas. “Oh, I’m sorry.” She wanted to say more, but found herself at a loss for words.
Applejack sighed heavily as she urged her friend that it wasn’t a big deal. “It ain’t nothin’ Twi. Gran and I weren’t really seeing eye-tah’-eye near the end anyhow. I wish she could've seen Apple Bloom’s bakery before she passed, and she would’ve been so happy to meet Apple Bushel.” Applejack turned her attention back towards the work at hoof. “Ah don’t have her discernin’ eye, but I still know a bad apple when ah sees one.”
Twilight could tell it was a sore subject for Applejack, but her curiosity couldn’t be contained. “Did she go peacefully?”
Applejack spoke with an unusual lack of emotion. “She was old. Old ponies jus’ go to sleep and then don’t wake up. Happens to all of us.” It was difficult to discern if Applejack’s attitude was just her not wanting to talk about it, or if her soured relationship with Granny Smith was to blame. “The old mare knew it too. That’s why she was actin’ the way she did.”
Twilight had read through whole libraries in her years, but could never come across a tome that could define death in a way that satisfied her thirst for knowledge. She remembered asking Celestia about it as a filly, only to get some poetic response about ‘The Great Unknown’, which only aggravated her curiosity. Twilight never had any personal experience in dealing with a loss like Applejack had gone through. It had been several years, but something in Applejack’s attitude told Twilight she still needed comforting. “Whatever happened between you two, I hope you made peace before she passed.”
Twilight’s choice of words was poor, but it did emit a response from Applejack. “Ah tried,” she said as she pushed back her hat and looked up towards the peak of the pile of apples, “Ah really, truly did.” She turned to Twilight, her face marked with shame and tears forming in her eyes, “But for the first time in my life, ah jus’ couldn’t be honest with her.”
Twilight tried to calm Applejack’s loathing, but still wanted a straight answer from her. She wrapped a hoof around Applejack and her horn glowed as a nearby bandana hovered over and dried Applejack’s tears. “That’s not like you Applejack, I’m sure you could have told her anything, and she’d still love you. You’re family.”
Applejack sniffled as she spoke, “It wasn’t ‘bout family, it was ‘bout the farm.” Applejack tried to regain her composure. She pulled Twilight’s hoof off her gently, cleared her throat and adjusted her hat. Applejack let out a harsh and loud whistle, and within seconds, Apple Bushel and her friends appeared.
“You called, Auntie A.J.?”
“Can you fillies take care of the rest of the sorting today? Twilight and I need to go inside and catch up.”
“Sure thing Auntie A.J., you can count on us!” The little leader directed her friends to their stations, and the fillies laughed and sang as they worked.
Applejack motioned towards the farmhouse and beckoned Twilight. “C’mon. Y’all ain’t gonna be happy ‘til yah’ hear the whole story, right?”
Applejack returned from the kitchen with a couple plates and one of Apple Bloom’s pies. She needed something sweet to calm her down so she could tell Twilight what had happened. Her hooves were shaking as she cut a slice for herself and her guest.
Twilight ignored the treat and continued to sip her tea. Applejack’s lack of enthusiasm was concerning her, and she wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Her eyes were fixed on Applejack, and she wasn’t going to let the pony weasel her way out of this conversation. “So you still owe me some explanations,” she rashly said. The hot tea trickled down her throat, fueling the fire inside her that burned for the rest of the story.
“Ah know Twi, its jus’ been a long time. I try not tah’ think ‘bout it, but I invited you o’er with the intention of telling you.” She took a slow bite of the pie, and swallowed it along with her pride. “Gran was a proud mare, not jus’ proud of her family, but the farm. It was her legacy.”
Applejack carefully contemplated her words, a rare action for the pony. “She was growin’ older, and so were we. Apple Bloom had just gotten her cutie mark, and we all knew she wouldn’t be on the farm forever. She still does her part for this family, but her calling was in the kitchen, not the fields. Big Mac, well he ne’er changes, so ah did my part and set him up with Fluttershy.”
Applejack stabbed into the pie fiercely with her fork. “Ah was honest, but ah was also stubborn. Ah got that trait from Gran. She had it worse than ah did.” Applejack tried to laugh at her comment, but it only brought forth more tears. “She was getting worried about what would happen to the farm without her, and she was worried about me. Big Mac was workin’ hard, but courtin’ Fluttershy at the same time. So ah was spendin’ more and more time on the farm pickin’ up the slack, but ah wasn’t ‘bout to come ‘tween them.” She forced a chuckle and crumbs fell from her mouth, “Ah got ‘em together in the first place anyway.”
Twilight was engrossed by Applejack’s words, and hated seeing how painful it was for Applejack to recall. Applejack had a different attitude towards life, and it showed in her storytelling, but Twilight couldn’t determine Applejack’s true feelings. She forced herself to eat the generous offering of pie before her, but her attention was solely focused on Applejack.
“Gran knew how much time ah was spendin’ in the fields, and she kept urging me to turn my attention elsewhere. She wanted me to find a special somepony and have a foal who could carry on the farm when ah grew old. Never said so outright, but ah knew that’s what she meant.” She rested her hooves on the table and tried to imitate Granny Smith’s nagging, “’Love don’t grow on trees you know’ she kept saying, and ah ignored her. Ah jus’ kept pushin’ myself and workin’ harder, because I couldn’t tell her.” She pulled her hooves back off the table and silently stared at the half-eaten slice of pie in front of her, recalling when Granny Smith used to make it.
“Couldn’t tell her?” Twilight refused to accept Applejack’s explanation. She was supposed to be the element of honesty. Twilight could remember at least a dozen occasions where Applejack’s brutal honesty had gotten their group of friends into the kind of trouble that the slightest lie could have avoided.
“Ah didn’t wanna lie to her, and ah did no such thing. Ah jus’ couldn’t tell her the whole truth. She couldn’t know,” she paused with embarrassment, her cheeks turning bright red as she pushed out the truth, “that ah already found love. Ah was madly in love an’ everypony could see it but her.”
There was a loud shatter and Applejack looked down to see a mess of tea and ceramic shards painting the floor. Twilight had dropped her cup from the shock of Applejack’s revelation. Twilight sat frozen, the sound of the cup breaking doing nothing to call her attention back to reality. Applejack sighed, then rushed to the kitchen and returned with a dustpan and a mop, and cleaned up the mess while Twilight attempted to get a grip on the situation.
Applejack grew tired of waiting and jabbed Twilight in the flank with her dessert fork. Twilight looked around and realized the mess she had made. “I’m sorry, let me help you,” she said and the two picked up the remaining chips of ceramic that stood out amongst the floorboards.
Twilight was about to inquire further as to Applejack’s last statement, but was interrupted by the sound of several hooves approaching the doorstep. The front door of the house flew open and Apple Bushel and her friends chased each other inside, engrossed in some sort of game. They were soon followed by Big Mac, who was accompanied by Fluttershy.
Fluttershy spoke in her usual quiet manner when she saw Twilight, “Oh, hi Twilight.” She turned to greet Applejack, “Sorry to intrude Applejack. I just came to check on Big Mac and the girls, and then she showed up and insisted we all go inside for dinner.”
Twilight was halfway through asking what Fluttershy meant by ‘she’ when Apple Bloom walked through the door with a large pot in her hooves.
“Soup’s on everypony!” Apple Bloom proudly proclaimed as she marched toward the kitchen and placed the pot on the stove to reheat.
Applejack seemed to object to Apple Bloom’s cooking more than the prospect of guests. “Oh no, Apple Bloom. Please don’t tell me that’s what ah thinks it is.”
Apple Bloom peeked around the frame of the opening towards the kitchen with a large smile, “But I really got it this time, I promise.”
“I wouldn’t mind giving it a try,” Fluttershy said softly, only to be drowned out by the bickering sisters.
“Try what?” Twilight asked.
Applejack ignored both her friends and continued to ridicule her sister, “Ah dun told y’all a million times, Apple Bloom. Apples are versatile, but there ain’t no such thing as apple soup. Jus’ ain’t natural.”
Twilight had a sudden recollection of the fire that was raging in Apple Bloom’s bakery the other day, and part of her began to consider excusing herself and running as far as her hooves could carry her. She knew she’d never get the rest of the story from Applejack if she left now though, and prepared herself for the fate that befell her.
Apple Bloom continued to defend her cooking to her sibling, “I know what y’all said sis. That’s why I took another look at the recipe and realized the problem. I shouldn’t be trying to make soup; it’s supposed to be stew!”
Apple Bushel and her companions wrestled and played make-believe in the living room, ignoring the adults completely as they became lost in their world. Applejack insisted that Apple Bloom didn’t know what she was talking about. “Is there a difference?”
Apple Bloom laughed sarcastically, “Oh ha, ha, ha, A.J. When you get your cooking cutie mark you can mock me all you want, but until then, y’all don’t got much of a choice.” Apple Bloom looked to her brother for reassurance. “You’ll have some, won’t you big brother?”
All four mares turned their eyes to Big Mac. He wasn’t comfortable with so much attention, and said, “Eeeeyup,” before he could think of anything else. This was far from the first time Apple Bloom had used him as a guinea pig for her experiments, and he wasn’t sure how much more his stomach could take.
“Atta’ boy, Big Mac. Knew I could count on you,” the chef said as she returned to her duties in the kitchen.
Big Mac heaved a heavy sigh, and Fluttershy tried to comfort her beloved. “Oh Mackie, you don’t have to keep doing this you know. Are you sure you want to keep putting yourself through this?"
Big Mac knew that it was better Apple Bloom test her abominations on him than the girls or, Celestia forbid, Apple Bushel. He gave a powerless “Eeeyup,” as he weakly stomped his hooves against the ground to reinforce his resolve. The mares laughed as they each debated to themselves whether Big Mac was brave, or just stupid.
Dinner was quite a spectacle to behold. Everypony at the table had their eyes on the stallion in the room as he took the first sample of Apple Bloom’s proposed entrée. He tried so hard to force a smile as he swallowed, and as a result, the wheat sprig that hung from his mouth snapped in half. The remaining ponies pushed their bowls towards the center of the table in unison, not wanting to befall the same fate.
All that is, except Twilight Sparkle.
Not having experienced the honor of being one of Apple Bloom’s taste testers, she was unsure what was in store for her. As everypony else at the table rejected the meal before them, she stood at eye level with the bowl of “stew” before her. The clouds of steam that rose from the bowl seemed to form a skull and crossbones symbol in the air around the container. Twilight inched closer and took a whiff of the concoction. The scent stung her nostrils like a swarm of hornets. It was unlike anything she had ever seen in all her travels, and Twilight began to wonder if Apple Bloom’s cutie mark was some sort of bizarre prank she had been keeping up for several years. How could a pony that makes such delicious desserts create the abomination that lay before her?
By now, everypony at the table had taken to notice to Twilight’s lack of rejection towards the food. Fluttershy and Big Mac were whispering to each other about whether or not she was foolhardy enough to try it. Applejack was giving her best effort to send every form of body language that would warn Twilight about the danger before her, while trying to avoid being caught by her little sister. The fillies at the table huddled close together and were agreeing that this is the greatest thing they’d ever seen in their short lives. Apple Bloom took no heed to her sister’s motions of a hoof slitting her throat, and her smile grew as Twilight inspected the food ever closer. As the smile grew, her face began to resemble that of Pinkie Pie more, which terrified Twilight.
In her head, Twilight recalled the tale of how sick Luna had got the last time Celestia made an attempt at cooking. Surely, this couldn’t be as bad. She compared the two, and decided that Apple Bloom cooks everyday, so it couldn’t be nearly as horrendous. She grasped the bowl in both hooves and pulled it to her mouth. Everypony in the room let out a shocked gasp as she tipped the bowl back to let the contents pour into her gullet.
The fluid sloshed around violently inside her mouth. It quickly turned to a sludge that implanted itself in every crevice, ensuring the taste would linger inside her for weeks on end. Despite Apple Bloom’s title of ‘Apple Stew’, it was impossible for her to have taken the entire flavor out of fruit and replace it with this. It was blacker than Luna’s tapestry, and viler than the swamps of Everfree. Twilight’s cheeks bulged outward as she tried to contain herself in a mad gallop towards the little filly’s room. The sounds that emerged through the door ensured everypony that Apple Bloom’s experiment was an utter failure.
“Aw shucks. Maybe next time,” Apple Bloom reassured herself, as every other pony in the room cringed at the thought of ‘next time’.
After the sixteenth gargle of mouthwash, Twilight gave up on her efforts to remove the bits of ‘stew’ from betwixt her gums. When she emerged, everypony was dining on an arrangement of fresh fruits from the farm, and vegetables that Fluttershy had brought in her saddlebag. Apple Bloom sadly pushed the food around her plate, upset about having to go back to the drawing board. Twilight joined the group at the table and attempted to eat, but every bite still had a lingering taste of Apple Bloom’s cooking clinging to her tongue.
Everypony felt sympathy for Twilight’s plight, but couldn’t help but have some internal laughter that began to leak out around the table. Even Fluttershy let out a snicker that she attempted to cover with a cough, hoping nopony would notice. Twilight pretended to not notice all the undue attention she was receiving. She shot a fierce glare at Applejack, who could only respond with a shrug that seemed to say ‘I warned you’. Apple Bushel and her friends could not take their eyes off of Twilight the whole meal. They had become infatuated with her foolishness, which they had mistaken for bravery, probably due to all the stories Applejack had told them about Twilight.
The sun had long since set, and the majesty of Luna hung high in the night sky. The fillies gathered around a bonfire in front of Apple Bloom, who was telling them ghostpony stories that scared Fluttershy more than the foals. The spooked pegasus cowered behind the fillies convinced that the ghost of some long deceased pony was going to attack her and shuddered with her hooves over her eyes. Big Mac was using the light from the fire to make a shadow play that reinforced the fear of Apple Bloom’s story. The fillies just become more entranced with the story, while Fluttershy would every few minutes peek out from under her hooves to catch a glimpse of Big Mac’s shadow and go cowering back and whispering to herself about going to a ‘happy place’.
Inside, Applejack and Twilight were cleaning up the mess Apple Bloom had created in the kitchen. Finally alone again, Twilight felt she needed to resume their conversation from before. “I’m kinda curious about your story from earlier,” she told Applejack. “Why didn’t you tell me before about your special somepony?”
Applejack didn’t even glance away from the cleaning as she replied, “It didn’t work out between us is all. Someponies have tah' learn the hard way that we’re not all meant to find love. Gran told me to find something that didn’t grow on the trees, and I did, but I’ve paid for it everyday since. I’ll never be able to tell her that my place is out there in the orchards, not raising foals and falling in love.”
Twilight pretended to keep scrubbing the pot Apple Bloom had used to create that horrid meal, but all she could think about was Applejack’s message. Twilight had become convinced during her studies that love was a concept that was defined by the pony feeling it, and no two definitions were the same. Hearing Applejack talk about what love meant to her was undeniably upsetting and pessimistic. Applejack was still hurting after all this time, and Twilight’s minimum knowledge in the laws of love made it impossible for her to comprehend why.
Twilight knew that she couldn’t gain any further understanding about the situation, and continuing to bring it up would only hurt Applejack further. She branched onto another topic, recalling the pictures in Pinkie’s records. “I noticed something yesterday when Pinkie was telling me about ‘partynomics’ and what not.”
Applejack rejoined the conversation with a bit more comfort after being drained of talking about her failure of a love life. “What’s that sugah’cube?”
“You ponies all stopped showing up eventually. I mean I see you’re all still friends and don’t hate each other, but something happened.” Applejack felt uneasy with the conversation. Twilight took no notice as her head was deep in the pot she was cleaning as she spoke. “I mean, I can’t say I approve of Rainbow Dash’s actions, but after talking to her I understand why she stopped showing up, and Fluttershy has been busy raising a filly the last several years, so I guess I can overlook that too. But what’s the deal with you and Rarity? I’m sure her career took her away from Ponyville for a bit, but she stopped showing up completely, and she’s been avoiding me the whole time I’ve been in town.”
Applejack seemed confused by Twilight’s last statement. “She’s been,” Applejack paused before inquiring with a heavy inflection, “avoiding you?”
Twilight didn’t notice the emphasis in Applejack’s voice at all. “Yeah, I want to see her, but I’m beginning to feel like she doesn’t want me to,” Twilight said with a hint of fear in her voice.
Applejack sighed heavily as she placed the last dish on the rack to dry. The clock in the hall rang, signaling how late it was, and the back door burst open. A trio of young fillies clung to Applejack’s hooves with longing in their eyes.
Fluttershy hovered in the doorway trying her best to encourage the fillies to obey her. “C’mon girls, it’s late, you should all be getting home.”
Apple Bushel and her friends cried in protest, “We’re too scared! The Boogeypony is going to get us if we wander out this late!”
Apple Bloom could be seen rubbing the back of her head with a hoof. She tried to shrug off the embarrassment of causing trouble by scaring the young ponies a little too much. Big Mac stayed back, lest he be the victim of an angry glare from Applejack for his role in this.
“Y’all can stay here tonight,” Applejack’s gaze turned from the fillies to Fluttershy, “if that’s okay with you sugah’cube.”
“Oh, if you’re sure it’s not too much trouble,” Fluttershy accepted the offer as generously as her demeanor allowed. “You girls be nice to Miss Applejack, okay?”
“We will ma, right girls?” Apple Bushel smiled deceivingly.
“Yes, Mrs. Fluttershy,” said Apple Bushel’s accomplices in unison.
Fluttershy still felt unsure about burdening Applejack so suddenly. “Are you sure it’s okay with you?”
“Aw horseapples, will you and my brother get outta’ here already?” Applejack insisted. “Y’all should be takin’ any chance yah’ can get to be alone while y’all still young.”
Twilight saw it fit to excuse herself as well. “Well, if it’s alright, maybe we can resume this conversation later?” she said as she placed down the last of the clean dishes and made her way towards the door.
Applejack held a hoof in Twilight’s path. “Nonsense. It’s late enough as it is, and y’all don’t expect me to keep these fillies in line on mah’ own now, do yah’?” Applejack motioned to the fillies, whose boundless energy seemed to be letting itself out in a game of tag in the living room. “Y’all can stay in the guest room tonight, and I’ll take yah’ to the boutique in the morning and clear this whole darn mess up, kay?”
When Fluttershy heard Applejack’s plans, she couldn’t help but interject, “Applejack? Are you sure that’s a good idea? What about Sweetie Be… ”
“Hush up sugah’cube. Twi’s staying and we’ll take care of the rest in the mornin’,” Applejack insisted.
Twilight found herself in a position where she was unable to reject Applejack’s kind offer. “I’d be happy to stay. I’m sure the fillies would love to hear a few of our own tales,” Twilight said with a smile.
Fluttershy still felt like she had something to say to Applejack, but knew that once Applejack had made up her mind there was little the pegasus could do to change it. Big Mac came and stood beside her, and with a humble ‘good night’, the couple made their way back to their cottage.
Apple Bloom made her way into the kitchen to collect her cookware before leaving. Applejack felt the need to give her a harsh reminder. “Don’t yah’ come ‘round here with no more of your silly experiments, got it?” Applejack spoke fiercely, but calmed her tone as she reassured her younger sibling, “Y’all are great at what yah’ know, and there ain’t no need to go all crazy pushin’ the limits of what yah’ can and can’t do.”
Apple Bloom thanked her sister with a hug, and left without a word. Subconsciously, she knew Applejack was right, but in truth, she wasn’t listening. Her only thoughts were focused on what she would tweak to make her next recipe a success.
Twilight placed a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder as she addressed her. “You know, I always wished I had a sister like you back home. They’re lucky to have you.”
“Well, I dun’ know what I’d do without them either. Lately, they’ve been there fer’ me more than I could fer’ them.” The sound of a solid thud against the wall that separated the kitchen and living room called the mare’s attention. Applejack adjusted her hat and escorted Twilight away from the sink, “We should probably go calm them foals down a tad, don’t ‘cha think?”
The rest of the night passed by rather quickly, particularly since the fillies could barely stay awake through more than a single story. They argued that they weren’t the least bit tired, but by the time Twilight had reached the climax of her story, the foals were fast asleep. Twilight seemed to be lost in the story and didn’t take notice. She waved her hooves emotionally as she spoke, “So I raised my horn and stood my ground. My friends standing at my side as I assured our foe ‘The Elements of Harmony are right here!’”
Applejack prodded her friend gently with a hoof. “I think y’all will have to finish the story anotha’ night sugah’cube,” she said as she pointed out the state of the audience. One by one, the mares carried the fillies upstairs, and placed all three together in Applejack’s bed.
“Where are you going to sleep Applejack?” Twilight questioned.
“This house used tah' hold a lot more ponies than this. I reckon it shouldn’t be a problem for the night.”
The two made their way back downstairs and laid down in front of the fireplace, talking of old times. Applejack ridiculed Twilight for stretching the truth a bit in the story she told the girls, and for emphasizing how stubborn she had used to be. Before long, Twilight could hardly finish a sentence without yawning between words. She rose from the warmth of the hearth, and Applejack motioned towards a door atop the stairs. “Big Mac’s old room is at the end of hall,” she said. “Bed’s mighty big, but yah’ shouldn’t have a problem gettin’ a good night’s sleep in there. We can talk more in the mornin’ Twi.”
Twilight stopped as she made her way past the second stair. “Aren’t you going to bed Applejack?”
Applejack turned her head towards the fireplace, still burning hard and casting a shadow of Applejack’s sullen form against the wall. “I ain’t tired yet. I’ll probably wait ‘til the fire dies down first.”
Twilight stood still on the stairway looking at Applejack’s form, encompassed by the light from the fire. Even with Applejack’s face turned away from her, Twilight could tell by the tone of her voice the expression she held. If anypony knew when a pony wanted to be alone, it was Twilight. She slowly made her way up the stairs, a bit of guilt weighing down her heart, as she felt that her visit had conjured up memories Applejack wished to forget.
As Twilight approached the top of the staircase, Applejack turned her head back in her direction. “Twilight?”
Twilight turned to face her friend, but only stared back in silence to hear what she had to say.
“It really means a lot that yah’ came back tah’ Ponyville tah’ visit us. Lot’s has happened since yah’ left, but nopony ever stopped thinkin’ ‘bout you.” Applejack turned her eyes to the floor as she continued, “And thanks fer listenin’. I forgot how important it is to have somepony tah’ talk to ‘bout anythin’.” Applejack rubbed a hoof against her eye to hide the tear that was forming around the edge. “Sleep well now, yah’ hear?” she said in an attempt to hide the emotions that welled up inside of her.
Twilight smiled softly and bowed her head slightly. “Thanks Applejack, but seeing you girls again has been just as important to me. I’ve learned a lot since I arrived,” she said as she spoke down from atop the staircase. “And I don’t just mean about you girls. Being around your family tonight reminded me that sometimes my priorities got in the way of what mattered. I’ve spent the last several years worried about all of Equestria, but being here is the first time I’ve thought about myself in ages.” Twilight let out a heavy yawn as she used the last of her energy to ease the bedroom door open with her magic. “I wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for all of you,” she said as she looked down at Applejack, and then turned towards her room for the night. “Thanks.”
Applejack pulled herself closer to the fire. A bit of smoke scratched her eyes as she adjusted the flue. No matter how close she sat, the warmth of the blaze seemed to evade her thick hide. She lay still for a long while, staring deep into the flickering hues of red and orange that danced before her. A log crumbled as the burning flames robbed it of its ability to support the pile of logs, and Applejack shielded her eyes from the cloud of ash that assaulted her. Still, she lay there, entranced by the fire and the memories that her conversation with Twilight had conjured up. She laid her head down against her crossed hooves and broke into a soft sob. The sound was muffled through her forelegs and drowned out by the crackling fire next to her, and remained undiscovered by the other ponies in the house. All Applejack could think of was the gentle hooves that used to hold her.
It all had felt like a dream up until now. A fairytale. Nopony gets to be this happy, except in books and legends passed down by the generations. It was everything she ever wanted. The pieces fell into place so elegantly, and she felt so lucky that the picture they painted included her.
Something wasn’t the same though. There was a layer of dust clouding things, and it all seemed to turn towards some sort of nightmare. She was lost in a labyrinth where every choice and turn she made led to the same inevitable end. Confused. Lost. Forsaken.
Applejack had locked herself in the bathroom. She had no reason to do so. She was the only one in the house after all, but Celestia forbid that somepony find her in her weakest hour. Every breath she took seemed heavy and pained. She looked no different than after a long day’s work in the fields, but this was not the case. Her exhaustion was the result of another day spent in self-pity and tears.
She looked in the mirror, hardly recognizing the stranger staring back at her. She silently asked what she had done to herself, and why this had to happen to her. She was scared, and all she wanted was the one pony who could make her feel better. At the same time, that was what she feared most of all right now. She knew that hiding would get her nowhere, but it was the closest thing to safety she could find right now.
She kept telling herself the same thing over and over again. ‘This is all Gran’s fault,’ echoed the voice in her head. Denial was getting her nowhere. Granny Smith had passed several months ago. Applejack knew the nagging voice inside her head wasn’t that of her elder, but her own creation instead. She had been haunted for months by what she thought for sure were the wishes and last requests of her grandmare, but it was just her subconscious harassing her, using Granny Smith’s voice to tug at Applejack’s heart.
Somewhere, there was a part of Applejack that knew this the entire time. Her grandmare was a stern, wise pony, but she would have never said such hurtful things to Applejack. Applejack was simply beating herself up emotionally. Perhaps it was simply because of her grandmare’s passing, or it could have been her resistance to give Granny Smith full disclosure before she went to sleep for the last time. Applejack continued to stare into the reflection, browsing the options for an answer that would provide no solace. Thoughts and accusations flew through her mind at a mile a minute. She thought she wasn’t normal; that she didn’t deserve love.
‘Love?’ It was all she ever wanted. Apples, sunshine, love. It all seemed so simple to her, but somewhere it had all gone horribly wrong. She knew how lucky she was to have been born with all three. Sweet Apple Acres seemed to have been built to make her happy. She had found solace in the rewards of hard work, family, and community. It had been everything to her for so long, but one day it stopped being enough. Ponies came from miles around to admire the fruits of her labor, but that didn’t fill her void. Applejack would find herself distracted while bucking the expanse of trees, her eyes fixated on the hills leading into town. She had kept hoping that the day would come when somepony came over those hills to see her, and not her work.
Applejack’s hoof was shaking as she turned the faucet, releasing a steady of flow of cold water into the porcelain bowl beneath her. She pulled her face towards the bowl and splashed cold water onto the flushed skin of her face. She returned her gaze to the reflection in the mirror, and without her trademark hat, she looked as naked and unrecognizable as she felt inside. It was impossible to discern which of the droplets in her reflection were made of sweat, and which were made of cold water that had failed to wash away the pain. Her eyes tracked down towards the puddle forming in the sink. A distorted reflection of herself stared back at her, disturbed by ripples emanating from the constant flow of the faucet. The image in the sink captured the Applejack that she had as of late come to recognize as her true self, and the sight infuriated her. She pounded her hooves into the liquid mirror, in a futile attempt to destroy the intruder. The water did little to slow her punches from the collision against the porcelain, and after a few punches she fell backwards against the wall. Her body slowly slid down until her flank rested against the cold floor. She looked at her hooves, the orange fur tinted red with blood, colors of the fire that raged inside her.
Applejack wasn’t sure how to feel when she finally found the love she had been searching for. She had wanted to buck herself and see if she would wake up from some sort of dream. For her, love felt like a thick blanket on a cold winter night. It was a hot swallow of cider that spread from her throat to every inch of her thick hide. It made her feel weak and stupid, and she couldn’t care less. From that point on, it seemed like every day was the first morning of spring. Life was full of color, and the sun seemed to shine just for her. It wasn’t like anything she had ever heard about. It was better, because it was happening to her.
It was Granny Smith’s declining health that changed all that, and that wasn’t her fault. Nopony can fault another for growing old and frail, but watching this happen made Applejack question her motives and her reason for being. All the meaning she had found in life suddenly seemed petty to her. She told herself it wasn’t fair, but it wasn’t changing. Granny wasn’t getting better, and with each breath she inched towards a light unseen.
Applejack was broken when her family laid Granny to rest. It was a small procession, and as the hours passed, the numbers dwindled. Big Mac had been the first of the family to leave the proceedings, with Fluttershy in tow. He had been solemn the entire day, and quiet, even by his standards. He set his wheat sprig atop the stone monument and hugged his youngest sibling before leaving. He only stopped to look at Applejack for a moment, the bond between the two requiring no words or actions to communicate the sorrow and sympathy they conveyed for each other. His legs seemed to have trouble holding up his frame as he wandered off to someplace that was anywhere but there.
Apple Bloom fared no better. She held a hoof to the monument, and the cold stone sapped her strength. Her sobbing could be heard for miles around, and she would have laid there next to the monument forever if Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle hadn’t carried her off towards home.
Applejack remained there a while longer, her love close at her side. At that moment though, Applejack felt like the pony next to her was miles away. She was broken. Her entire body shook and she couldn’t gather a single thought together. Her life felt void and null. She felt like she had let her grandmare down. She felt that her failure to tell her was the greatest mistake of her life.
And then, she felt she had to make it up to her.
Applejack began to descend into a darkness that consumed her. She was possessed by selfish thoughts, and was unsure what she could do to remedy them. She thought about what Granny Smith had wanted for her. The only answers she kept finding led her back to the farm.
For several weeks, she had found herself wide awake before morning. She would climb to the top of the barn and watch the changing of the guard in the sky. As the light emerged to reveal just how expansive the family land was, she wondered what the future held for the farm. She knew that one day, she would be like her grandmare, and there wasn’t anything that could change that. She became scared. She had dedicated her life to this farm, just as her grandmare did before her. Applejack thought about what would happen to the farm once she was gone, and the uncertainty consumed her every thought. Apple Bloom’s calling was sure to take her away from the farm, and it was unknown if it would ever lead her back. As for Big Mac, as happy as she was to see him head over hooves, she feared the unlikelihood of Fluttershy being able to bear offspring that could handle the strength and dedication the farm required.
As she lay on the bathroom floor, Applejack wondered how she could possibly have been so foolish. She had made a mistake. She had misjudged all her feelings, and her honesty was getting the best of her. She pulled herself up and over the edge of the bathtub, and turned on the shower to try and wash away the blood on her hooves as well as the regret that loomed over her. Her long mane draped around her frame as it grew damp and hung heavy on her. The blood and sweat rinsed away with ease, but as her hooves graced her abdomen, her body became overcome with the shaking and twitching of her muscles and she collapsed.
‘It was a mistake. I know that now, so why must you remind me?’
Life and time had refused to halt after Granny Smith’s passing, and as Applejack tried to catch up with her work, her love and her emotions, she grew apart from those around her. All she lived for at that time was her fear of a bleak future for Sweet Apple Acres. All she knew for certain was if she let that happen, then she would have truly failed her grandmare. Her love was far away, distant not just from Applejack pushing her away, but separated by distance as well. Applejack hated waiting for her love to return, even though it had done nothing to quell her pain thus far.
Applejack had wandered away from the farm for a while, and that was when it happened. She didn’t know the pegasus in the slightest, but even as he hovered, he could tell that Applejack seemed lower to the ground than the other earth ponies. By now, Applejack could barely remember what he looked like, but the clouded memory still haunted her as she stood under the water trying to scrub it away. That nagging voice inside her had told her to go for it, and she foolishly gave in.
As the pain rocked through her body, she could feel how out of place her body felt. Applejack had always been toned by her hard work, but as her hoof graced her abdomen, she felt supple and weak. It was as if all her guilt and emotions had manifested themselves into a tumor that festered within her, pulling her apart and feeding off her.
That was why she had sequestered herself in the bathroom in the first place. The guilt had reached its apex, and she knew today was when her world was going to descend deeper than she could imagine. She was thinking clearly again for the first time in months, but that didn’t change the fact that she was now being forced to live with her mistakes and indiscretions.
As Applejack shut off the shower, she could hear the front door to the farmhouse open, and the soft sound of the hoofsteps could only belong to one pony. Applejack’s heart sank even lower as the moment she feared quickly approached. She took a final, prolonged look at her reflection. She wondered if she could just keep up the charade a little longer. The truth was too hard for her to face, but it was going to come out today whether she was ready or not. She had never looked so frail in all her life. She felt like the slightest breeze could shatter every bone in her body, and at this point she wouldn’t care if that happened.
There was a rapping against the door, and a voice she had heard a thousand times prior inquired if Applejack was inside. She nervously told her love she’d be out in a minute, barely remembering to welcome her beloved back home from their journey. Applejack made a feeble attempt at conversation as she readied herself to face her fears. She asked about the event that had called her love away for the last few weeks. She heard a response, but wasn’t listening at all, offering back pathetic ‘yeas’ and ‘nays’ whenever she thought she should.
Applejack could hear the hoofsteps go back downstairs, and still she stood in the bathroom contemplating her attack plan. She didn’t have the slightest clue how to approach this. It had been scaring her for weeks, but in all that time she hadn’t thought of a single way to approach the situation. She bandaged her injured hooves and slowed her breathing to a crawl.
The seconds moved like hours as Applejack opened the door and made her way downstairs. Each step sent stinging pain up her legs, as the still-fresh wounds on her hooves winced from the pressure of her weight. The pain resounded throughout her body, but Applejack could barely notice. By this point, pain was all she knew, and she had become numb to it.
At the bottom of the stairs, Applejack could make out bits and pieces of her lover peeking out from the outline of the couch. Applejack came around the back of the couch towards the empty side and set herself down next to the object of her affection. She laid there silent for as long as she could, trying to enjoy what little peace she could have next to the pony before she ruined everything.
The other pony sorted through stacks of mail that had arrived during the sabbatical. The pony took little notice to the farm pony that was lying across the couch, as they had hundreds of times before, but before long the pony noticed the bandages around Applejacks hooves. The mail fell to the floor as Applejack’s love grabbed one of the bandaged hooves and asked what had transpired and the state of Applejack’s wound.
Applejack pulled her hoof towards her and out of her love’s grasp. She didn’t feel the pain, but felt too guilty to be worthy of her lover’s touch. As Applejack faced the pony, she could see a look of concern on their face, and Applejack quickly turned her face away from their gaze. Those eyes. She was unworthy of being looked on by those eyes. This was supposed to be the pony Applejack would spend the rest of her life with, and she had thrown it all away.
The pony opposite Applejack became worried, and demanded to know what was bothering Applejack. Applejack was normally so happy to see her love return home after these long trips, and her behavior was more than unusual, even though Applejack had acted strange ever since Granny Smith’s death.
The words left Applejack’s mouth without hesitation. She couldn’t even look at the pony as she told the truth, or at least as close as she could come. She didn’t ‘think’ she was pregnant, she knew full well a foal was gestating inside her. Everything grew silent as she said those words, and she waited for the inevitable. Outside, the birds stopped singing, the flow of the rivers grew silent, and the breeze stilled itself. The only sound Applejack could hear was inside her head saying, ‘This is it.’
For the first time in weeks, Applejack felt pain again. There was no numbness present as the hoof connected with the side of her face. The smack of hoof on flesh echoed around the house. The pony across Applejack exerted heavy breaths, their heaving chest barely able to contain all the anger felt in that moment. Applejack slowly pulled one of her injured hooves to where the slap had connected. She tasted salt and iron; tears and blood. She said nothing. She didn’t retaliate. She welcomed the hatred that she felt she deserved.
As Applejack turned to face her love, she caught a glimpse of flank galloping out the door. The door slammed shut and a frame on the fireplace mantle came crashing down with a harsh shatter, obscuring the captured image of a time when they could tell each other anything.
Just like that, she was scorned. Isolated. Abandoned.
Except for the sound of a heartbeat that wasn’t her own.
Within the farmhouse, the shelves near the fireplace were lined with scrapbooks. In this household, family was everything, and Applejack was raised to learn that a family is built not on the whole of its members, but on the memories they build together. She had taken it upon herself years ago to catalog the journeys of her life, lest they be lost to the sands of time. At the time she had compiled them, Applejack wasn’t sure the purpose they would hold, but it seemed a good way to pass the time during the downtime of the long winters in Ponyville.
Dozens of scrapbooks had been started and completed, and many more started and unfinished. These shelves were a testament to the farmer’s short and difficult journey through life. Applejack approached a shelf and pulled a book down. The tales in the books ranged from adventures and parties to greetings and goodbyes. There were books that catalogued the various harvests of Sweet Apple Acres going back twenty years. Some told the stories of the elements, as could only be told by the element of honesty. There was one that held copies of Applejack’s correspondences with Celestia during her youth. Another held pictures of Winter Wrap-Ups and Running of the Leaves from past and present.
The book in Applejack’s hooves was not like those scrapbooks. None of the books on the shelves stood out in any particular fashion. They all were wrapped in the same backing, and none of them varied in size by a noticeable amount. The only way to notice this book was to look at it as it stood on the shelf next to all the other books. Applejack had made many scrapbooks over the years, but most had sat on the shelf, never being called upon by anypony to be browsed or reviewed. A thick layer of dust covered many of the older projects in the collection. The book Applejack pulled down was pristine. It was older than many of the books in the collection, but the many times she had perused it prevented it from gaining any sense of age, although some of the edges had been worn down from Applejacks occasional haphazardness.
This book was different. It had called to her many nights before, and she had always answered. The younger Applejack that stared back at her in the photos looked like to a stranger to her. She was in every single photo in the book, and she looked so happy. In most of the photos, it seemed that Applejack took no heed for the camera pointed at her, instead having her eyes fixated on the pony next to her. Tears welled up in Applejack’s eyes as she recalled each and every memory that lay imprisoned within the pages of the book. She held a hoof to her mouth to muffle her cries, embarrassed that she might wake Twilight or the fillies sleeping upstairs.
The layout of the book was awkward, and as she browsed the pages the pictures grew faded with age. The ponies in the pictures grew younger on each page, but still looked at each other with the same longing in each other’s eyes. A desire that burned strong from the beginning. Only in one photo could the duo be seen locked in embrace. Even though it was off-center and poorly lit, the lens had captured the pair entranced with their lips locked and hooves wrapped around each other. The true subjects of the photo smiled in the center unaware of the passion emanating from the nearby lovers, and almost anypony looking at the photo would notice the detail in the background and laugh it off as the drunken antics of ponies at a party, but it was so much more than what the photograph revealed. It was that moment that sparked a fire which to this day burned inside Applejack, stronger than the fire that illuminated the photograph on the page.
A soft, tired voice came from the top of the stairs. “Auntie A.J.? Why are you still awake?”
Applejack slammed the book shut and tried to hide it against her side. She fumbled as she spoke, “Apple Bushel? What in the hay are yah’ doin’ out of bed lil’ filly?”
Apple Bushel stumbled towards Applejack, still half asleep. “I had a nightmare. I jus’ came down for a glass of water.”
Applejack welled up with emotion as she looked into the emerald eyes of the filly. There were dusty scrapbooks on the shelves of another filly that looked just the same at one time, except for the wings that sprouted from Bushel’s hide. It was those eyes that caught Applejack’s attention though. Applejack didn’t realize she was speaking aloud as she said, “Of all ah have to give yah’, yah’ had to get mah’ eyes.”
Still sleepy, the filly didn’t take notice of what Applejack had said. “What was that, Auntie A.J.?” she said as she yawned.
“Nothin’ sugah’cube. Let’s get you that water.” The two went to the kitchen, and returned with glasses in tow to lie next to the dwindling fire.
Applejack had left the book lying on stones in front of the hearth, and Apple Bushel took notice of the detail. “What’s this, Auntie A.J.?” she said as she tried to take a peek at the book.
Applejack swiped the book from the young pegasus before she could get a good look at it. “Just one of mah’ scrapbooks.” She placed the book back in its place on the shelf, her hoof gently caressing her hoofwriting along the spine that read ‘Rarity & Me’. She lay down next to Apple Bushel as she tried to explain. “Ah was just thinking about somepony ah used tah’ know.”
“No sugah’cube. Not like Twilight,” Applejack said with a faint smile.
“Then what do you mean?” the filly said, her voice a mix of confusion and exhaustion.
Applejack thought for a moment about a way to say it to her, but gave up quickly. “Ah’ll tell yah’ when you’re older.”
The fire uttered its last breath and the room became draped with darkness, accented by the illumination of the moon. Apple Bushel was too tired to complain about Applejack’s lack of an answer and scooted closer to her, resting her head against Applejack’s side. “Auntie A.J.?” she forced through a final yawn.
“I love you.”
Applejack wrapped a hoof around the small pegasus as the two shut their eyes to sleep. “Ah love you too, Lil’ Bushel.”
Canterlot is, and has always been, a city deeply rooted in tradition. The upper echelons of Equestrian society pride themselves on this fact. To many an outsider, the city appeared to run like clockwork, and Celestia and Luna were the ones winding the gears day in and day out, respectively. At the same time everyday, shops along the streets would close in unison, with the sound of shutting doors echoing through the alleys. It was the philosophy of most in the city that a hard day’s work deserved a long night’s rest. The sight of the regal, cobalt mare in the high tower of the castle overlooking the city called many to their beds, and her departure would raise them from their slumber.
Twilight Sparkle, on the other hoof, is quite the oddity among the residents of Canterlot. While nearly everypony in town found their way to their soft mattresses, Twilight would remain leaned up against hard, uncomfortable desks. Every night she could be found with her nose deep in the pages of whatever book was claiming hostage to her attention at the time. She did rest, but only once the darkness outside had made itself present by extinguishing the candles beside her. Her thirst for knowledge did not thrive well during sleep, and most nights, she rose before the sun and its riser.
Not unlike Canterlot, Ponyville was itself based upon a foundation of tradition, albeit in a much more rural sense. A hard day’s work was its own reward to everypony in town, and most believed in an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ moral code. Despite her best efforts, Pinkie Pie had failed in her war against bedtime. Some of her more radical executive orders outlawing chamomile tea and lullabies were ignored by the masses. Ponyville was a town set in its ways, and that stubbornness was perhaps what had kept the town afloat for generation after generation.
Twilight Sparkle, on the other hoof…
Three small heads slowly appeared on the horizon created by the footboard of Big Mac’s former bed. Twilight’s sleeping habits during her stay away from Canterlot were unusual, and a recurring motif had formed of her being the last pony to rise each morning. The three fillies watching her sleep whispered to each other about what mysteries the unicorn held inside her fragile frame.
Twilight may have been one of the deepest sleepers in Ponyville, but anypony can sense when they’re being watched. Somewhere through the cloud of alpha waves emanating through her unconscious mind, there was a clear image of six eyes fixated on her. The fog in her mind dissipated quickly as the image became clear, and Twilight’s eyes shot open as she flung her body upright in the bed. Her face was draped in a cold sweat and tufts of her mane flailed wildly in random directions as she peered around the room from the guest bed.
The three little ones quickly obscured their heads behind the footboard, fearful of the beast they had awoken. Now positively spooked, Twilight began to scoot herself backwards on the bed until she was leaning against the headboard, convinced that something was in the room. Her eyes carefully scanned her surroundings in search of the intruder. The culprits remained hidden as long as their naïve curiosity allowed them, and slowly began to poke their heads back above the edge of the bed frame.
Twilight was a little more than surprised. The combination of a rude awakening, a lack of coffee and blurred vision proved to be an extremely volatile concoction. Twilight recognized the beast at the foot of the bed as a three-headed pony-eating beast she had once bested during her travels, or perhaps just in her nightmares, or just one of the few works of fiction in her massive collection. Her horn shot bright, amethyst light across the room. Despite a lack of mass, the blanket Twilight was holding close to her frame took flight. It flew with such great force, encompassing the three fillies and sending them somersaulting backwards across the room. Twilight’s ‘net’ muffled the screams of, “What the hay?” and “Ow, who stepped on my hoof?”, and Twilight only heard the agitated roars of the creature she feared. Taking advantage of the element of surprise, Twilight dashed downstairs in search of a weapon to finish it off.
Applejack was just putting the finishing touches on her signature ‘Flap-Apple-Jacks’ when Twilight appeared in the doorway. Twilight’s chest was heaving from the combination of fear and being so out-of-shape that even a trip down the stairs at full gallop drained her. Applejack smirked as she tried to withhold laughter at Twilight’s appearance. “Ah see the girl’s woke you with ease,” Applejack said. One of her eyebrows rose to the top of her forehead as she questioned Twilight, “Where are those fillies anyway? They shoulda’ beaten yah’ down here.”
Twilight heard none of the words coming from her friend. She was coerced into choosing her words carefully due to her shortness of breath. “Knives! Big! Where?”
“Yah’ alright there sugah’cube? Y’all not making a lick of sense.”
“No. Time. For. Ex. Plaining.” Twilight shoved Applejack aside, a normally impossible feat for the unicorn were it not for her magic. She began tearing the kitchen apart, much to Applejacks chagrin. Not finding anything she determined to be suitable enough to fell the beast, she surrounded herself with a small levitating army of random kitchen tools. Egg beaters and spatulas hovered around her head and she turned to face the monster that was approaching the doorway.
The girls were still contained by their blanket prison as they approached the kitchen. Unable to see where they were going or choreograph their movements as a team, they became wedged in the door frame. Applejack kept turning her head back and forth between the trapped fillies and Twilight in battle stance. “Twi! Have yah’ lost your apples?” Applejack blocked the way between the two as she yelled at Twilight “What are yah’ doin’?”
Twilight was still nervous and catching her breath, but full sentences began to form in her speech. “Stand back Applejack! That thing tried to attack me!”
Applejack approached the young ones and turned to look at Twilight. Her eyes were barely open, expressing the disdain she had for Twilight’s overactive imagination. “Somehow, ah doubt that Twi,” she said as she pulled the blanket off to reveal the culprits. “These girls couldn’t hurt a darn flea.”
A guilty smile formed across the fillies as they looked towards Twilight in apology. Twilight returned to reality, and the light from her horn grew dim. “Apple Bushel?” she questioned as cooking implements clattered on the floor around her. A corkscrew collided with Twilight’s head during its descent, and she held a hoof to the wound. “What were you girls doing in my room?”
“Auntie A.J. said to bring you down for breakfast!” Apple Bushel rationalized her friend’s actions. “Why’d you attack us?”
Twilight began to grasp the full situation, and broke out into laughter at her overreaction. “I thought you were-,” she stopped midsentence as she laughed and selected different phrasing, “somepony else.”
Applejack rolled her eyes and called attention to the meal awaiting them. “Breakfast is gettin’ cold y’all.” The fillies rushed to the table and hurried through the food, making no time for table manners. “Think twice next time y’all are about tah’ murder somethin’ in mah’ house, ‘kay?” Applejack whispered to Twilight before making her way to the table.
Luckily for Twilight, Applejack’s cooking fared much better than the experience the previous evening. The two were cleaning up the mess while the girls played outside. “Ah take it yah’ must’ve slept pretty well considering yah’ were the last one up,” Applejack stated.
“Yeah,” Twilight’s cheeks swelled with color as she spoke. “How about you?”
“Ah’ve slept better,” Applejack shrugged. “Listen,” she took a somber tone as she continued, “there’s some thing’s ah need tah’ tell yah’ before we go to the boutique Twi.”
Twilight had nearly forgotten about their plans for the day due to the wild events of the morning, but Applejack’s nervous tone caught her ear. “Are you okay Applejack? I can’t remember you ever looking so nervous.”
“Ah’ll be fine sugah’cube,” she said as her hooves shook, indicating otherwise. “Ah just didn’t get the chance to tell y’all everything yesterday, and I want tah’ talk without inter-” her thought was intruded upon by a knock at the door. The two turned to find Big Mac standing in the doorway. Applejack held a hoof to her forehead and muttered under her breath, “Ev’ry darn apple pickin’ time.” Knowing she wouldn’t have time for the farm today, she asked her brother for aid. “Mornin’ Big Mac. Any chance y’all can handle the girls and chores on your own today? I need to take Twilight into town.”
Applejack’s sullen attitude was understood easily by Big Mac. “Eeeeyup,” he said as he left the mares alone and gathered the fillies to head to the fields.
Applejack gave up on the rest of the cleaning and adjusted her hat forward. “C’mon. Ah’ll tell yah’ on the way there.”
Twilight was unnerved by the aura that surrounded her friend, but found herself with few options other than compliance. The two made their way down the path towards Ponyville. There was an awkward silence for the first few hundred yards, as Applejack worried about what to say. Twilight grew unsettled by Applejack’s attitude and prodded her for an answer. “You’re too quiet,” she said. “If there’s something you need to tell me, just spit it out.”
Applejack stopped walking for a short moment. “Ah want tah’ Twilight. Ah really do.” A sea of tears began to distort the forest green of her eyes. “It just,” she sniffled, “still hurts tah’ think about.”
Twilight turned to Applejack. The distance between the two seemed so great at the moment, and Twilight only desired to close the gap. “Does this have something to do with Rarity avoiding me?”
Applejack nodded, but then shook her head, further confusing the unicorn. “It’s not you, Twi. It’s me. Ah betrayed her some years back, and broke her heart.”
“You broke her-,” Twilight backed away slightly, and the distance between the two grew ever wider as she spoke, “heart?”
Applejack made eye contact with Twilight for the first time in the past several minutes, emphasizing the truth behind her words. “Ah loved her. Ah still do, but we can’t be together anymore.”
Twilight struggled with what she heard. She didn’t doubt for a second that Applejack was telling the truth, but the truth seemed equally impossible. All she could tell for certain is that Applejack had a definitive guilt about whatever had occurred so long ago. “How did you-?” Twilight struggled to find the right words, as there were none.
Applejack knew there was no turning back and continued to walk as she explained the story, and Twilight quickly followed behind. “She was a huge success, Twi.” She waved a hoof to emphasize her point, “Huge. A runaway talent, and everypony wanted a piece of her.” A smile broke through Applejack’s face as she recalled better times. “But wherever her success took her, she was a small town pony at heart. A dreamer. And not all dreamers are prepared for what would happen if their dreams came true.”
Applejack pushed her hat back slightly, letting the sun break through the leaves into her eyes, and drying her tears. “Ah dunno much about all that fashion stuff, but yah’ should’ve seen her creations. They were absolutely beautiful, Twi. Ah’ve never seen such purty stuff in all mah’ years, but none of it was nearly as gorgeous as her.”
Twilight found herself blushing as she listened to Applejack describe her love with such sincerity. “I-,” she spoke with shock and embarrassment in her voice, “Wow. You really mean that, don’t you?”
“With all mah’ heart, sugah’cube,” Applejack’s smile and tears projected more honesty with each word. “Ah can’t tell yah’ how happy ah was the day she came back to Ponyville and said she was stayin’. She shrugged it off as some excuse about the stress of the high-fa-lootin’ fashion world, but by then ah knew better. It wasn’t long before ah found mah’self spending every free moment ah could by her side.”
Twilight could feel a small part of her grow jealous of the bond that Applejack described, but she knew this was a story without a happy ending. “That all sounds so perfect,” she said with a faint grin. “What could’ve gone wrong?”
Twilight didn’t even notice they had reached town as Applejack answered, “Apple Bushel.”
“Apple Bushel?” Twilight looked around in search of the foal, assuming she was nearby. She soon came to the realization that Applejack was not calling to the foal, but answering Twilight’s question. “What does she have to do with any of this?” Twilight nervously asked.
Applejack heaved a sigh as she explained, “Ah was stupid. Ah made a terrible mistake. For years ah blamed it all on Gran’, but it was because of mah’ foolishness. Rarity and ah were perfect together, but ah never had the apples tah’ tell Gran’ about it. Ah kept our love a secret. Ah was ashamed, and ah convinced myself that if she found out ah’d lose the only thing ah cared about as much as Rarity: the farm.” Applejack motioned to her flank she spoke, “What good is Applejack without apples?”
Twilight tried to speak, but there were no words to be said. Applejack had long ago learned the truth the hard way, and reminding her now was futile. Applejack lowered her head as the boutique appeared on the edge of her peripheral view. “When Gran’ died, ah thought ah had killed her. Ah told mah’self that it was because ah was different. That it was because ah couldn’t tell her the truth about mah’ feelings. Ah grew distant from Rarity, and distant further from her love.”
Twilight pitied Applejack for having to suffer through so much, but that didn’t really answer the question about Apple Bushel’s involvement in the story. “I still don’t see why you blame Apple Bushel for this,” Twilight said in an accusatory tone.
“Ah don’t blame nopony but myself mah’self Twi, it’s just-,” Applejack stopped midsentence and knocked on the door to the Carousel. “Ah’m sure she’ll explain the rest.”
The pair stood in silence in front of the entrance to the building for several long moments. Twilight began to wonder if their visit had been in vain, and perhaps she wasn’t meant to see Rarity during her stay. There was a faint click as somepony adjusted the locks, and the door opened with a creak. The alabaster unicorn behind the door didn’t appear to have aged a single day. She was just as youthful as in Twilight’s memories. She didn’t look at the pair as she spoke, her attention focused on something going on within the store. “I’m sorry, but we won’t be open for a few more hours still.”
“Rarity?” Twilight humbly pined for her brief attention.
“What?” replied the shocked pony behind the door. Her focus pulled off of whatever was going on within the shop, and she turned to face her visitors. Her eyes grew wide with surprise when she saw Twilight. Her pupils shrank, and her peridot irises remained transfixed on the former acquaintance.
Twilight backed away in fear, then shock. She wondered why her friend would look at her in such a way. It was when she looked back at her that she realized her mistake in coming here. The white unicorn caught a glimpse of Applejack out of the corner of her vision and her mood quickly soured. “You?” she stabbed at Applejack with her words. “How dare you show your face around here! Be gone with you!” she screamed as the door slammed shut.
Applejack approached the door and banged hard with her hooves as she pleaded with the other pony to hear her out. “Sweetie Belle, please!”
‘Sweetie Belle?’ Twilight wondered as her mouth fell agape. She suddenly realized why that pony had looked at her that way. Rarity couldn’t have looked at her with peridot eyes. Those could only have belonged to her sister.
Applejack continued to slam on the door, demanding entry into the boutique. “Ah ain’t here to ask for your forgiveness Sweetie Belle. Ah know it’s far too late fer that.” Applejack began to cry profusely as she screamed to be heard through the thick wood, “Ah’m only here because of Twilight. She said Rarity has been avoiding her. Please!” her voice cracked through the screaming, “Let us in! For Rarity’s sake!” She gave one last firm hit against the door and collapsed to her knees. Her words replaced themselves with tears and sobs.
Twilight became more concerned with Applejack’s outburst than her desire for answers, and threw her hooves around her. She pulled Applejack to her hooves and guided her away from the store before a voice called out to them, “You don’t deserve my kindness.” Still holding Applejack up, Twilight turned around to see Sweetie Belle standing in the doorway of the boutique. Sweetie Belle glared at the earth pony, and Applejack didn’t dare to return eye contact.
With an aggravated grunt, Sweetie Belle walked back into the shop, leaving the door wide open. Applejack pulled herself from Twilight’s hooves, and the two entered the boutique. As it had always been, the store was lined with gorgeous dresses and accessories of every color and for every season. As Twilight admired the mannequins littered around the storefront, she noted that all the dresses were far more modest than any of Rarity’s previous creations. After a few moments, she realized that it was because none of the dresses contained Rarity’s signature gemstone accents.
Sweetie Belle remained behind the counter of the boutique, faced away from Applejack and Twilight. She pretended she was getting work done, and would only tolerate their presence for whatever brief moments it took to clear up the confusion. “Thanks,” Applejack forced out through her tears.
“Don’t you dare think for a moment I’m doing this for you!” Sweetie Belle responded fiercely. “You and your whole family are nothing but farm trash, and what you did to her is unforgivable. Twilight shouldn’t have to deal with the likes of you.” Sweetie Belle refused to acknowledge Applejack any further and turned her attention towards Twilight. “What did she tell you?” she questioned. Her voice was still full of rage, but all the anger was meant for Applejack, even if the words were not directed that way. “That she loved her?”
“I-,” Twilight stuttered.
“That she didn’t mean to hurt her?”
“That she was the most beautiful pony in all of Equestria?”
“That my sister meant everything to her?” Sweetie Belle collapsed into tears after her final outburst, her fury draining her.
Twilight couldn’t help but find herself in tears too. The tears from the other ponies in the room. The screams. The confusion. It all was too much for her to take anymore. “I don’t know! I just want to know where she is! Won’t somepony tell me why Rarity is hiding from me?”
“Are you delirious?” Sweetie Belle accused. “Rarity hasn’t been seen in Ponyville for years!”
“No,” Twilight rejected her through her tears, “That can’t be! She was at the party when I arrived. I saw her in the square with Pinkie the other day. She’s here!”
“Do I remind you that much of my sister?” Sweetie Belle yelled. Her voice grew louder as she asked Applejack the same question. “How about you? Do you want to lead me along and rip out my heart too?” Applejack took each word like another dagger in her chest, refusing to respond. Twilight only looked at Sweetie Belle with rejection, refusing to believe that she was telling the truth. “How about now?” Sweetie Belle asked with harsh yell as she pulled her tail aside, exposing her flank to Twilight.
A spool. That was all that stared back at Twilight. No needle. No silver thread. No lace wrapped around it. Just an empty spool. From any other view, it could appear to have been almost anything a pony could imagine, but as it sat on her flank, it was obvious. It was turned just slightly enough to show both the hollow center of the cylinder and the tapered ends that would be holding string within its shape, had there been any there to begin with.
Sweetie Belle looked upon her cutie mark with disdain. “This- This scar reminds me every day what you did to her,” she said to Applejack in a much more quiet tone, before returning to her harsh screams. “Is that filthy little urchin of yours worth it?”
That was one insult Applejack refused to take lying down. “Don’t yah’ dare talk about this like it’s her fault! Yah’ know darn well ah’m the one to blame.” Applejack bared her teeth towards Sweetie Belle, and readied to strike her should she step out of line again. “Ah love Apple Bushel! That’s why ah let her grow up with the family she deserves!”
“What?” Twilight interjected, still unsure why Apple Bushel kept being inserted into the conversation.
Sweetie Belle laughed maniacally at her nemesis. “You didn’t tell her? Figures. You couldn’t be honest with Rarity, and you can’t be honest now. You old-fashioned farm folk never learn.”
Applejack hung her head in shame. “Ah really did break Rarity’s heart. Ah betrayed her,” her attention turned to Twilight as she continued, “and everyday Apple Bushel reminds me of that. Because she’s my daughter.”
Sweetie Belle smirked as she watched the shock form on Twilight’s face. She seemed to feed off the suffering of Applejack in some twisted form of moral justice, but the smile quickly faded from Sweetie Belle’s face. She couldn’t believe what she saw.
Twilight wiped away Applejack’s tears and wrapped her hooves around her. Applejack cried harder still as Twilight hugged her. “It’s okay,” Twilight whispered to Applejack. She didn’t ask for any explanation. She didn’t hate Applejack for how she had hid things. She didn’t strike her down. She just held her. Seeing how much pain Applejack had put herself through was the only answer she needed.
As she let go of her friend, Twilight turned her attention back to Sweetie Belle. Enraged, she tore into her. “How dare you! I’m sure Rarity suffered plenty, but that doesn’t justify Applejack’s suffering any more! I don’t know what happened to her, but that’s not what she would have wanted.”
Sweetie Belle’s mouth hung open, and she found herself at a loss for words. Twilight should have stormed out. She should have given up on Applejack. She should have nullified their friendship in front of her. Sweetie Belle began to sob profusely. “You just can’t understand. It’s- it’s all her fault!” she pointed to Applejack.
“Do you not think she realizes that?” Twilight’s horn began to glow as she talked, as though at any moment she was prepared to strike Sweetie Belle down.
“She- she-,” Sweetie Belle gave up on arguing any further. The wicked shroud around her drifted away, and she realized how much undue hurt she had caused Applejack. “Applejack, I-,” she still remained apprehensive in her apology, “I still can’t forgive you.”
“Ah wouldn’t ask yah to.”
“What else didn’t you tell Twilight?” Sweetie Belle inquired. Applejack looked at the floor, unable to answer her. “The orchard?”
“Orchard?” Twilight answered for Applejack.
“Nah. Ah didn’t get tah’ that. Yah’ think Spike’s there now?”
“Every single day, without fail,” Sweetie Belle said, seemingly upset about it.
Applejack and Twilight made their way through the forests south of Ponyville. Sweetie Belle had declined Applejack’s modest invitation to join them. She only offered some excuse about work, then adding that she had been through enough pain for one day. The walk there was rather quiet, and Twilight wondered why they would head this direction to an orchard when Sweet Apple Acres was the opposite direction.
The trees along the path began to space themselves further and further apart, eventually leading to a clearing. Soft, green grass flowed gently in the breeze, and the scent of flowers and dew made it way towards Twilight. The clearing seemed alive beyond the plant life. The plants let off the faintest glow, and Twilight knew that there was magic in this meadow.
It was like nothing she had ever seen. The meadow ebbed and flowed like it was connected to a sort of heartbeat. The wind seemed to blow from every direction at the same time, and caressed Twilight gently as she crossed the threshold from the forest to where the meadow began. The flowers twinkled like fallen stars. Creatures lined the edges of the meadow, their gazes transfixed on Applejack and Twilight, but none dared enter the space. It wasn’t just alive, it was sacred.
Twilight was mesmerized by her surroundings. “What is this place? It’s so beautiful,” she asked Applejack.
“This- is mah’ top secret orchard,” Applejack responded. “There are only a few ponies that know about it, and even less have seen it. Ah’ve been achin’ to bring yah’ here since yah’ arrived in Ponyville.”
Twilight seemed to recall what Pinkie had told her the other day. “Wait. Do you mean that apple-?”
Applejack nodded as she motioned towards the center of the meadow. It was hardly necessary for her to point out the tree overshadowing the meadow. It called attention to itself as the biggest landmark in the open space. It was far too big to be an apple tree, but there from its branches sprouted the largest, most luscious apples anypony had ever seen. The whole meadow seemed to defy the logic of nature, but this was the most glaring violation of all.
Applejack dared not buck this tree, and instead approached one of the branches that hung low under the weight of the fruit. She gently picked it, and the branch seemed to rise a few inches in relief. Applejack looked longingly at the fruit for a brief moment before offering it to Twilight. She gladly took the fruit and took a big bite of it. It tasted even better fresh off the tree than the one Applejack had left in her room. The flavors and aromas enveloped every corner of her mouth and brought her taste buds to life. The taste was so powerful that it invoked emotions within her. Most were happy ones. Adoration. Passion. Creativity. But there was something else she couldn’t pinpoint. She debated its nature, but couldn’t settle on whether it was loneliness, or something closer to homesickness.
As Twilight swallowed the bite of fruit, she tried to pass it back to Applejack. “Aren’t you going to have some?”
Applejack shook her head. “Ah’ve never had the fruit from this tree. It’s not meant for me.”
Twilight didn’t question her further and took another bite of the fruit as she admired the tree. The path her eyes took eventually led towards the bottom of the trunk, a part of this tree most ponies would have glanced over when presented with such a massive work of art. There at the base, a small lizard laid with his back against the tree. Spike was napping peacefully, unaware that he wasn’t alone.
Applejack swiped the half eaten fruit from Twilight’s hooves and approached the sleeping dragon. She gently waved the fruit under Spike’s nostrils and he slowly rose to his feet, still deep asleep. Applejack held the fruit at bay from Spike’s small reach and led him towards Twilight. Spike’s arms stuck out in front of him, desperately trying to grab at something that wasn’t there. Twilight giggled as she watched Applejack toy with her old companion. As Spike’s path finally made its way towards Twilight, Applejack took the fruit and flung it with all her might off into the horizon. Instead of running off after it, the sudden loss of fruit from Spike’s nasal proximity awoke him from his slumber.
“Applejack?” Spike asked as he rubbed his eyes. “I was having the most wonderful dream.” As his surroundings came into focus, he noticed Applejack had a companion with her. “Twilight?” he said before turning back to Applejack, “You brought her here? Are you sure about that?”
Applejack nodded confidently. “Twi needed to see this Spike. Sorry we had to wake y’all up from your nap, but this here is purty important.”
Spike looked back at the tree for a brief moment, then back to Applejack. “If you say so,” he said with his head to the ground and arms at his side in defeat.
“Looks like you have a pretty good napping spot here,” Twilight snickered as she teased Spike.
Spike’s cheeks turned rosy, an odd feat for the cold-blooded creature. “I don’t usually fall asleep here,” he said, “I just come here to talk to Rarity.”
Twilight’s ears perked at the mention of Rarity’s name. “Is she here?” she questioned.
Applejack gave Spike a harsh glance as she spoke, “Spike, we’ve talked about this. That’s not what the tree is for.”
“What are you talking about?” Twilight asked the angered earth pony. Applejack pointed a hoof at the tree. The details on the massive trunk couldn’t be made from afar, but as she approached, Twilight could make out several carvings all over the gargantuan tree. All of them were notes addressed from Spike to Rarity. Some were full of random small talk, and others were long, romantic confessions from the lovelorn creature.
Spike and Applejack approached Twilight’s side. “If I didn’t come here, nopony would,” Spike quipped.
“Now that ain’t true, Spike,” Applejack disagreed. “Ah still come ‘round now and then. Ah jus’ don’t always see the need to come back here and relive all these painful memories day in and day out like yah’ do.”
Twilight scanned through many of the letters coating the tree. As her view went skyward, she saw something different high up on the trunk. The carving was unlike the others, and quite large. Despite being so high up the tree, its size made it easy to make out the shape of a heart with the letters ‘R+AJ’ carved into the center. The ‘AJ’ had been carved haphazardly, but the ‘R’ was made with careful precision. It was from some gorgeous, long-forgotten font, with the long tail of the letter curled up and around before tapering off. “What is this tree?” Twilight asked, convinced there was more than what appeared on the surface.
“This tree,” Applejack responded, “is a miracle. A testament to love. A monument to generosity.”
Twilight grew suspicious. There were very few occasions in the time she had known Applejack that she had ever said something this profound. The farmer could be a wordsmith on rare occasion, but these words didn’t seem like her own.
Applejack smiled a bit. “Ah thought she was jus’ bein’ silly, but whenever ah see this tree now, ah figure she was right,” she admitted. Applejack swallowed slowly, and the smile disappeared from her face. “But this ain’t what ah brought you here tah’ see, Twi.”
Spike was brushing his claws up against his most recent set of love notes to Rarity, hoping the words reached her. When he heard Applejack, the scales along his back seemed to rise slightly, and he turned to her. “Applejack, please. Don’t put her through this,” he pleaded.
Applejack denied his request as she walked around the large base of the trunk. “She needs tah’ see it, Spike.”
Twilight closely followed Applejack as they made their way around the tree. On the other side, the roots coming out from the bottom of the trunk reached out much further from the base, and several rose up out from the soil, coiling themselves around each other. Without a signal from Applejack, Twilight knew this is what she was supposed to see. Twilight approached the mass of roots, while Applejack remained beside the trunk. After a brief moment, Spike came around and stood watching by Applejack’s side.
The twisted roots seemed to rise up out of the ground with a purpose, although Twilight could not deduce why. She made the assumption that they were sheltering something beneath them, and as she came to the other side of the mass she could make out the object. A rock set in the grass had blocked the roots’ path, and many had grown around it, as they inched towards some far away goal. From this side, small parts of the rock beneath the roots could be seen, and Twilight thought she could make out letters on the boulder. As she peered closer, all she could make out were ‘e ie ari h ne r gh’, and she became certain there was a message contained on the rock beneath.
She tried to move the roots away, but the roots claimed to have been there first, and refused to budge. She stepped away for a moment, and her horn began to glow. The roots began to move aside, as if they feared the light, slowly revealing more of their protected treasure. As it became clearer, Twilight began to see that the stone was not a feature of nature, but a ponymade object. It appeared to have been more ornately shaped at one time, but the roots had given it the illusion of age and wear. Her horn glowed brighter, and as the carving within the rock was revealed, her eyes widened. Unable to control her reaction, the glow of her horn turned to a bright flash of light, and she was sent hurtling backwards several feet.
Spike and Applejack shielded their eyes. Applejack’s hat blew off of her head and landed far across the meadow. She didn’t seem to care, and instead galloped to Twilight’s side to see if she was hurt. “Twilight?” she said as she tried to help the unicorn up.
Twilight’s body was scuffed up from the blast. A few small cuts appeared on her legs, and as the dust cleared, Applejack could see tears in her eyes. Twilight pushed aside Applejack’s helping hoof, and pleaded with her instead, “Tell me it’s not true!” as she pointed her hoof back at the revealed object. Despite the wear from the roots tearing at it, the carving on the stone was still clear enough to be read, and Twilight collapsed into her hooves with tears. Applejack looked at the message, as clear as when it was carved, and equally as painful.
The sunrise had lost its elegance. The mighty orbs still danced their ballet above Ponyville. Their grace and poise was unaltered since Luna’s return to nobility, but it went unnoticed. Typically, this dance was performed for nopony. It was just one of the many games Luna and Celestia played with each other in the short segments of time they could be together. Still, the dance was lost on the only pony watching, looking upon it as just another gear in the machine that was Equestria.
Twilight paced around the library, stumbling with every few steps. The floor was littered with books she had pulled from the shelves, but neglected to put back. Not a single one of them contained the answers she had been seeking, but she refused to halt her search. Books had never let her down in her quest for knowledge and truth.
‘Truth?’ Twilight pondered. The word quickly deconstructed itself in her mind. It became honesty, and then Applejack. Twilight wondered how many nights had passed with every word Applejack said playing again in her head, unchanged and verbatim.
It was an accident…
Another night spent replaying the speech in her head and watching the sunrise pulled Twilight’s attention towards the calendar. The days had been crossed off one by one with violent quill strokes in an effort to deny each day even happened, but to no avail. She marked one more date off the calendar, and her quill hovered over today’s date. She had circled it so many times that her irregular strokes turned the markings into a spiral vortex, pulling in time from the days around it.
The noted day was now here, and Twilight looked around at the mess she had created. The library was but a skeleton, the flesh stripped and thrown around the floor. “Have I learned nothing?” Twilight cried out in despair. Too drained to use her magic, she kicked a nearby book across the room. A shower of pages rained down as it collided with the wall, and a few of the remaining tomes on the shelves fell to the floor.
She took one last glance at the calendar, hoping she had miscounted the sunrises, but the date stared back at her, unflinching. Enraged, Twilight ripped the calendar in half. Then again. And again. Shreds of past, present and future turned to snowflakes. Three hundred and sixty-five unique dates turned to thousands of scraps that curtained the floor around her. All her frustration did nothing to stall the inevitable-
It was time to leave Ponyville.
She became obsessed, but it wasn’t about revenge. What ah did- it made her question why she threw everythin’ away…
It wasn’t nearly as painful the last time Twilight left Ponyville, and as she caught her breath, Twilight was wondering why. Those years of her youth were the best memories she had, and it was so easy to throw all that away. The bond she shared with her friends went further than saving the world. They grew older. They grew wiser. They matured.
Then, it stopped. They stopped learning. There were no more letters to Celestia. Nothing left for Twilight or her friends to learn about friendship. And so the time came for Twilight to return to Canterlot, and use her knowledge to help the kingdom. The goodbyes came so easily then. She remembered her friends smiling as the hot air balloon departed. Not smiling because they were happy to see her go, but because they knew their friendship could survive distance.
But time? That was the final test. It was this realization that pushed Twilight to rip the calendar to pieces. She wanted something she couldn’t have. She wanted the time back.
Her dresses. It was all she had left. The demand for her talents had never gone away, and suddenly, she saw no reason to refuse those demands…
The path of destruction Twilight had created had done little to sate her frustration. She had gained nothing except another mess to clean up. Another job. Another checklist.
‘Oh Celestia,’ she thought, ‘is this what I’ve reduced myself to? Lists? Facts? Is there no space in me for a heart?’
She needed gems. Hundreds of them. She was gonna’ make somethin’ more glamorous than anythin’ she’d made before…
Quantification. Twilight looked at the books strewn around the floor. She couldn’t accept anything that she couldn’t quantify through research. There were so many eons of knowledge packed into the books, but nothing that could get her closer to the answers she required.
Twilight began to place books back on the shelves, undoing the damage she had caused to the aesthetics of the room, but unable to heal the pain in her heart. Her thoughts began to grow selfish, and she despised it. She wished she hadn’t spent those years away saving the kingdom. Right now, she’d rather Equestria have been wiped off the map so that she could have had one more year with her friends.
Under this meadow, there’s a cavern. A treasure trove of glittering jewels. And she became determined to collect every single one…
Twilight wondered if she was out of touch with more than just her friends. She began to worry that the whole world had changed, and she was just the last pony to notice. She felt stuck, like the world had kept moving while she was left behind to pick up the pieces-
The pages on the floor.
The collapse. She took one too many, and the walls crumbled around her. At least that’s what I assume. We never did find her…
Slowly, the hardwood floor of the library became visible again. Any other pony would have looked at the mess like the spilled contents of a dozen jigsaw puzzles that had mixed together, but Twilight was more at home in these sort of places than out in the real world. She wondered what grand event had driven her to find more in common with letters on a page than words from a pony.
‘I have failed everypony. I gain nothing, and yet, I still insist on cowering behind books for answers.’
The books answered her with silence.
Ah wish ah could be more like Spike or Sweetie Belle. Ah tried to cling onto the hope that she wasn’t there or somehow survived, but every time ah started to have those thoughts, ah could feel small hooves kicking inside me. Bushel-
She knew before ah did…
Her question echoed through the library.
Ah still wonder if things could be different. Watchin’ Bushel grow up, even if sometimes it’s from afar, makes me think that Rarity-
Well, ah wish she could have seen Bushel just once, and maybe everythin’ would have been okay…
The mess within the library was resolved, but Twilight’s soul remained tarnished. She was placing the last book on the shelf when a raspy voice called out to her, “Don’t tell me you still read that tripe.” Twilight looked at the book in her hoof. It was one of the early novels by A.H.A. Snowbird. The book was swiped from her hand, and the culprit looked at the book with a disapproving stare. “Seriously, this was so uncool. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Rainbow Dash flipped through the pages before placing the book on a higher shelf, where nopony would find it.
Twilight was shocked to find she wasn’t alone. “How long have you-?”
“Long enough,” Dash interrupted her. “Even without wings, I still know how to make an entrance,” Dash laughed at Twilight’s expression as she pushed her fiery mane out of her face. “Don’t worry, egghead. It’s not like I’ve been watching you.”
Twilight didn’t find it so easy to laugh. She pulled the book back down from the shelf, and placed it in its proper place according to the library catalog. “What are you doing here?” she asked, not bothering to make eye contact with Dash.
“Today’s the day, right? I wasn’t about to let my friend leave without saying goodbye.”
“I don’t know what that word means anymore.”
“Goodbye? Vámanos? Au revoir? Sayona-,”
“No,” Twilight interrupted, her voice showing no humor for the situation, “I meant ‘friend’.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Rainbow asked, her eyebrows raised in confusion.
“Don’t look at me like that. You should hate me most of all.”
“Hate you? Why would I do that?”
Twilight pointed a hoof at Dash’s crippled wing. “Because I abandoned you. What kind of friend does that?”
“Twilight, you didn’t abandon me. You had dozens of opportunities to abandon me over the years, and a few where I wouldn’t have blamed you if you did. But this,” she looked at the scar down her wing, “this was me abandoning myself. We talked about this. It was tough, but I’ve had a lot to learn, and it looks like you have too. That’s why you left in the first place.”
“But I haven’t learned anything!” Twilight yelled in frustration. “All I know is I should have been here! I wasted so many years when I could have been here. I could have helped my friends. I could have saved Rarity.”
“Twilight,” Dash grabbed at Twilight’s face with her hooves, forcing Twilight to look at her as she spoke. “Even if I had both my wings, I couldn’t have stopped what happened. Nopony could save her.”
As Dash let go of her, the tears finally flowed to Twilight’s eyes, and she collapsed to the floor. She wanted so badly to prove Dash wrong, but she found herself unable to say anything. Dash’s words were harsh, but true.
“Um, Dash?” a voice beckoned to be heard from the entrance. “Do you have to say it like that?” Fluttershy hovered into the library. She suddenly remembered about Dash’s injuries and lowered herself to the ground. “I’m sorry. Um, I’m not trying to show off.”
Instead of running, Dash faced Fluttershy for the first time in many years. “Don’t worry about it, but Twilight needed to hear that.”
Twilight remained on the floor, broken and unable to acknowledge Fluttershy. She knew that Fluttershy had come to say goodbye as well, and it only made her cry harder.
“But that’s not the whole truth,” Fluttershy argued with Dash, her voice still innocent and non-confrontational. “We couldn’t save Rarity, because she was saving us.”
Still balled up on the floor, Twilight asked “What?”
“I was getting to that,” Dash insisted.
Fluttershy offered a hoof to help Twilight up, but her small frame was too weak to lift her. Twilight pulled herself to her feet, and Fluttershy brushed through the knots in the unicorn’s hair with her hooves as she reassured her. “Remember? We were the elements of harmony. We all had our parts to play, and Rarity reminded us of that.”
Twilight sniffled a bit as she worked through her sorrow. “I don’t understand. We’re still the elements.”
“No,” Dash responded, “we’re not.”
“Then who?” Twilight asked.
The door to the library burst open, and a cloud of confetti heralded Pinkie Pie’s entrance. She was singing some song about saying goodbye, although the upbeat banter of the music hardly matched the lyrics. She stopped mid-verse when she saw the scene that was unfolding within. “What’s wrong everypony? We can’t throw Twilight a goodbye party like this,” Pinkie urged her friends.
Fluttershy poked her head out from under a nearby table she was using to shield herself from Pinkie’s party assault. “We were just talking about back when we were the elements of harmony.”
Pinkie bounced over to Fluttershy, who retracted her body back beneath the safe haven underneath the table. “The elements? I remember those.” Pinkie took a deep breath, and was about to sing, until Dash stuffed a hoof in her mouth.
“What Fluttershy means,” Dash said to urge Pinkie not to sing, “is we were telling her why we’re not the elements anymore.” Pinkie’s response was muffled into gibberish by Dash’s hoof, and Dash turned her attention back to Twilight. “We haven’t been the elements for a long time Twilight, and it wasn’t until Rarity died that we realized it.”
Twilight was still confused by the answer. “Then who are they?”
Fluttershy figured it was safe enough to emerge so she could answer. “We don’t know. Nopony does.”
Pinkie pulled Dash’s hoof from her mouth, and finished the rest of Fluttershy’s thought. “Equestria hasn’t needed the elements for a long time, silly. If the world needs them again, I’m sure there are plenty of ponies who know how to party.”
“Laughter,” Dash corrected Pinkie. She turned back to Twilight. “It wasn’t until we last saw Rarity’s generosity that we remembered why the elements chose us in the first place. She saved us from what we had become.”
“I still don’t get what you’re talking about,” Twilight said.
“Ah reckon this will jog your memory,” Applejack said as she joined the camaraderie in the library, a basket of apples in tow. Immediately recognizing the treasures, Pinkie dashed across the room. Applejack stopped her just before her mouth could open wide enough to consume them all in a single bite. “Y’all will get one,” she insisted as she tossed the first one to Twilight.
Twilight caught the fruit, but as she stared at it, it provided no answers. “What do apples have to do with this?” she asked.
With a smile on her face, Applejack edged her hat forward. “Yah’ saw the orchard. How yah’ think any tree could grow so darn big?”
Twilight declined to respond, still staring at the fruit in her hooves.
Fluttershy pulled one of the apples from the basket, holding it high as she explained, “It’s magic Twilight. The tree is full of it.”
“Heck, the whole darn meadow is,” Applejack continued. “Where do yah’ think all that came from?”
“She had something to tell us,” Dash said. “She left us with a final reminder of who she was.”
“The element of generosity!” Pinkie exclaimed.
“Generosity?” Twilight questioned.
“She knew it was too late fer her,” Applejack said, “so she gave back. Tah’ Ponyville. Tah’ Equestria. Tah’ us.”
“I-,” Dash looked her friends over as she swallowed her pride, “I had forgotten. I was loyalty. I used to always be there for any pony who needed me, but I wasn’t there for her.” Her expression was heavy with guilt as she looked apologetically at the other ponies. “Seeing the tree made it all clear. I know I’ve been reclusive, but I’m still helping. From the sidelines, where I belong.”
“Um,” Fluttershy mumbled. “I struggled too. Kindness. I forgot what it meant. I,” her cheeks began to swell with color until they matched her mane, “thought it was the same thing as love.” Her eyes remained fixed on the floor, avoiding the smiles from her friends. “I had to learn kindness again,” she looked at Applejack fondly, “so I gave Apple Bushel the childhood she deserved.” Still embarrassed, she quickly looked away again, “But I still couldn’t have done it without Mackie’s help, or Applejack and Apple Bloom’s. Still, it was Rarity that made me realize it.”
Twilight’s gaze drifted towards Pinkie, assuming she’d be the next with something to say. Pinkie responded with a goofy expression of her own as the others turned their gazes as well. “Me? I learned nothing,” she said, her enthusiasm matching her ignorance.
Applejack nudged Pinkie, teasing her with the prospect of not getting one of the blessed apples she had brought along. “Pinkie?” she urged as the apple was slowly being pulled away.
“Okay! I learned that these apples are delicious!” she said, grabbing the apple back from Applejack with her teeth.
The whole room responded in unison, “Pinkie!”
“Alright, alright!” she said, juggling the apple back and forth between her hooves. “Rarity didn’t really ‘get’ laughter, but she knew comedy. Comedy takes work.” She spun the apple on her hoof as she continued, “I thought that making the town one big party would be fun, but Rarity taught me that the hardest work produces the greatest rewards.” Done toying with her food, she took a large bite from the apple. Speaking between her chewing she added, “Like this apple! It made it all clear. The harder ponies work, the harder they party. The harder they laugh.”
All eyes in the room turned towards Applejack. She pulled her hat from her head, toying with in her hooves. “The things ah learned from Rarity could fill a book,” she sighed, “but that’s more Dash’s territory.” The mares giggled slightly, even Twilight feeling a smile growing on her face. “Most of all,” Applejack continued, “she taught me that honesty is a virtue that can hurt yah’ sometimes. But more importantly, ah learned tah’ always be honest about your feelin’s, because if nopony knows, those feelin’s don’t mean jack.”
Twilight felt touched by the way her friends spoke of Rarity, but still, she was unfulfilled. Rarity had left something behind for everypony in that tree, but Twilight couldn’t find what was in it for her. “I-,” she stuttered, “I don’t see my place in all this. I wasn’t there for her. What could she have wanted to give to me? What place does magic have in all this?”
Applejack approached Twilight and took her hooves in her own, pushing the apple closer to Twilight’s face. “Don’t yah’ see, sugah’cube?”
Dash picked up the last apple in the basket, staring at it intently to convey the message within. “Magic,” she said, “makes it all complete.”
Just inches from her eyes, the apple in front of Twilight began to glow. It was a moment before she realized the light was not from the fruit itself, but a reflection of her horn off of the glossy sheen of the skin. She clamped down on the apple, ripping a large portion of flesh from it, and revealing the message Rarity had left in it for her. Those emotions that surged with each bite, some of them did belong to Rarity. Creativity. Expression. Selflessness. But now, Twilight could taste something deeper within the fruit. Somewhere between bites she could feel what everypony was talking about. Generosity. Loyalty. Kindness. Laughter. Honesty. And somewhere, deep beneath them all-
Rarity’s magic flowed through Twilight, finding exodus in her horn. The room filled with a bright light, and Twilight’s body slowly hovered off the ground. The other ponies shielded their eyes as the light grew brighter, coating everything in an opaque white shimmer that left the contents of the room invisible. A strong wind blew open the windows to the library, letting the light escape into the town, and pulling the other ponies closer to where Twilight was now hovering above them. With a boisterous blast, the light ceased, and Twilight fell upon the soft hides of her companions beneath her.
As the dust settled around them, the girls pulled each other up, and were awestruck by the room around them. Everything, from the books to the shelves to the desks and chairs, was glittering. Prisms of light were shining from every inch of the room.
Fluttershy flapped her wings, and flew towards the window on the upper floor. She took a glance out the window and curiously reported back to her friends, “The whole town. It’s- it’s- shiny.”
“Oh golly gee!” Pinkie exclaimed, “I’d need like fifty party cannons to do this. It’s like the factory exploded.”
“What happened?” Dash asked.
Twilight smiled, and tears began to fall from her face. “It’s Rarity,” she said. “This is what she wanted to tell me. I-,” she paused as she wiped the tears away, “I could hear her. I could see her.”
Everypony was looking at Twilight, astonished. “What did she say?” Applejack inquired.
“She told me,” Twilight responded, “to make the world beautiful. To make it sparkle.”
One by one, the ponies looked at one another, deep in thought about what they had seen. Their exchanged glances conveyed their understanding and friendship. Pinkie was the first to pull Twilight in, embracing her with a tight hug, and the rest soon joining in. The tightly wrapped hooves around everypony said more than words could at that moment. As they let go, the shimmering aura around the town began to fade, leaving behind the memory and message it came to share.
“Are you ready?” Dash asked Twilight.
“What?” Twilight responded, confused. Before she could get a response, a low whistle bellowed through the town, announcing the arrival of the train coming to take Twilight back to Canterlot. Twilight’s heart sank within her, and she dashed around the library, grabbing various things with her magic. “No. Not yet! There’s something I have to do.”
Nopony could understand what Twilight meant, but Dash jumped into action. She galloped towards the door, announcing, “I’ll see what I can do to stall the train.”
Twilight tried to stop Dash, but she was already gone. She looked at the remaining mares and asked, “Where’s Spike?”
Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie looked at each other in confusion, but Applejack had the answer. “Well, right now, he’s probably-,” she began to say, but Twilight somehow knew the rest, and before the other ponies could notice, she had galloped out the door with her saddlebag in tow.
Twilight ran as fast as her hooves could carry her. The town was a blur at this speed, and her friends followed close behind her. Dash caught up with the group and tried to warn Twilight. “Whatever you’re doing Twilight, there’s no time. The train isn’t going to wait. Are you even listening to me?”
Short on breath, Twilight managed to say, “Forget the train! This is too important!”
Applejack took the lead of the group, knowing where Twilight was trying to go. She tried to guide them on the shortest route possible, dodging oblong branches and leaping over fallen trees. Soon, they came to the open meadow, and to Rarity’s tree. Spike was again there under the tree, and was rather spooked by the cavalry that was quickly approaching him.
“Twilight? What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be back in Canterlot?” Spike asked.
Pinkie’s tail let out a nervous twitch, and then a longer shudder. The ground began to quake as Pinkie’s body bounced around, not of her own will, but as though something had grabbed her and was shaking her vigorously. Her body came to a sudden halt, and everyone stared at her.
“What was that?” Dash asked between heavy breaths.
“I’m not sure,” Pinkie pondered aloud, “but the last time my ‘Pinkie Sense’ went off-,” she trailed off, curious of the meaning behind the signals.
The run had exhausted all the mares, especially the out-of-shape Twilight. She struggled to catch her breath for a few moments before turning to the small dragon. “Spike, I need your help.”
Spike had no idea what Twilight could need, but was eager to do anything for his former companion. “Sure. Anything. What could be so urgent?”
Twilight pulled open her saddlebag with her magic, retrieving its contents. She set down a small bottle, and levitated a long parchment and quill in front of Spike.
“Take a letter.”
“Are yah’ sure about this?”
“Without a doubt.”
Spike grasped the scroll in his claws, unsure of the fate that lay within. All eyes were on Twilight, as her friends tried to gather whether or not they heard what she said correctly. There was confidence in her dictation, but still, while everypony wanted to believe that this was happening, they couldn’t help but have their doubts. The drake took a deep breath, and stalled, giving Twilight one last chance to back down. To revise the letter. To take everything back.
Twilight only smiled, tears forming as she looked upon the approving gazes of her friends. She nodded at Spike, urging him to be done with it, but still he held his tongue and brimstone. His eyes wandered around the rest of the group looking for someone who might object to what was about to happen. Dash had her hoof tightly wrapped around Twilight. Pinkie was too busy bouncing with joy, while Fluttershy expressed the same feelings with just a simper.
Applejack however, took notice that Spike hadn’t moved for several seconds, and grew tired of waiting. Holding back most of her strength, she bucked him in the side, and emerald flames shot out against his will, engulfing the parchment. The instant in time stood still, as the flash of light and ash faded off.
The immature dragon stared down at blank claw for a moment, curious of what had just transpired, and theorizing about whether or not it was some wonderful dream that he was about to wake up from. He again looked at the gathering of mares, wondering if he would find any sense of doubt or questioning among them, only to be overshadowed by Pinkie’s boisterous squealing.
“This calls for a party!”
A different fire was burning. Ruby hues and orange tints illuminated the Royal Chambers of Canterlot Castle. In a rare change of pace, the Ceremony Hall had been closed for the day. Today was not a national holiday, nor a day of any significant importance. Celestia simply had premonitions about the day, and found it best to spend the day alone. It had become more and more common over the millennia for Celestia to have her predictions about future events. Watching so much come and go from the world had given her an innate ability to pick outcomes with accuracy.
Instead of spending her time in contemplation, she occupied herself with a habit she had picked up from her student: organization. The alicorn’s shelves were stacked full of back records. Equestrian economics and history lined the walls of her chamber, detailing every bit of information the kingdom had about the world around it.
For several hours she had been stuck on a single folder. A collection of documents she wasn’t sure what to do with. There were many requests from private citizens over the centuries since she had implemented an open court, and occasionally she held onto a few, but now that these requests were fulfilled, she was unsure what to do with them.
During her years overlooking Twilight’s development into the mare she had become, Celestia had learned a couple things from the unicorn. Twilight’s voice echoed in her head as she debated what to do with the documents.
“Everything in its right place.”
While the sentiment had helped with her organization skills, Celestia still lacked a way to turn it into the answer she was looking for. She was growing impatient. There was much that needed to be done, but she felt as though she couldn’t move forward until the task in front of her was completed.
With the smallest amount of her innate magic skill, the folder floated back onto the shelf she had found it, but her horn still continued to glow. A dormant spell was surging inside her, and a nostalgic smirk formed across her face. It had been too long since she felt that bond connecting her and the young dragon that had taken residence in her kingdom.
She closed her eyes and released the idle spell in her horn. The smell of sulfur was an unpleasant drawback, but it had been so long that she welcomed the rancid scent. Flames receded from the air and a cloud of ash formed before her. As the dust took shape and color, she levitated the form in front of her. Her eyes finally opened when she felt something tap against her gold-plated hooves. She looked to see the unraveled scroll before her, its length causing it to fall against the ground and roll against her, and still it rolled on.
She had premonitions about this, but nothing she had predicted led her to believe the note would be so… long. She knew her student too well to expect long letters. Twilight could ramble in conversation, but her documentation was precise and mechanical in its nature. This wasn’t like her. Celestia searched for the message she had been eagerly awaiting for so long.
She quickly caught up with the end of the document, and clapped her hooves with foalish glee. The smile on her face grew even wider, and she instinctively held a hoof to her mouth to hide it, even though there was nopony around to see the princess lose the bonds of composure that normally contained her. With a spring in her step, she trotted back to the shelves and removed the folder that had been plaguing her thoughts all morning.
She gave one last fond read of the letters therein, and knew what must be done with them. Their requests fulfilled, she knew these words were best left between her and their respective authors. In a gesture of trust, she levitated the notes one by one into the cleansing light of the fireplace. The words were soon lost, but their message not forgotten…
I apologize that it’s been so long since the last of these letters. Years, now that I think about it.
It’s just… I thought these letters were done. I thought the rest of my words would be lost forever under a penname. My mind locked inside a prison of my own design, and my body trapped by retribution for my past mistakes. But I was wrong.
I had forgotten why I had written all those letters to you in the first place. It wasn’t because I had a lesson to share. It wasn’t because I had an adventure to tell. It wasn’t because I wanted to brag about my accomplishments or document my shortcomings.
It was because of her.
She changed all of our lives. For the better. And I, for one, can’t imagine what our lives would be like without her. It was you that gave her to us, and just like that, it felt like you took her away too.
I’ve learned better than that though. She wasn’t ‘taken away’. Everypony is responsible for their own destiny in this world. It was her decision to go, and while it hurt, I supported her. I told myself it was for the greater good. That there were those out there that needed her more than us.
But that’s not the real reason I wrote this. These letters are supposed to be about lessons learned, and indeed, I have one, perhaps, the lesson that’s taken me the longest to learn. In truth, I had known this for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I learned the significance of it.
I am Loyalty.
Or at least, I was, but still, it is a part of who I am as a pony. It is what I will be remembered for. Not for the stories I told. Not for the false pony I created. But for me.
But loyalty is more than a virtue, it is a responsibility. An innate desire to be there for those you care about. To protect them from danger. From sadness. From loneliness.
Sometimes, we forget who we are.
I wasn’t there. I wasn’t loyal. And I thought I could never forgive myself for it. When Twilight left, I lost a pony I was loyal to. When Rarity passed, I lost both her and Applejack, who I couldn’t protect from loneliness. Fluttershy, she has a new protector, and doesn’t need my loyalty anymore. Pinkie, well… Pinkie is Pinkie. With or without my loyalty, she was going to be fine, and I guess that I gave up on her along with the rest.
But I’m making up for that now, and this letter is the start of that. I have learned that loyalty means nothing if you have nopony to be loyal to. I’m coming out of the shadows, so to speak, and I’m there for my friends for the first time in years, even if they don’t know it. As it turns out, the one thing they need I can’t give them. All I can give is my loyalty, but what they—what I—need is something else.
They need her.
I know it’s selfish, but I ask, in the name of loyalty, that you find a way to return her to us. Of her own will, of course. Otherwise, my efforts will mean nothing. I know she can be… stubborn. I wouldn’t be surprised if she needs a little coaxing, but I know once she’s here, she’ll make the right decision.
Please, if at all possible…
We need Twilight.
I’m sorry to bother you. I know how busy you must be, but this is pretty important to me, so I hope you don’t mind me taking up your time. I don’t want to alarm you. I know that I haven’t sent any letters in years. But it’s really, really, really important that I tell you what I learned.
I mean, that’s why I started writing these letters in the first place. I learned so much, and it was because I had friends around to guide me to learn things I was too scared to learn on my own. I served a place in that friendship, and for a time, in this kingdom as well. My place, as you already know, was to be Kindness.
But what it has taken me years to learn is that kindness begets kindness. It’s infectious. It spreads from one pony to another. I thought for years that I just needed to keep being Kindness, but that didn’t get me anywhere. It wasn’t until I felt the kindness of others that I learned this. It wasn’t any one pony that taught me to accept kindness, but I have found the part that all my friends played in this.
Applejack, she ‘gave’ me her brother, or at least deviously played a part in us realizing our feelings for each other. But she also gave me her daughter, so that I may teach her kindness.
Pinkie, while her primary skill was laughter, was kind enough to give up the parties, at least for a little while, to serve the town. Maybe she didn’t know what she was doing at the time, but I think she grew into it, and ended up embracing kindness.
Rainbow Dash knew kindness long before she realized it. It is unfortunate that her kindness was expressed through sacrifice, but she is the strongest pegasus I’ve ever known. She has suffered much, but has grown because of it.
I didn’t take notice of Rarity’s kindness until it was too late, and for that, I will always be ashamed. I never saw how much the two of us had in common. Generosity and kindness. We go hoof-in-hoof. Her final act was an expression of both. I wish the whole world could see her kindness, but I know it was meant for us, her friends.
But something is missing.
Twilight is the reason we all came to realize that our special talents go past our cutie marks. She showed us that there is value in the way we treat everypony. I realize now that I never got the chance to show her everything I learned about kindness, and what others have taught me, including her.
But even though Twilight knows of kindness, I feel there is still something I need to share with her about it. I need to show her the rewards that kindness reaps. I need her to see what I’ve done with it, and where it will take me. I only soar because of the kindness of others that lifts me up.
There are things here Twilight needs to see, and a pony she needs to meet.
Do you know if she’s coming back? Not just for me, but for the rest of my friends as well. They need her. They might not admit it, but I’m sure they do. I think the kindest thing I can do for them now is to try and bring her back to Ponyville, if only for a little while.
I hope it’s not too much to ask.
I never really got the whole letters thing, but I figured this was important enough that I should try. It’s so much easier to sing though. Why couldn’t we just send ‘Singing Friendship Telegrams’? Everything’s better with singing and dancing! And cupcakes!
I mean, that’s a great idea, but that’s not the reason I’m writing. And don’t worry, Ponyville is doing okay. We’ve got plenty of food, and the weather ponies have been spot-on this year. I can’t believe I thought being mayor was going to be hard. It’s just a matter of making everypony happy. Make everypony smile! And nopony knows how to make ponies smile like Pinkie Pie!
Again, I’m getting off-topic. Why was I writing this again? And why am I writing everything I’m thinking? Ignore that. Mayor Pinkie does not have time for second drafts, so I’m just going to have to go with this.
Anyway, I’m writing because I learned something about friendship, and I realized that my friends and I were always under orders to tell you when we had some information on the topic. Being mayor isn’t the hardest thing in the world, but it does require a lot of time. Like all of my time. I haven’t had any time to be Pinkie, because I have to be mayor 24/7/364 (I still take time off for Gummy’s birthday).
What was I talking about? Oh, friendship. Yeah, isn’t it the best? I can’t think of anything better than spending all my time with my friends just dancing, singing, going on adventures, getting into trouble, getting into sticky situations, breaking down barriers, breaking down walls (that last wall always gives me trouble), break dancing (did I mention that already?).
Well, I’m sure you’re busy, so I’ll try to keep this short. I miss Twilight. I wanna hear her laugh again. Is she coming out to Ponyville anytime soon? I wanna throw her a party! With streamers and games and cake and punch and confetti and music!
I haven’t seen any of my friends laugh in a long time, and I live to see my friends smile. That’s why I was Laughter, right? No matter what got everyone down, I could always make them laugh. But lately, that’s become difficult. Not just because I’m so busy, but because I don’t know if someone’s laughing unless they’re here next to me.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never hear Rarity’s laugh again. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever heard her laugh once, but I’ll always keep the memories of her smile close to me. Applejack, well she still laughs, but I don’t think she sees the humor in things anymore. I still see her smile though, whenever she comes back from her secret orchard (shhh! It’s a secret!). Dashie hadn’t laughed for years, but little does she know that I can hear her laughing every time I find one of her practical jokes in my secret hiding spots.
But Twilight, I don’t know if she’s laughing, and that tears me in half. I need to know she’s still happy. I need to make her laugh. I’m sure she’ll come back someday, but can you let me know when? I’ll need time to plan the biggest bash this town has ever seen! There’s going to be games and music and… well, you know the rest.
Dear Princess Celestia,
I was never too good at formal letters, but I’m giving this an honest shot; something I haven’t done in quite some time.
There are things I’ve learned lately that I feel the need to share with you. Things that have made me realize who I am and what I want out of life. I thought I already had the answers to this and everything, but lately, I’ve come to realize that these are questions that are never really answered. They simply reveal themselves as our lives go on.
And life does go on.
I’ve made mistakes. I’ve never lied about that. After all, I was Honesty. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that I couldn’t be honest with myself. Fear got the better part of my honesty, and it was that same fear that robbed me of the one I love. First, from my life, then, from the world.
My biggest mistake was not realizing that it was fear, not honesty that made me do this. For years, I blamed my honest nature. I kept telling myself that if only I could have obscured the truth, even a little, perhaps I could have prevented disaster from occurring.
The loss of Rarity, nothing will ever compare to it for me. I never deserved her, but I was oh so lucky to have her, even if our time together was short.
But I still have friends. I still have others to live for. I have to make up for my years of dishonesty. I have to keep moving forward for them.
For Apple Bushel.
She’s a beautiful filly. I hope you meet her one day. Watching her grow up has been the greatest joy I could ever know, even if she’s not always with me. My brother, well he was the closest thing I ever had to a father figure, and it’s good to see those skills put to use again. Sometimes, it seems like I’m watching memories from my own foalhood playing out before me. And Fluttershy, she’s a natural mother. I only hope one day Big Mac gives her a foal of her own. Until then, she’s truly treated Apple Bushel as her own flesh and blood.
One day, I’ll be honest with Apple Bushel too. It’s not the happiest story, but it’s one that needs to be told. I can’t let Rarity’s passing serve no purpose, for it has taught me so much. It made me honest again. It broke me to pieces, then put me back together. I’d give anything to have her back, but even without her, I know now who I am, and what I must do.
I think the rest of my friends know more about themselves too. It’s a shame that it took the loss of our friend to realize this, but that’s why I write to you now. There’s still one friend that we’re missing, and while I know the other girls won’t admit it, I’m too honest not to. We need her back before it’s too late. Before this world takes her away from us. I think you know what I’m trying to say, but my honesty precedes me.
We need Twilight Sparkle.
It’s not just for us, but for her as well. There’s so much here that she needs to see and hear. I need to be honest with her, or I’ll regret it for the rest of my days. And it’s just not fair to her to not do it face-to-face.
I understand why she left. I’m not questioning that. It was her decision to leave, and it was the right one. She had nothing more to show us. But now, we have something to show her.
I need her. We need her. I just can’t be more honest than that.
The authors of the lost notes made their way toward the edge of the clearing where they had laid their friend to rest years ago, with Spike hitching a ride along Applejack’s back. Pinkie’s bouncing came to a sudden halt as she realized the group was missing a member, and when Pinkie stops bouncing, everypony in the vicinity tends to take notice. They turned their heads and saw Twilight still standing in front of the tree, lost in her thoughts.
“Hey Twilight!” Rainbow yelled. “Aren’t you coming?”
“Yeah!” Pinkie reinforced with her high-pitched squeal. “Didn’t you hear me? It’s time to par-tay!”
Twilight broke her concentration for a brief moment. “I’ll– I’ll meet you back in town. There’s still one more thing I came here to do.” She waved a hoof to communicate that all was fine.
Knowing her friend’s mannerisms, Applejack had a good idea what Twilight meant. She smirked a bit before calling out to her, “Jus’ don’t carve it intah’ the tree like this darn dragon.” Even across the field, she could see Twilight blush with embarrassment.
“Hey, that was uncalled for,” Spike defensively argued.
“She has a point, Spike,” Fluttershy urged, her soft voice almost completely muffled by the long mane that obscured her face.
To signal all would be okay, Twilight floated the still-wet quill in front of her and waved it back at her friends.
“Ah, right,” Applejack snickered to herself that after all these years, Twilight was still so predictable and prepared.
The group made their way onwards to Ponyville, as Pinkie’s fast rambling grew quieter with the distance. “Hey! Does that mean it can be a surprise party? Does it count if she knows we’re planning, but just don’t tell her it’s a surprise party? Make the surprise part a surprise? We all just yell ‘surprise surprise party’!”
As the rant trailed off to silence from Twilight’s setting, she turned back to the tree, wondering what she had left to say. Something inside her said that she couldn’t leave without finding a way to acknowledge her friend’s sacrifice, but for once, she was at a loss for words.
Twilight pulled her saddlebag up on her back and walked around the tree to the root-covered stone opposite it. It was hard for her to accept that this is what remained of the once-strong friendship she had. Memories replayed in her head. The sound of Rarity complaining, or sometimes whining, about the adventures her friends had dragged her on. It seemed so long ago, and Twilight remembered like it was yesterday.
She pulled a smaller parchment from her bag, and stared at the blank slate, hoping the words would just appear on their own. She found it impossible to summarize all her friend had taught her and all she would remember her for. The empty eulogy stared back at her, offering no advice.
Still, she refused to give up. There was at least one thing she had to say before she left here. The quill floated in front of the page, making a few quick scribbles. Satisfied with having at least said something, Twilight breathed a sigh of relief as she replaced her tools into her bag. The paper, still wrapped in a purple aura, rolled itself up, and a scarlet ribbon twirled around it to hold it in place. Twilight placed it between the twigs wrapped around the stone, hidden from the sight of all but who it was meant for.
She took one last look at the humongous tree that commanded the meadow. The leaves shook in the breeze, and Twilight wondered if it was some sign of approval. Twilight briefly held a hoof to the base of the trunk, and could still feel the faint magic that pulsated inside it, a sign of those who had lived, and how they live on.
Twilight fought back the tears as she turned to leave. ‘I still have time to grieve.’ Her gaze wandered to the tree as it disappeared from sight. ‘But she’d want me to spend the time with the friends I still have. Make sure…’
‘Everything in its right place.’
The same thoughts still echoed in Celestia’s mind as she still held the folder before her. One note still remained untouched by the flames, and she pulled it out before taking another glance at Twilight’s letter.
The fire flickered as the pile of ash collected at its base. The words lost were still fresh in Celestia’s mind, and she knew they always would, but she couldn’t bring herself to place the last note into the fire. This one, it begged to be heard; to emerge from a different fire.
Looking at Twilight’s note only confirmed this to the royal alicorn, and with a flash, she awoke that dormant spell again, sending the last note away. The folder still lay open on the table, and Celestia wondered what would become of it now. A smile spread across her face, as she knew something still needed to stay within her records.
Twilight’s final lesson folded itself gently within the white aura of Celestia’s magic, and fell within the confines of the file. Celestia placed it back on the shelf, hoping one of these days she could add to it. It hardly seemed appropriate for a file labeled ‘Legacies’ to have a single entry.
The logs in the fireplace gave way, and fell apart into the ash below. It hovered up the chimney and spread across Canterlot. The meaning within the words they once held scattering across Equestria. Somewhere in those words, the spirits of harmony still lay inside, and thus, within all of Equestria. New words replaced them, residing on the shelf to one day be heard by those who needed their guidance.
To my guiding light,
After years of study; decades of hardship, I understand what it is you’ve been trying to show me all these years.
I remember why I came to Canterlot in the first place, but more importantly, I remember why you sent me away. Why I came to Ponyville. Why I left. Why I’m here once again. It was a mission I never finished, but it’s one I never failed.
And finally, after all these years, I understand.
The meaning of friendship.
And I apologize, but it’s not here. Not in this letter. I’ve learned a lesson, but it’s not one I can share. I can tell you what I’ve seen. How I’ve grown. But this lesson, it doesn’t belong on a page. Perhaps the lessons I’ve recorded can guide other ponies along the way, but this one, it has to be witnessed on one’s own.
So I offer a different lesson. One of equal importance. I’ve already seen the books. I know how history will remember me when I’m gone, but seeing my friends who are still here, and finding the one that is gone has opened my eyes. And history is mistaken.
I am not Magic.
No, history will remember me that way, and I can understand why. But magic, it is more complicated than everypony thinks. And that is why I write this.
Because I have something to teach you.
I am not magic, nor are unicorns. Magic is limitless. Magic is potential. And I have seen that any pony is capable of magic, because friendship is magic. I had potential in myself for so many years, but I was never Magic before I met my friends, and without them, I was no longer Magic.
I have seen much since I returned to Ponyville. I have seen mares I once knew as fillies. Friends that I fought alongside as allies. Cutie marks where there were none. A town unchanged, but ponies that have grown.
Rainbow Dash, she has soared higher than any of us can know, but now, she is down-to-earth. She has learned to work through pain. Through agony. All so she can find what truly matters in life isn’t how high you can fly, but what’s waiting for you when you land.
She is magic.
Fluttershy, she has others to share her love with now, but she has not forgotten those closest to her. I see that in how the lessons she’s learned over the years are being passed down to a new generation. She shows us all how emotions go deeper than words. That a bond unspoken is still a bond. And that even when we speak no more, the bond remains.
She too, is magic.
Pinkie Pie, she continues to spread to those around her. It’s impossible to be in the same room with her and not feel her smile infecting you. Her penchant for parties has grown exponentially, and yet she still knows that it’s not how many streamers there are, nor how much confetti you get stuck in your mane. It’s who you party with that matters. The reason to party, the reason we laugh, is because we have others to do it with.
Like the others, she’s magic.
Applejack has lost more than any of us, but still, she counts her blessings. She knows that no matter where we go, no matter what happens to us, we are not alone. There are always those who will come after us, and apples never fall far from the trees. They turn to seeds. They grow. They flourish. They breathe new life.
And how can that not be magic?
But I am without a friend today. All I have is our friendship. Our magic. And I see that now in what she left behind. In the fruit. In the tree. In Ponyville. In us.
Rarity knew that magic is within all of us. She taught it to me, and now I to you. She only realized it too late, but refused to die without the opportunity to show that to the world.
Rarity learned, as I have, the meaning of friendship. And I only hope one day that everypony can learn it for themselves.
I recall now that this is not the only lesson I have to give my teacher. I see now that I have taught you something else before, many years ago.
For if I am not Magic, who am I?
I look back on where I have been; what role I played for my friends all these years. Time and again in Ponyville, I was taught that I need to rely on more in this world than magic. I had to find what I knew I could do to help those around me. And while it seemed so insignificant, I still served my place. In planning. In organization. And now I remember the first lesson I ever had to teach you.
‘Everything in its right place.’
For, you see, that is more than the key to organization, but to harmony as well. Loyalty. Kindness. Laughter. Honesty. Generosity. Magic. They are nothing if they are not together. Everything must be in its right place for friendship to occur. For the magic to happen. For harmony to flourish.
For me, that place is Ponyville. Beside my friends.
I hereby resign as the Royal Hoof of Equestria.
I know you understand.
And now I do as well.
Sunrises have a purpose. Nopony seems to recall what it is anymore, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Some will rationalize it simply as the herald to the new day. Others will take pessimistic views, and they speak of it as a reminder of mortality. For every sun that rises, that same sun will eventually set.
Whatever reason it was that Twilight believed in sunrises was lost to her now. She only knew the sunrise was here, and the light creeping in through the shattered windows of the library glistened harshly against her retinas to prove so. For the first time since her return to Ponyville, she had been granted the sleep she so craved, and now she only wanted more.
Being awake only reminded her of the chaos and destruction that had brought an abrupt end to the previous evening. The ringing still echoing in her ears saw to that, as well as the ruins of Ponyville outside what used to be the window…
“Hey, everypony! Listen up! Your leader has an announcement to make!”
The rest of Twilight’s reunited group of friends groaned in unison, “Uh-oh.”
“What?” Twilight inquired.
“Pinkie’s ‘announcements’,” Rainbow responded, waving her hooves sarcastically, “have always ended in… casualties.”
“Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. Ohdearohdearohdearohdear.” Fluttershy whizzed around the air frantically as she searched the area.
“What are you looking for, Fluttershy?” Twilight asked.
“She’s prob’ly lookin’ for cover, and y’all should do the same ‘bout now.” Applejack motioned towards the library. “That ‘ought tah’ make a safe vantage point.”
The group made a mad dash to the shelter of the massive tree as Pinkie began her speech.
“Fillies and gentlecolts!” Pinkie looked about her audience, or lack thereof. The rest of the town had followed the lead of the rest of her friends and were using anything they could for shelter, making Ponyville appear as a ghost town. “Oh darn,” she muttered to herself. “I’ll fix this. I wanted to save the big reveal for the end, but now will do.”
With a few quick hops, she moved across the empty square towards the covered contraption she had assembled outside the library. Twilight peered over the edge of the windowsill to catch a glimpse of the events outside, only to be pulled back down by Rainbow Dash. “Stay down if you value your safety,” she warned, but Twilight was overcome by curiosity, and peeked over the edge again.
With one last solid hop, Pinkie bounced to the top of the giant contraption. It was a height that no normal earth pony could have leapt, but this was not, by any means, a normal earth pony. Once atop the structure, she pulled a microphone from the infinite storage space within her mane, and cleared her throat.
And with that simple gesture, a rumble shook the entire town. The wires holding the cover over the structure Pinkie stood upon snapped. Pinkie’s first words sent the canvas flying. “Hellooooooo Ponyville!”
From her viewpoint of relative safety, Twilight could make out the structure to clearly be a speaker. It was so large that, even from a distance, it was difficult to mistake it for anything else. As she ducked back down for safety, Pinkie continued her introduction. “It’s time to…” she inhaled deeply, the sound causing a harsh feedback through the gigantic amplifier.
There was a sudden knock at the door, which quickly swung open as Spike entered the library. “Hey Twilight, this letter just came from Celestia, and I rushed over to—”
“Get down!” cried out the four mares.
But it was too late.
Twilight adjusted to the light in the room as she recalled the details of the evening. She pulled herself from the bed, carefully treading across the floor, as her sight was too hazy to see if there were any shards of glass she missed the night before. She peered towards the entrance, where a deep silhouette had been imprinted next to the door in the shape of her number one assistant.
She strained her eyes as she searched the room, eventually finding the letter Spike had come to deliver scattered among the mess. As she took it back to her bed to read, the ringing in her ears finally softened to a dull buzz, and the sound of somepony outside caught her attention. She took a look outside what was left of the window, and saw a familiar trio talking to each other.
“Where do we go from here?” asked Scootaloo.
Apple Bloom smiled as she wrapped both her friends up in a close embrace. “We pick up where we left off. Easy as that.”
Sweetie Belle was overcome with emotion, and it was hard to find the words to say. “Thanks, girls. I’m… I’m sorry.”
“Ain’t nothin’,” quipped the baker pony.
“Yeah, we’ve all been through some rough times,” responded Scootaloo.
“Now I reckon we need a new name.” Apple Bloom smirked.
“Indeed. The old one is hardly fitting,” responded Sweetie Belle.
The girls all pondered briefly, with Scootaloo responding first, “The League of Extraordinary Crusaders!”
Apple Bloom quickly followed up with her response, “The Mane Three!”
The two looked Sweetie Belle for her entry or approval. She could only reply with a shrug. “I’m drawing a blank flank… The Group Formerly Known as the Cutie Mark Crusaders?”
As the trio burst into laughter, Twilight turned to her bed, which seemed to be calling her name. She was happy to see the girls reunited, but for the moment, she had some reading to do. Between the destructive end of the evening, and the fear of Celestia’s response, she had held off the letter as long as possible, but being the curious mare she is, that time was short.
She broke the wax seal of the royal crest holding the letter in place as she got comfortable in her bed. She was as prepared as she could be to hear Celestia’s response.
Only, this letter was not from Celestia. It was to Celestia.
“What is this?” Twilight wondered aloud. “It’s from…”
My life is in shambles. I am lost. Misguided. I don’t know where to turn right now, so I turn to you.
I ask not for aid or assistance, only a sympathetic ear. I have found that hard to come by as of late, which is by my own doing. I have either driven away those closest to me, or been separated by distance or betrayal.
I take responsibility for all of this, and I write now because I need someone to know I plan on making up for it. Somehow…
I thought I had it all figured out. I knew what I wanted, and I wanted the impossible. I wanted royalty. Fame. Attention. Adoration. From everypony in Equestria.
But what I found was better. Once I had all the eyes in Equestria on me, I realized that the only eyes I needed were hers. The fame. The attention. It all paled in comparison to her love. Her honest love.
I realized then that I had no idea what I was working for. Every action I ever took, every piece of work I ever completed, it was only for the sake of recognition. But she… she worked simply because work needed to be done. What reward was there in that? What life does that lead to?
As it turns out, it’s an honest life. Something few ponies in Equestria know about, and something I needed to learn. She had so much to teach me, but now she is just as lost as I, and while I still feel the sting of her betrayal, I want to forgive her. Someday…
But until that time, I have to share what I’ve learned about myself. Not from being with her, but from being without her. Without anypony.
How can I be Generosity again? I haven’t thought of that in a long, long time. I haven’t had anypony to be generous towards.
But that needs to change, and this is a start. This is why I need you, and nopony else will do.
This town, these ponies, these friends, they are broken, shattered frames of what they once were. They lack beauty. They lack friendship. They lack harmony.
They lack Magic.
And I will bring it back to them. If I am, or ever was Generosity, then I will return Magic to this town. To my friends. It will take time, but I will make something fabulous enough to call her back.
When I do, make sure she sees it. Make sure they all do.
Casting the letter aside, Twilight made a mad dash to the door. She pulled her saddlebag to her with her magic, and came to a sudden halt in the doorway. She knew she had to say something to Rarity. She had to tell her that she saw. She had to let her know. But as she thought about what to say, it all came back to her at once.
She had already said it.
She pondered if there was more she could say, but it all came down to the same few words, and she quickly abandoned the idea. Her bag fell amongst the rest of the mess scattered around the library, and Twilight dragged her tired body back to her bed. She glanced over the note one last time, reassuring herself that she had no more to say.
The sun still held high in the sky, but Twilight watched as it became obscured by the storm clouds that pegasi were gathering to wash away the mess in the town square. As the light disappeared, she set the letter aside, and decided now was the time to let Rarity rest. She had other friends to worry about now.
But they’d have to wait until she got some proper sleep.
One by one, massive fruit fell to the ground and quickly withered. The wind blew quickly, and rain was falling hard on the massive tree. Branches fell to the ground with a heavy crash, and turned to dust. The spell holding the tree together was complete.
And the tree had nothing left to show the world.
The roots came alive as they pulled back to the base of the tree. It continued to shrink in size until it was but a sapling. The memories that once fed the tree to its massive size faded, and it returned to how it once was. A monument to friendship. To love. Not just for two ponies, but for all ponies.
And atop the stone monument next to the sapling, a small parchment was falling apart in the rain, and the ink washed into the soil. The words fed into the last of the magic as the tree finished returning to its original form.