67w, 1dFebruary Write Off
“Citizens of Ponyville,” began the Mayor, as she stood in front of the mass of nervous ponies milling around the town square. It was early in the morning, less than an hour after dawn, and many of them were still tired and filthy after a long night of desperate labor. The Mayor herself was slightly soot-stained, although in her case the dirt was artfully reapplied just before the speech. “As you all know, last night the Eastern Everfree Forest burned to the ground. Thanks to the tireless effort of everypony here, our town and farms were saved from a horrible fate. Good work everypony!”
She held up a hoof to interrupt the cheers, and continued. “Unfortunately, while I know that all of us would like nothing more than to rest and recuperate, the Princess has sent word that our work is not yet done.”
“Oh come on!” yelled Rainbow Dash, from the back of the crowd. “We put out all the fires, what more does she want?”
Pinkie Pie’s eyes sparkled in anticipation. “Maybe she wants us to throw a VICTORY PARTY!” Confetti sprayed into the air around her, and the ponies near her had their anxiety replaced with cheerful prancing… for about two seconds.
“No, Pinkie” said Twilight Sparkle, standing up on the stage next to the Mayor. Applejack stood next to her, wearing her green vest from Winter Wrap Up and looking distinctly uncomfortable about the whole matter.
“Oh, okay,” the pink party pony replied, unconcerned. The ponies around her settled down with slightly less grace, but the mayor was able to continue.
“While we were able to keep the fire from burning our homes and farms, not all of our friends and – well, not all of our neighbors were so lucky,” the old gray Mayor explained. “As such, a few of us will have to extend our hospitality to them until their homes can be – repaired. Miss Sparkle has the list.” Twilight pulled a thick, rolled scroll from her saddlebag. The list was apparently quite long, a fact noted by the crowd with muted muttering.
“In addition, many of the plants in the Everfree Forest are found nowhere else in Equestria, and in the interest of maintaining the diversity of life, those of us with the talent for taking care of plants and flowers will have to venture into the remains of the forest to search for seeds and surviving plants. For simplicity, we’re assigning the plant team from Winter Wrap Up to that task, reporting to Applejack.”
Daisy, Roseluck, and Lily screamed in horror, and fainted. About a third of the crowd groaned, grimaced, or simply closed their eyes in tired resignation. Applejack herself didn’t look pleased with the prospect of leading hundreds of inexperienced city ponies into the most dangerous patch of wilderness in Equestria, but she nodded with determination. “We’ll get it done, miss Mayor.”
“Are you crazy?” Carrot Top said eyes wide in terror. “That forest is full of monsters!”
“No no no!” Twilight said, “It’s not full of monsters! Like all animals, monsters are afraid of fire! They all fled from the flames – the Everfree Forest, or what’s left of it, will be monster free!”
“You can’t know that!” someone shouted back at her.
“We’ll all be eaten!” someone else cried.
“Stop that nonsense!” Applejack said, glaring at the crowd. “If you’re too bone-headed to trust Twilight Sparkle, the smartest pony I know, then trust me. What Twilight says is the honest truth.”
“At least let me explain,” Twilight Sparkle said, unrolling her scroll. “Last night Fluttershy and I took a census of all the monsters displaced by the fire, and matched them with the homes in Ponyville where they’ll be staying until the forest regrows.”
This revelation quieted the crowd, if only to allow all of them to stare at her in horror. Twilight smiled back, nervously. “It’s not as bad as it sounds – monsters, like all animals, can only take care of themselves in the Everfree Forest. Here in Equestria proper, they’ll be relying on us to survive. I’m sure they’ll be wonderful guests!”
Rainbow Dash stared into the face of her new houseguest. Well, into the eye, which was as big as she was. The massive green dragon stared back, and blinked.
“Ha!” the tiny Pegasus said, flitting back a few feet to avoid being hit by the thick, horny eyelid, “I win! That means you sleep on the couch.”
The dragon blinked again, and looked down over the edge of the giant sooty cloud he was using as a bed. Rainbow’s cloud-house floated a dozen feet below, a fluffy mass of clouds and rainbows. He took a deep breath, then pursed his lips and puffed out a tiny ball of flame.
“Hey!” Rainbow shouted as she dodged the fire. It hadn’t been aimed at her, though – it flew past and splashed across her roof, evaporating it like the sun hitting morning mist. “HEY!” she said again, louder, as she saw the damage.
The dragon reached a long, scaly arm down through the hole, and came back with most of the contents of her living room. Including the couch. He rolled to the side enough to toss everything unceremoniously onto his cloud, and then settled back down on top of it, giving a smug grin as he closed his eyes to resume his nap.
“That’s it!” the feisty Pegasus proclaimed, zooming back away from the dragon, and lining up a charge. “Time to taste the –“
Twilight screamed as books rained down around her. “Who was that?” she said, whirling around to look for the intruder, although the blindfold she was wearing prevented her from seeing anything. “What’s going on?”
Rainbow Dash groaned, from under the bookshelf. “Why did you give me a dragon, Twilight? I *hate* dragons.”
“I should have known,” Twilight said, calming down. “Look, the dragon was the biggest, nastiest monster in the whole Everfree – I needed my *best flier* on the job.”
“Yeah, but – don’t you think this is more of a job for Fluttershy?”
“Fluttershy has her hooves full with the parasprites,” Twilight said. “Close your eyes,” she added as she lifted the bookshelf back into place with her magic, and started reshelving the books in random order.
Rainbow stared at her friend. “Um… why are you wearing a blindfold? You can’t read with a blindfold on, Twilight.”
“Close your eyes!” Twilight said, leaping forwards and covering Rainbow’s eyes with her hooves. “The cockatrices are… not… exactly… pony-trained.”
“Why are you taking care of the cockatrices?” Rainbow Dash asked, closing her eyes and heading for the front door, feeling in front of her with her hooves.
“Well, after Fluttershy I have the most experience –“
“The most experience being *turned to stone*, you mean,” the pegasus said, tripping over a small statue and landing on her face. The statue fell over with a ‘clunk’, and she rolled it off her. “Uuughhh. You can’t live like this Twilight – how can you read if you have to wear a blindfold all the time?”
“I know!” Twilight said, with dismay. “But it’s not that bad. I can read outside! And you’ll make friends with your dragon soon, I know you have it in you! If anyone can impress a grumpy old lizard, it’s you Rainbow Dash! I just know you’re going to pull it together and amaze us all!”
“Uh huh,” Rainbow said, finally finding the door. “Why couldn’t I just take care of the griffon? You really think some other ‘lame-o’ pony in this town is going to impress Gilda?”
“Gilda said she was still not talking to you,” Twilight replied. “I’m sure she’s having a wonderful time with Berry Punch.”
“I jussh wanned you to know…” slurred the purple-eyed griffon in question, as she rested her fore-paw on the back of a purplish earth pony sitting next to her at a kitchen table graced by a half-empty bowl of punch, and a dozen used glasses. “Jusssh wanned you to…”
Berry Punch didn’t reply, except to twitch her tail as Gilda’s wing brushed against her flank, still staring blankly ahead at nothing in particular. Her chin was resting on the table, in a puddle of drool.
Gilda dipped her beak in the punch, and threw her head back to swallow. “I love you poniesh!”
After escaping from the Library, Rainbow Dash returned home to assess the damage. Rebuilding the roof wouldn’t be that hard – structural clouds were a little harder to make than normal clouds, but she could always just borrow a few from the weather factory. The gouges in the floor she could pad with normal cloudstuff, since the ‘carpet’ was supposed to be soft and fluffy anyway.
The furniture would be harder to replace. It looked like the dragon had gotten not just her couch, but her coffee table, her TV, and – “My trophies!”
“Hey!” she shouted at the sleeping dragon, after zooming back up to his level. “Give me back my trophy case you stupid lizard!”
The dragon showed no sign that he’d heard her.
“Fine! If you won’t listen, I’ll *make* you listen!”
There was a scream, followed by a crash and a series of thumps, ending with a final loud thump and curse as Rainbow Dash hit the front door of the Carousel Boutique. The top half of the door opened, and a familiar gray and purple unicorn looked down at the inverted blue Pegasus. “Oh, hello Rainbow Dash. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“To that stupid dragon,” Rainbow Dash said, glowering up at the sky.
“Well I never! That’s rather rude, isn’t it?” came a lilting voice from inside.
Rainbow’s ears flattened. “That’s your monster, Rarity? The sea serpent?” she asked, as she stood up and followed her friend inside. She ducked reflexively as she walked under the arch of scaly flesh where the monster in question had lifted his coils to allow access to the door. He was coiled twice around the main room of the boutique, leaving all the dresses and equipment crowded into the center. It all fit, since Rarity had always gone for a light and open layout for her shop, but the atmosphere was more ‘weird eclectic thrift store’ than ‘boutique’, especially with the serpent’s odd aroma filling the air. Pleasant enough, but odd.
His voice, on the other hand…
“Stupid *and* a monster! And a *sea serpent*? How *could* you!” complained the vaguely familiar moustached reptilian. “I’ll have you know I’m a river *dragon*, thank you very much.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Rainbow Dash said, waving a wing dismissively. “Wait a second – you live in the river?”
“Why yes I do! Where else would a river dragon live?” the monster replied.
“So you’re here because the river burned down,” Rainbow said, staring at him suspiciously.
“If you *must* know,” Rarity interjected, before Rainbow Dash could fatally annoy her second dragon of the day, “Steven here is staying in my boutique to avoid scaring the monster-shy ponies exploring the remains of the forest.”
“And to keep you from having to take care of a real monster,” Rainbow Dash guessed
“Nonsense! We all do what we must,” Rarity replied. She turned to coo at the river dragon, “and after that *horrible ordeal*, Steve here needs someone to pamper him and make him feel like a civilized creature again. Don’t you my dear?” she asked as she started to brush his mane.
“Oh yes, yes!” Steven said, settling down luxuriously under Rarity’s pampering. “Besides, the river is just choked with soot and ash. Terrible for the complexion.”
“Wouldn’t this be more of a job for the spa ponies?” Rainbow asked. “They’ve got a bigger place, too.”
“They’re also on the plant team, Rainbow,” Rarity said, rolling her eyes. “So they get to gallivant around in the woods while those of us whose talents happen to lie in other areas do all the hard work.”
“And don’t think it isn’t appreciated!” Steven replied, running a claw through his mane to examine Rarity’s work. “You’re truly a lifesaver.”
“Yeeeah….” Rainbow Dash said, turning towards the door. “I’ll just leave you two love-birds alone.”
In a flash, Rarity was between her and the door, tittering nervously. “Nonsense! We’d love to have you stay for our little… tea party,” she said, then pulled Rainbow Dash close and whispered, “Don’t leave me alone with him, Rainbow Dash.”
Rainbow cringed. “Sorry, but… I’ve reeeeally got to get out of here. I mean, go. Get food. To eat. I’m *starving*.”
“I brought cakes!” said Steven happily, holding up a tray of tiny, fancy… things. They were *not* cakes. They weren’t even cupcakes.
“You *owe* me, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity whispered desperately. “You left me in the desert with Pinkie Pie, if you leave me here with Steven I swear I will *get* you.”
“Ugh,” Rainbow Dash said, wings and face drooping. “FINE.”
Three hours later, Rainbow Dash staggered to the door of Sugar Cube Corner, desperate for something to get the taste of Steven’s ‘special tea’ out of her mouth. She idly noted the mild panic gripping the square: a group of pegasi were trying to herd a flock of sun-blind bats and owls, a blue unicorn was being slowly eaten by a boa constrictor that seemed immune to his lecture on the social stigma attached to cannibalism, and Bon Bon was holding a chair in her mouth as she tried to fend off an overly affectionate manticore. None of that was as important as getting some real food into her mouth as soon as possible.
She pounded on the door. “Come on, Pinkie! Open up!”
The door swung open, revealing an uncharacteristically dimly lit pastry shop inside. “Oh, hi Dashie,” said the flat-maned pink pony on the other side. “You look like you’re having a terrible day. Why don’t you come inside and have a cupcake?”
“That would be great, Pinkie,” Rainbow said, walking past her and trying to find the usual product displays in the gloom. “What’s with the lights?”
Pinkie Pie slammed the door shut loudly, plunging the room into near-total darkness, then turned and smiled at Rainbow. “The shop’s closed today, Dashie. Everyone who isn’t out in the Everfree Forest is supposed to be spending the day getting to know their new houseguests. No time for parties or sweets! I’ve been soooo bored here all alone, but it’ll be better now that you’re here.”
“All alone?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking around the darkened room. Even the windows were shuttered, the only light the thin slits of sunlight sneaking past. “What about Mr. and Mrs. Cake?”
“They’re downstairs,” Pinkie Pie said, giving a sinister, close-lipped smile. “They’ll be safe down there, at the bottom of the stairs. There’s nothing *scary* down there, at the bottom of the stairs.”
“Um… yeah,” Rainbow said, backing away uncertainly, deeper into the room, since Pinkie Pie was standing in front of the only exit. “Are the foals down there too?”
“Oh, no,” Pinkie Pie said, stalking forwards steadily, matching Rainbow’s pace. “Little Pound and Pumpkin were being bad, so I had to send them to their room. When Mr. and Mrs. Cake went down the stairs, they made me promise to take care of their foals. I took care of them all right!” Her eyes were wide, the pupils tiny dots in the middle of wide, veined expanses of white.
“Okay, you’re being a little *creepy*, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash said, stopping as she was backed up against the counter.
“Are you scared, Dashie?” Pinkie Pie asked, pressing her nose against her friend’s and staring deep into her eyes. “Do you want to go down the stairs? It’s safe down there.”
Rainbow spread her wings and flutter-hopped back over the counter, then fled into the kitchen. “I’ll just get, um, a cupcake! Yeah!” she said, looking around to try to find the back door. She was pretty sure Sugarcube Corner had a back door.
“There’s cupcakes downstairs, Dashie!” Pinkie Pie screeched, appearing behind her, in the doorway. “But I guess you want the *big* cupcake?”
Dash didn’t reply, her face frozen into a mask of horror as she took in the state of the kitchen. Some dark substance was splattered over the walls and floor – not a terribly uncommon sight, but somehow she doubted it was chocolate this time. Not with the unmoving pony-shaped mass sitting motionless on the counter, with Cup Cake’s distinctive swirl of icing-like mane rising from its head. Rainbow Dash shrieked, and made her own door as she smashed out the back wall.
“Oh, Dashie,” Pinkie Pie said, giggling a little as the sunlight poured into the kitchen through the new hole in the wall. She put a hoof to her mouth as she realized what she’d done. “Oops! Sorry, ghosties!” But it was too late. As she laughed, the ‘body’ on the counter vanished in a puff of smoke, turning back into a mixing bowl, a bag of flour, and where the ‘head’ had been, a giant cupcake with swirly pink icing. Pinkie sighed as she looked around at the chocolate splattered everywhere. It was hard to cook cupcakes in the dark!
“Okay, dragon,” Rainbow Dash said, as she moved yet another storm cloud to join the mass looming above the giant stinking lizard that had destroyed her house and stolen her trophies. “Let’s see you ignore *this*.” She flew back a few feet to eye the cloud appraisingly – it practically crackled with energy, and Rainbow smiled with glee. She swooped around, flung herself towards the stormcloud, and then slowed and landed gently on all four hooves.
Lightning crashed! Rainbow herself got a little scorched – it was a bit bigger than the stormclouds she was used to handling single-hoofed – but there was a quizzical rumble below her from the dragon. “Yeah, that’s right,” she said, giving another hop to send down another bolt. “Ignore ME will you?” She jumped harder, landing heavily on the cloud and making a crash of thunder twice as loud!
Most of the lightning went down, but there was enough backlash to send her head spinning like she’d accidentally gotten in the way of Bucky McGillycuddy. When she could hear and (almost) see again, she heard the dragon’s growling laugh. “Laugh at ME will you?!” Rainbow said, giving the cloud her hardest buck with her hindlegs, sending all the rest of the lightning shooting in all directions.
Rainbow Dash woke up on the ground, in an alleyway, with Derpy staring at her in concern. “You blew up your house!” the wall-eyed Pegasus said. There was a massive, angry roar overhead. “And woke up the dragon!”
“Good!” Rainbow said, struggling to stand and then shaking soot off herself.
“And set half the town on fire,” Derpy continued.
Rainbow winced. “Eh heh heh, and how many ponies saw that it was me doing that?”
“Just me!” Derpy said, smiling.
“RAINBOW DASH! WHY DID YOU SET MY HOUSE ON FIRE!” screeched Bon Bon, appearing at one end of the alley.
“What have you done to my boutique?!” wailed Rarity, from the other end.
“I thought it was just you!” Rainbow said desperately to the Pegasus next to her.
Derpy smiled proudly. “Yep! But I had to tell everyone else or they might have thought it was the dragon’s fault.”
Rainbow screamed in frustration, then zoomed off into the sky before Rarity or Bon Bon or anyone else in the rapidly growing angry mob could grab hold of her. Fortunately, the pegasi were busy assembling a quick drizzle to put out the fires, so once she was in the sky she was home free.
The door opened just a crack before being stopped by its chain, and a pair of purple eyes peered out. “Rainbow Dash? Awesome! Come on in!” There was a rattle and a series of clunks as chains and locks were undone.
Rainbow gratefully flew inside the Apple family kitchen. “Thanks, kid,” she said to Scootaloo while Applebloom and Sweetie Belle worked together to re-barricade the door. “I need a place to hide out for a while.”
“Tell me about it!” Scootaloo said, “Our clubhouse got taken over by timber wolves!”
“The timber wolves are howling and howling!” said Granny Smith, hobbling towards a boarded-over window, “And it ain’t zap apple season yet. Be quiet you mossy mutts!”
“They’ve infested the whole orchard, and without Applejack or Big Mac here we can’t run ‘em off,” Applebloom said.
“And they’re completely off-key,” Sweetie Belle added, cringing.
Scootaloo stared at her in disbelief. “What are you, a tuning fork?” She turned back to Rainbow Dash excitedly. “But now that you’re here you can take care of them, right Rainbow Dash?”
“I don’t know…” Sweetie Belle said, uncertainly, “isn’t teaching timber wolves to sing in key more of a job for Fluttershy?”
“I think she means run them out of the orchard,” Rainbow Dash said. “But I can’t do that. There’s nowhere to run them *to* until Applejack and the others regrow the forest. Ponyville is, heh heh, in bad enough shape as it is.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” Applebloom said, glowering, “let ‘em keep us away from our apples? That ain’t right.”
“Let’s just hide out here until nightfall,” Rainbow replied, “then I’ll go pay Twilight another visit and make her solve this mess.”
“Timber wolves can see in the dark you silly filly,” Granny Smith said.
Rainbow Dash looked around, shifty, and said, “Yeeeah, but a pitchfork-wielding mob of ponies can’t.”
Just in case, she wore her ninja outfit.
It was wasted, though. Not only had most ponies long since given up chasing her in favor of putting out fires and comforting monsters paralyzed by flashbacks to the Everfree disaster, but the emergency rainclouds the rest of the weather team had thrown together had devolved into a thick, wet blanket of mist. There were a few ponies wandering around with lightning-bug lanterns or torches, but Rainbow Dash could have snuck past them in her sleep.
Which was good, because she was getting awful tired. She hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before, and after a long day being tormented and pestered by friend and dragon alike, her eyes kept wanting to droop closed. She forced herself onwards through sheer willpower; it was a good thing that Twilight’s library was so close to the edge of town. With a few flaps of her weary wings, she alighted on the balcony, and looked inside to see Twilight at her desk, silhouetted by the candle she was using to read what was undoubtedly a very dull book about the life cycle of the cockatrice or something.
Silently, the ninja pegasus opened the window and slipped inside. Twilight didn’t even look up. Oh yeah, major stealth points! It was time to go for the bonus round. Rainbow crept up behind Twilight, floating directly over her, and put her hooves on the egghead’s shoulders. “Hi Twi – EEEK!” she squeaked as her hooves clacked against stone.
There was a hiss and a clatter of claws, as her heroic shriek awakened something that had been sleeping in Twilight’s bed. Rainbow carefully did not turn around.
She did look over Twilight’s shoulder to see just what information could have been important enough for her to take off her blindfold to read it. “That can’t be right,” she said, grabbing the book on her way out of the library, just ahead of the slithery motion behind her. She made sure not to look back.
“TWENTY TO FIFTY YEARS?!”
Half a dozen ponies turned to look at the source of the scream, some turning and approaching through the mist, some opening nearby windows and looking out groggily, but Rainbow Dash didn’t even notice. Twilight’s book hadn’t been about cockatrices at all – it was a book on the growth of ‘natural’ plants, untouched by earth pony magic. She read the passage again, just to make sure she’d read it right. “Temperate deciduous forests are known to burn down from time to time,” she read aloud, “but will eventually be restored to their full natural beauty in as little as twenty to fifty years.”
“What?” asked a turquoise pegasus.
“It’s going to take FIFTY YEARS before the Everfree forest grows back!” Rainbow said, showing them the book.
Bon Bon – scratched and scuffed – stepped forwards to read it in the light of her torch. “The mayor said we’d have to put up with the monsters until they could go home, but I thought it’d be a week or two at most. I didn’t sign up to be a manticore tamer for the rest of my life!”
As they headed through the town, gathering up the other townsfolk, everyone’s reaction was essentially the same.
“Steven’s a wonderful house-guest, but I can’t really get much work done with him occupying my shop,” Rarity said, still wearing her silk nightgown, a small candle hovering near her head.
“The ghosties hate parties,” Pinkie Pie said, appearing out of the darkness of her shop, eyes glowing in the reflected light from the torches. “I can’t throw any parties for fifty years?”
“And the Apples can’t harvest their crops, either,” Rainbow Dash said. “And that dragon’s a menace! Look what he did to the town!”
“No… no, that was you,” said Sparkler.
“Yeah yeah, but only because the dragon made me,” Rainbow Dash said, waving off the pink unicorn’s correction. “Either way, there won’t be a town *left* in fifty years!”
“I’m sure we’re just jumping to conclusions,” Rarity said. “Surely the mayor can’t have meant to make Ponyville a permanent monster day-care. Why don’t we pay her a little visit, and let her explain?”
“And if she can’t explain?” Pinkie asked.
“Weeell,” Rainbow Dash said, looking down the darkened streets in the direction of town hall, then around at the gathered ponies, “in that case, we’ve already got our torches …”
“Citizens of Ponyville!” the Mayor said, head poking out the top half of her door as the torch-bearing mob surrounded her home, “Please, *please* calm down! You don’t want to disturb our special guests, do you?” She glanced nervously back over her shoulder. “I’m in the middle of an important meeting…”
“Is that the sound of panic and anger I hear?” came a voice from inside, “have the ponies so easily given in to fear?”
“FIFTY YEARS?” screamed Rainbow Dash incoherently, waving her arms and wings to be seen over the heads of the ponies in front of her, since she’d somehow managed to get shoved to the back of the crowd again.
“We can’t take care of the monsters for fifty years! We need the forest regrown now!” someone shouted from the middle of the crowd.
The Mayor looked shocked. “Now now, I’m sure there was some misunderstanding. As I said, I’ve been discussing the situation with the leader of the forest team, and a representative of the Everfree monsters. From their reports, they’ll be done with their task in a matter of days, and ready to re-grow the forest. Tell them, Applejack.”
Applejack opened the door and walked out onto the porch, facing the crowd. Her eyes had bags around them, and she stifled a yawn. Still, she was a trusted figure in the town, and the mood of the crowd lightened a bit at the reminder that she was already working on the problem.
Applejack failed to stifle a second yawn, and said, “Now, listen here, y’all. You can’t go blamin’ the Mayor for a bit of bad luck. The forest’ll be ready when it’s ready, that’s all.”
“Oh yeah?” Rainbow Dash asked, flying up to the stage to get in Applejack’s face. “And when will that be?”
“I couldn’t rightly say,” Applejack said, which led to a wave of worried grumbling. “But we’ll be done with our seed collectin’ in a few days, and then we can lend a hoof around town, try to keep these here critters better behaved.”
“And regrow the forest,” the mayor added. “The grass and flowers we plant every year for Winter Wrap up are ready in a matter of hours, surely it won’t take *too* long to regrow the forest’s trees.”
“Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to explain for the past few hours, your mayorship,” Applejack said. “We’re not *doing* any planting. That was clear as rainwater in the princess’ letter – collect samples of all the seeds while it’s safe, but don’t set a single hoof to putting ‘em in the ground.”
“You must not use the magic of the earth pony,” came Zecora’s voice once again, “if the forest is to remain Ever Free.”
Silence washed over the crowd, and then – panic. “We’re doomed!”
“Settle down!” snapped Applejack, angrily. “Let’s have none of that talk. Ponyville is a proud town of strong ponies, and it’ll take more than a few misbehaving critters to erase all that.”
“No offense, Applejack, but you haven’t *seen* the mess the monsters have been making,” Rarity said.
“So what? So things get a little messy,” Applejack said. “As long as we have a roof over our heads and our neighbors have none, it’s clear what the right thing to do is.”
“Hey, that’s right!” Pinkie said. “If we didn’t *have* any homes, we couldn’t be forced to take care of monsters in them!”
“Pinkie!” Applejack said, putting a hoof to her face.
“That’s right! We’ve all got torches!” someone said from the crowd.
“Now – wait, this isn’t –“ Rarity objected, but she was shouted down.
“We’ll show those monsters how to be homeless!”
“Fire got us into this mess, fire will get us out of it!”
“Yeah, burn down everything!” Rainbow Dash shouted enthusiastically, grabbing a torch out of somepony’s mouth and tossing it onto a nearby roof. At Applejack’s acid look, she grinned and shrugged. “Hey, I already lost *my* house…”
“This is the stupidest, most bone-headed – stop that you darnfools!” Applejack shouted, running after the crowd as it scattered through Ponyville, trying to herd them back together, but it was too late – the town was already in flames.
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADER ARSONISTS, YAY!”
Back in Canterlot Castle, Princess Celestia stood on her balcony, listening to the delicate music of a string quartet as she watched the warm light of dawn wash over the land below. In the darkness that fled before her light, she saw a hint of smoky orange from the direction of the distant Everfree Forest, almost as if a part of it was still on fire.
“My princess,” said a white unicorn in formal black attire, bowing as he entered the room. “I regret to inform you that the town of Ponyville has been destroyed.”
“Again?” asked Celestia, a look of concern on her face.
“I’m afraid it’s a little more serious than the incident with Nightmare Moon, or Discord, or the dragon, or the parasprites,” the unicorn reported. “Or the… baby bunnies. Every building has been burned to the ground, and the ponies that once lived there have scattered.”
Celestia sighed. “It was less than a hundred years this time. At this rate, the next incarnation will last less than a generation.”
The unicorn frowned politely. “If I might make a suggestion, perhaps the next incarnation should not be situated so… close.”
Celestia shook her head. “There will always be ponies crazy enough to try to harvest the Everfree Forest. At least it’ll be a few decades before we have to worry about re-establishing it, this time.”
“As you say, my princess,” said the unicorn, bowing his head. “With your leave, should I arrange the royal breakfast?”
“Certainly,” Celestia said. “Oh, and have the guard send a patrol to retrieve my student Twilight Sparkle. It’s long past time she returned to her formal studies.”