* * *
by Jeffrey C. Wells
* * *
Part Eleven: The Honest Truth
It was light, sweet, and fizzy.
That was all.
I stood there for a while in the gloom of the still shed, feeling a little foalish.
"Well," I said, at last, setting down the tankard with an electromagnetic buzz. "That there was kind of a letd—" and that was the last coherent thought I had before I dropped to the floor with a bang, felled like a struck ox.
The Large Hadron Cider clawed its way up from my gut toward my brain like some kinda wild animal made out of chemicals, and once there, it sunk its teeth in, dragging me down past all the fun parts of intoxication straight to the mighty unpleasant ones. In a matter of a second, I was gagging and twitching on the floor, struggling in wide-eyed panic against full cider coma, a state I ain't never been in – not since I was a filly, anyway – and my battle to stay conscious was like me trying to swim up a waterfall.
I just plain couldn't keep up and had to surrender myself to blackness, and it came as a powerful surprise to me that simply giving up wasn't enough to stop the ravages of L.H.C. Fact, it didn't even hardly make it miss a step. Down, down, down it took me, until, much like them fancy made-up stories about pony explorers digging holes deep enough that they came out in some weird upside-down land on the other side of the world, I was hauled all the way through unconsciousness and back out again, into a place where everypony and everything was just plumb wonderful.
Lines of humming golden light surrounded me, weaving around my head and floating off into the distance. I laughed at them because they were pretty. For about ten minutes or so, I tried following where they led, until I realized that they led straight through the wall of the shed and that I weren't getting very far trying to force myself through that way.
Door! I remembered, and I was delighted. Have y'all ever thought of a door? I mean, really thought about it? What musta been going through that pony's mind, who first thought of a door? It's like a piece of a house… that opens! And keys! Keys are like a little hunk of a door that you carry around with you! Keys and doors are the broken-heart lockets of our everyday lives, and how is it that ponies can wander through life without realizing that every time you put a key in a lock, you're bringing together two things that was always meant to be together? The sad poetry of it all brought a tear to my eye and hit me right in the soft spots of my breast. Celestia above, I love me some door.
"Thank you, door," I said, to the door. "Thank you for keeping things out when you are closed and letting me through when you are open."
My piece said, I wandered toward the exit, missing the mark eighteen times before finally getting it right and pushing my way outside, out to Sweet Apple Acres, my favorite place in the whole wide world, and ain't I the luckiest filly, gettin' to wake up every morning in the place she loves the most. The sun was bright, the sky was blue, the air was full of spinning curls of musical yellow, and everything was just fine.
"G'day, apple trees!" I shouted, brightly, waving to 'em with both forehooves at the same time and then falling over on my face. From my position on the ground, I thought I could maybe see them waving back, them that hadn't been flattened by my brother's sonic plow, that is. Lawks almighty, I thought, apple trees are blessed things. And do you know why? 'Cause they make apples! How is that even possible? I mean, I can't make an apple. Can you? I bet not. It's a total mystery! Yet, each and every year, they just make apples, like it weren't even a thing. Thousands and thousands of apples!
I mean, ain't that a kick in the head?
Anyhow, all this thinkin' about apples was making me peckish, and it was a bit too early in the year to just be picking anything off the trees, so I righted myself, got to my hooves, and wandered over to the apple cellar for a bite of the old crop. I started down the cellar stairs, instantly tripped, and landed in a pile of tangled horse-limbs at the bottom, which sure gave me a chuckle. Once I righted myself, I moseyed over to the barrels and got myself an apple, and then I stopped.
Grower be praised, I thought, holding it up to the light from the open cellar door. That sure is an apple right there. That there's thirty-three point three (repeating) percent of my Cutie Mark. Ponies love apples, and for good reason, but all the rest of 'em is just enjoying the nutritive goodness of it all. When a member of the Apple Family eats an apple, on the other hand, it's like… a ritual, I guess. It's like eating a piece of ourselves so that we stay ourselves. It's pagan, and it's poetic, and above all it is the Apple Family way.
I studied my apple for a time, taking in its perfect redness, the shine on its skin, the way it curved around the top like a Hearts and Hooves card, the little pedestal on the base that kept it standing upright if you were to set it down on a table. I thought about the white flesh inside, the warm little core of life in its center, and the tiny, miniature apple trees waiting to be born inside each and every one of its tiny brown seeds. And the even tinier miniature potential apples waiting to be born from them trees. And the hypothetical seeds inside those. And the trees they would produce. And so on down, into forever.
So that took about four or so hours. Finally, I got hungry and I ate it. Mm, mm, good.
Well! I ain't gonna say that wasn't time well spent, but judging from the position of the sun outside, it was now well past lunchtime, and I had a promise to keep! Lunch, for all my little pony friends! Just like I promised, last night at the party! I spent another half hour getting myself up the cellar steps, and then wandered over to the home-barn to see what Granny had cooked up for me.
When I got there, I found a note on the door:
young'un / ain't had time to make lunch for you / my new artificial hip will change everything / get some apple chips from the bins if it's so dang important to feed your friends / soup's on —granny
Well, that was sure nice of her, thinking of me and my friends like that. I wandered back to the still shed, retrieved my saddlebags, then filled 'em up with mouthful after mouthful of sharp dried apples. This'd sure be a good lunch! I couldn't wait to show 'em all what the good ol' Apple Family had cooked up for them. Maybe we'd sing a song or two. I could see how all them science projects is coming along. And then I could explain to them all about doors. 'Cause that's what friends do.
Walking diagonally, and then back again diagonally the other way, I made my way in the overall general direction of Fluttershy's cottage. Probably.
* * *
Well, when I got to Fluttershy's cottage, I just had to laugh. The whole thing had up and gotten covered over in most spots with some sorta sticky biological resin or something, leaving only a few traces of the original woodwork and plaster sticking out from place to place. Heavens to Betsy, that pony-girl does get some strange ideas in her head. Just like at my place, the air was filled with humming golden waves, all centering on the cottage.
I sauntered approximately over toward the little house, crunching hundreds and hundreds of empty fallen butter-bee-bat cocoons underhoof as I went. "Fluttersha'!" I said, rapping my hoof hard on a chunk of visible wood roundabouts near the front door area. "It's me!"
There was a noise of ferocious buzzing and fluttering and fwipping around inside. Finally, there came the sound of something vaguely pony-shaped staggering toward the door.
"Applejack?" came a wavery, jagged-edged voice from inside that sounded like Fluttershy talkin' funny or something.
"Yep!" I said, all proud. "In the flesh!"
"P— please don't say 'flesh' please oh please oh please." Then, the noise of Fluttershy hacking a great goobery cough, and spitting something.
"All right then," I said, playing along. "It's still me, though. Iff'n you'll pardon me, Flutters, yer soundin' a mite sick in there."
"I thought that," said Fluttershy. "I thought I was getting sick. I thought it was a disease."
"Is it catchin'?" I said.
"No," said Fluttershy. "You don't have to worry about contagion. The disease has revealed its purpose. I, um, know what the disease wants."
"Well, what's that?"
"It wants to... turn me into something else. That's not too terrible, is it? Most ponies would give anything to be turned into something else."
I laughed a little. Contraptionology! Gotta love it! "Turned into what?" I asked.
"What do you think?" snapped Fluttershy. "A butter-bee-bat! No, wait, I'm becoming something that never existed before. I'm becoming… Flutter-Bee-Bat!"
"Huh," I said.
"Don't you think that's worth a Science Fair trophy or two?" said Fluttershy.
"Sure sounds like it!" I said. Then I rummaged around in my saddlebags, emerging with a mouthful of apple chips, which I spat on the ground. "Anyhoo, got lunch for y'all!"
There was a scrabbling at the door, and it pushed open, threads of suspicious goo still clinging to the lintel above it. Dang shame, lettin' your house get covered over with extruded biological substances like that. A weirdly deformed hoof, surrounded on all sides with floating golden light, came patting out through the aperture. It grabbed the load of chips and pulled 'em inside. Then there was a dismayed yelp.
"Thank you, Applejack," said the voice. "I'm sure these… dried apples are really special, but, um, Flutter-Bee-Bat can't feed on apples."
"You kidding?" I said. "Ponies love apples!"
"Flutter-Bee-Bat doesn't love apples. Flutter-Bee-Bat found out the hard and painful way that she eats very much the way a vampire bat eats. Her grinding teeth are now useless because although she can chew up plant matter, she can't digest it. Solid food hurts. So like a vampire bat, Flutter-Bee-Bat leaps upon unsuspecting critters and nicks their skin with her sharp incisors—"
"Ponies?" I asked, in a happy sort of suspicion, still comforted by the warm glow of L.H.C. cider-buzz.
"Oh, no," meeped Fluttershy. "I would never… I mean…"
Fluttershy let off a frustrated, squealy roar, then. "Applejack," she said, "my pets all left me while I slept in my snuggly chrysalis. Everything except the butter-bee-bats. Could you… could you tell me if they've returned?"
I looked out over the empty fields of animal-cages surrounding Flutters's cottage. "Don't appear that way, sugarcube," I said.
"Oh, no," said Fluttershy, erratically. "What will I feed on? What will my babies feed on?"
"Well, I's sorry the apples ain't to your liking," I said. "But I fulfilled my promise, and it's way past lunch-time, so iff'n y'all will excuse me, I gots more meals to deliver."
"They look up to me as their queen!" said Fluttershy, ignoring me. "I have to provide for them! Somehow, I must provide for them!"
Well, I did feel a little sorry for her, gettin' all mutated like she apparently had, but I had the strong suspicion that there was a brave new world coming around, and if I stopped to shed a tear for every pony what got horribly transmogrified into some kind of abhorrent-to-Celestia's-sight freak o' nature, then I was fixing to cry me a river. And I felt too good and too happy to get all weepful like that. Thank you, L.H.C.!
I turned away from the angry buzzing of Fluttershy's cottage, and the angry wailing of Fluttershy, or Flutter-Bee-Bat, or whatever, a smile on my face and a song in my heart, and headed on down to Ponyville.
* * *
I raised my head in wonder at the beauty of our little town.
Lines of humming golden light were everywhere, twirling and coiling around the heads and bodies of every single pony I met. I stood there for a while in the village square, drinking it in, kinda like I was watching a flight of colorful birds. The light-lines weaved and twisted around the charcoal-colored mechanized bunkers and arching, lighning-rod-studded collection towers that had taken the place of most of the houses in town. They then floated off into the air to some point far distant from here, and let me tell y'all, it sure was a sight.
Oh, yeah, and there was noise, too. Octavia's music had started up again, more powerful than before, and I had to cheerfully stuff my ears full of apple chips to stop 'em from bleeding or something.
I was just about done filling my ears when a unicorn ran into me, knocked me down, and dragged me into an alley.
"Hey, Vinyl Scratch!" I said, as she pulled me across the ground. "Good afternoon to ya'!"
Vinyl finished getting me where she wanted to get me and then yanked the chunks of apple out of my ears.
"It's insane," she said, hyperventilatin', her wide eyes clearly visible past the cracked lenses of her mirror-shades. "It is actually insane."
"Funny thing, Vinyl," I said, waving my hooves around her head. "Why ain't you got golden light swimming around you?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about!" screamed the unicorn, in my face. "What golden light?"
"Y'know," I said, running my hooves through my own aerial currents. "This here stuff!"
"I knew it!" she said. "You're crazy, too! Everypony… has gone… crazy!"
"Sanity's a continuum, Vinyl Scratch," I remarked. "Y'all bothered by something in particular?"
Vinyl stood there for a spell, seething. Then she pointed a hoof accusatorily back in the direction of her house.
"The Holy Grail," said Vinyl, her voice trembling.
Vinyl squeezed her eyes shut. "Octavia's beats are so powerful that they're able to physically move objects. So do you know what she did?"
Vinyl grabbed me by my shoulders, her eyes beginning to well up in tears. "My mare-toy went and created a new form of music which emits a shaped wub charge with the capacity to scratch its own turntables in real-time! It's music that DJs itself."
"That's real nice, Vinyl," I said, the L.H.C. humming pleasantly in my brain.
"No!" she shouted again, her voice breaking. "What happens to me now?"
"You go up to her and you congratulate her!" I said. "You say, 'Octavia, I been working and slaving my whole life in service to my art, all the while facing scorn and condemnation from you and your kind constantly telling me how it ain't real music. And then, overnight, you pulled an about-face and suddenly accomplished feats of DJing that I only ever dreamed about in my wildest dreams, thus functionally invalidating every effort I ever made. Good job, hun!'"
Vinyl stared at me. I smiled brightly back at her.
She started bawling.
"Aw, sugarcube," I said.
"Don't you 'aw, sugarcube' me!" she said, pushing me aside and staggering back toward the mouth of the alley. "This… this calls for desperate measures! I have to stop this, somehow!"
Vinyl lurched off into the streets of Ponyville, a lone figure bereft of happy golden light, and she was quickly lost to my view.
I shrugged, stuffed apples in my ears again, and headed to Rarity's.
* * *
"A pre-emptive strike!" shouted Rarity, her hooves working furiously at the controls of the Wondrous Lanthorn, her shiny helmet hanging at a skewed angle. "Princess Celestia was apparently suspicious of some of the goings-on in town, so she sent a squadron of her finest pegasus dragoons to investigate! This is tantamount to an act of war, Applejack!"
"P'raps she's just curious 'bout all the lilacs flying past at supersonic speed?" I suggested.
"No!" she said. "This is clearly a blatant power-grab by the Throne!" As I watched, the Lanthorn glowed and squealed its way to life, and Rarity magic-lifted a glass container of sharp-edged gemstones into the accelerator beam, causing it to vanish with that same sharp "Vree-Pchkow" noise as before. "I've got Celestia's little vanguard pinned down in Town Hall with diamond canister-shot, but it's only a matter of time before one of them escapes my wrath and reports his findings to the Princess. And then: full-scale land war! Before that happens, I need to think of something suitably destructive to fling at Canterlot that can end this war before it begins! Think of the lives I'll save, Applejack!"
"How 'bout that one boulder you been keepin' in storage for sentimental reasons?"
Rarity blinked, adjusting her helmet back square. "Yes," she said, then, rubbing her hooves together. "Oh, Tom, I believe I have a job for you! As soon as I find a spare moment after neutralizing Celestia's strike force, I'll go fetch him up! And then… I will give the Princess one opportunity to surrender to me. Just one." She giggled a little. "And I do hope she takes me up on it," she said. "Those high-class Canterlot ponies will have no choice but to accept me into their ranks when I become their new god-empress!"
"Well, that sounds real nice," I said, dreamily, reaching into my saddlebags again as the Lanthorn prepared itself for another shot. "Here's some lunch for y'all."
I tossed the apple chips into the air just as Rarity stabbed the primary fire control, and they vanished. "Heh heh," I said. "You just accelerated your lunch, Rarity!"
"Oh, it doesn't matter!" said Rarity, musically. "Plenty more opportunities for lunch once I rule everything! Thank you so much for the ordnance suggestion, Applejack."
"Shucks, Rar," I said. "Ain't nothin'."
"No, I mean it!" she said, smiling earnestly at me from her position at the Lanthorn's control divan. "And I'm sorry for incinerating your hat this morning. You've always been very special to me, Applejack, and I want you to know that when the revolution comes I've decided to kill you last."
"Thanks," I said. "I ain't planning on killing nopony no more, on account of the wondrous mind-expanding effects of Large Hadron Cider on my head, but I want you to know if I were gonna kill everypony, I'd kill you last, too."
"Aw," we both said, simultaneously, and then we hugged.
"Well!" she said, returning to the Lanthorn's controls. "Back to sniping at the Royal Guard! Ta ta, darling!"
"Later!" I replied, trotting back down the steps toward the streets of Ponyville.
Rarity is a good friend.
* * *
"I want you to know that all this is merely a temporary setback," said the disemponied brain inside its little cylindrical brain-tank, using Twilight's voice.
"I'm sure it is," I agreed, wholeheartedly.
The magenta-colored liquid inside the glass sloshed around agitatedly as the loudspeaker mounted on the front side of the tank crackled to life again.
"What?" said Twilight's brain. "No gloating? No brazen 'I-told-you-so' declarations?"
"Nope!" I said. "I'm sure you're right. 'Bout it bein' a temporary setback and all."
"Well, good," said the brain, its speaker making a petulant little snorting sound. "I'm glad you have the capacity to see reason."
I peered in close to the bubbly purplish tank of brain stuff. "Y'know, Twi," I said, "I always thought maybe you'd have a real big brain, on account of you being so gol-darn intelligent. But it's just real little and cute, just like yerself. Or like yerself used to be." I took a second to glance around the lab. "Did you get rid of your old pony body all complete-like?"
"Don't be silly, A.J. I still haven't verified the magical capacity of my new contraptionoid vessel! My pathetic mortal form is laid out on one of the slabs down there; I'll cremate it after my equuoid gets its shakedown run."
"Wait, I don't understand," I said, cocking my head, the gesture causing me to fall over again. I got back up. "Why didn't you just leave your brain in your head until you knew if your thing was gonna work?"
The liquid sloshed around. "I got impatient, all right?" said the brain, huffily. "I got impatient because there's nothing more I can do with my titanic intellect until sundown when the stars come out, and I was going nuts in here, so I started using my spare time to perfect my partial-pony teleportation spell!"
"Look, it's very simple," said Twilight's brain. "It's just a normal teleportation spell, except for the fact that it doesn't move your entire body from one point in space to another. It moves only part of your body from one point in space to another, leaving the rest of your body behind. Usable on myself or on anypony else I choose, just like normal teleportation." The brain nodded to itself. "It's an excellent idea with no possibility for horrible ghastly misuse."
"I totally believe you," I said, happily. "So you used it to extract your own brain, huh?"
"Yes!" cried Twilight's brain. "Just as a test! But I made one major miscalculation: once I was out of my body, the dumb thing just keeled over like a sack of potatoes! So now I'm out here, and my alicorn, the thing that would actually allow me to reverse the teleportation spell, is down there on an exam table, stuck on the forehead of a hundred or so pounds of lifeless pony flesh! I momentarily considered asking Spike to saw it off and cram it into my brain, but I don't know if that would even work! Not to mention the fact that it would cause catastrophic damage to my frontal lobe! Ooh, thinking about this just makes me so angry!" The juice sloshed around as Twilight's brain thumped itself into the glass wall of the tank a couple times. "Stupid Twilight! Stupid! Stupid!"
"Well, I sure am sorry to hear that," I said. "I don't reckon you'll be needing these apple chips, then."
"I currently exist on a powdered diet of cinnamon and sugar particles dumped regularly into my brain-supporting liquid," said Twilight's brain. "And I happen to be overdue, come think! Where's that lousy minion of mine with my hourly fix?" The speaker vibrated and crackled with a shout: "SPIKE!"
"Here, mistress!" hissed Spike, trudging into view holding a shaker-top bottle. He pulled up a stepstool, removed Twilight's blackened crown from the top of her brain-tank, opened the tank, sprinkled a bunch of cinnamon and sugar into the juice below, and then screwed the top of the tank back down.
"Put my crown back on top as well, please," sniffed Twilight's brain, sounding a bit more contented. Spike did so, with a clink. Then he trudged off back to doing goodness-knows-what, whatever minions get up to in their spare time, I guess.
I spat a small mouthful of apple chips onto an empty bookshelf. "All righty then!" I said. "Here's me keeping my promise to you and Spike. Double portion for him, I guess. I'm gonna head off to Rainbow Dash's now, so have fun… uh… floating there."
"Oh, I won't," said Twilight, testily. "But don't worry, this is the last not-fun I'm going to be having in a long time. Once I somehow manage to eradicate the test personality of my incredibly powerful magic-using unicorn contraptionoid despite being completely cut off from my own magical powers, everything's going to be skittles and ginger ale around here!" Twilight's brain lunged up against the wall of the tank hard enough to rattle it in its little stand. "Mark my words, Applejack," said Twilight's brain. "Mark. My. Words."
"Consider them marked!" I said. "See y'all later!"
I walked out of the library, heading out to Rainbow Dash's, shaking my head in amusement. Hated rival or not, that little library pony sure can be funny sometimes.
* * *
You could hear the noise of furious commotion from hundreds of yards away. Lots and lots of hi-yah's and shouting and hoof-on-metal noises, that sort of thing. When I finally rounded the last bend leading to the clearing R.D.'s house was hovering over, I could see the reason for it: Dash was there, wearing the tattered shreds of her cardboard armor, locked in a big ol' fracas with some kind of giant metal ro-bot of some kind. I wasn't sure how to describe the contraptionoid in question, other than "big" and "tall" and "silver". Maybe it was kind of… bunny-shaped?
I squinted up at the control console near the head of the giant shiny contraptionoid. Yup! I thought, delightedly. There he is! Cute little Angel Bunny, furiously working the controls to his giant ro-bot monster and making it smack Dash around. As I watched, a particularly good back-paw cuff sent Dash flying in my direction. She hit dirt face-first and skidded a couple yards, eventually coming to rest at my feet, looking bruised, scuffed, and completely feather-distressed.
"Hey, Rainbow!" I exclaimed, beaming down at her. "I brought lunch!"
"Applejack!" cried Dash, looking up at me. "You were gone forever and I was about to go to Canterlot like you said but then Angel came back with a hugenormous battle robot! He's gone insane!"
"Strictly speaking," I said, stroking my chin with one hoof, "Angel's at the controls, so it ain't really a ro-bot. It's more like a giant bunny augmentation suit." I looked down at Dash. "Kind of like what you were trying to do with all these boxes you got on, except you failed!" I finished, brightly.
"Augh!" said Dash. "Sure, beat up my pride along with the entire rest of me! Look, I know it's just cardboard! I was just trying it on to see if I could get it to work right when Angel pulled me through the wall and started whacking the stuffing out of me! You gotta help me bring him down, A.J.! He's gonna steal Tank's lettuce!"
"Love to help, R.D.," I said, dumping the rest of the apple chips from my bags onto Dash's head. "But I got lunch to deliver. Good luck with that, though!" I turned to go.
"A.J.! Wait!" said Dash, but if she tried to say anything else it was cut off when Angel Bunny's giant contraptionoid suit grabbed her around the middle and yanked her away.
Boy, howdy, I thought, as I trotted back to town, the noise of furious Dash-abuse slowly fading behind me. Life sure is getting exciting around these parts!
* * *
"Hey, Dr. Pie!" I shouted, kicking in the front door to Sugarcube Corner.
"Applejack!" cried Pinkie Pie – still dressed in her rumpled Frankenholstein getup – as I hopped my way into the confectionary's sizeable dining-room. "I figured it out! It was the punch! Professor Danger put something in the punch at the party! None of the colts or fillies in town are infected, just the grown-ups, so I thought it maybe had something to do with how old everypony is, but Mr. and Mrs. Cake are perfectly fine, too… because they weren't at the party! They were here last night running the cuteceañera!"
"That's some good detective work, Pinks!" I said, kicking myself at how obvious this whole thing was in hindsight. Of course there was something in the punch making us all so silly! How on earth had I not seen it before? "Why would your dear old friend the Professor do something like that?"
Pinkie looked kinda helpless and almost a little teary. "I don't know!" she said. "But he specifically ordered everypony to sleep on their ideas, so I think that sleeping is increasing his control over everypony in town! And this morning, you said you didn't sleep last night, so I'm hoping you ended up fighting this off! Are you still with us, Applejack? Or are you infected, too?"
"Nope!" I said, dreamily. "I'm perfectly sane! Lemme just deliver you these here apple chips, and then, if you got a spare moment, I wanna talk to you about how wonderful doors are!" I took the last few remaining apple chips, the ones I had stuck in my ears, and shook 'em out on the counter, where they fell with a clatter.
Pinkie blinked at me. I smiled back at her.
"Okay," said Pinkie. "We're going to temporarily write you off as a loss, A.J. But if you do manage to bust out of it, me and the Cakes are gathering up all the colts and fillies in town and taking them up to the Pepper Family holdings, because that's probably the last safe place left for twenty miles on account of them all being no-punch-drinkers up there. If you see your sister, or Sweetie Belle, or Scootaloo, or anypony else who's still unconvolved, please tell them to join us there A.S.A.P. I'm going to keep running back and forth into town to find ponies we've missed, but we also need help getting the word out!"
"What's 'the word'?"
"The word is that I'm throwing a really super important party up at the Peppers'! It's a 'Let's Hold Out For As Long As We Can Against The Hordes Of The Convolved' Party!"
"Y'all'll wanna pick up Vinyl Scratch, too, then," I said. "She weren't at the hypercube dance last night neither."
Pinkie shook her head. "Vinyl doesn't want to come," she said. "She said she had something real important to do out at the Nightmare Monument. I couldn't make her listen."
"That sounds non-sinister," I said. "Oh well. Have a good time up at the Peppers'! Say hi to Bell for me!"
"All right, A.J.," said Pinkie. "I can do that."
I smiled at her, lopsidedly. "Pinkie Promise?" I said.
Pinkie looked at me soberly. "Pinkie Promise," she said. "Now you Pinkie Promise me something, Applejack. Pinkie Promise me you'll stay safe out here. No weasels this time."
"Pinkie Promise," I agreed, enthusiastically.
"All right," said Pinkie. "I've gotta go help the Cakes get Pumpkin and Pound ready to travel. Remember: if you ever get sane, come join us at the Peppers'. That's where we're making our stand, okay?"
"Will do," I said, walking crookedly toward the door while waving a hoof back at Pinks. "See y'all later!"
"I hope so, A.J.," said Pinkie, quietly.
And then I was gone.
* * *
So there I was, standing in the street, all my obligations finally discharged. I'd delivered breakfast, just like I said. I'd delivered lunch, just like I said. I'd finished up my Large Hadron Cider, drank it down, and found that there were absolutely no unpleasant side effects to it whatsoever, which seemed like a pretty durn happy success to me. Weren't even no chores even left to do up at Sweet Apple Acres 'cause all the livestock was gone for some reason, just like Fluttershy's critters.
What the hay was a working pony supposed to do without no work to be done?
I pondered it for an hour or so, wandering through Ponyville, as the whole town collapsed and crumbled and rebuilt itself around me about three or four times: giant conducting towers reached for the sky only to get sheared off at the base by the rusting power of rapid-oxidation rays, huge newly-minted crystal thinking-machines were shattered to flinders by concussion charges, and experimental assault dirigibles tumbled from the sky and crashed to the ground, snared in webs of high-powered gravitation beams. And everywhere, there was fire, fire, fire.
Oh, and here's another thing that was everywhere: that golden light! Pretty, pretty, golden light, worming its way around every pony in town, snaking through our little pony bodies, coiling around our bellies, drilling in and out of our heads, and always, the whole time, humming. I followed the light with my eyes for a spell, then picked myself up and started wandering after it, like I had wanted to do from the get-go but for that shed wall in my path. Sure, the light was all concentrated on us down here in Ponyville, but as soon as it left us, it was all… floating away? Up to the Ridge, someplace? Back to where the forest fire happened, night before last?
Well, I thought, there was a job I could do. I could track that light! Nopony else had said squat about it, and Vinyl had looked at me like I was plumb crazy when I mentioned it to her, so I figured my ability to see the golden light was full-on due to the truth-exposing power of Nuclear Honesty Cider still churning around in my belly. Haw! Science-success! It almost made me feel bad that I'd promised Rainbow that I wasn't gonna submit my Large Hadron Cider to the Science Fair this morning, because, boy howdy, cider that lets you see invisible light sure seemed like it'd be a strong contender for first prize.
Thus resolved, I moseyed my way on out of the catastrophe that was Ponyville, buildings falling around me on all sides, and made my way up to the comparative peace of the wild lands up towards the Ridge, my steps giddy and unsure but my eyes locked on those ribbons, that stream, of beautiful light.
Eventually, I could tell by the whispering noise of ash under my hooves that I had arrived at the burned-out section of Everfree which had so totally consumed our efforts just a few tens of hours before, back when a forest fire was the most exciting thing going on 'round these parts. Everything was all still, and hushed, and clouds and clouds of white ashes floated through the air, whipping around like snowfall and settling on the scaly-black forms of twisted and carbonized trees. I could see the humming ribbons getting thicker and brighter and more concentrated, all coming together at a point in the very near distance. I giggled to myself. Almost there! I thought. Almost at the source of the light! I wondered to myself what it might be.
Well, weren't long, I found my answer.
There, on the edge of a high bluff, was a single grove of lemon trees that had somehow managed to live through the unnatural fires of Iggy the Salamander. They were green, and fresh, in perfect full bloom, all covered in shiny yellow fruits just like the ones the Professor had brought us as a thank-you offering for our pleasant hospitality the morning before, the ones that we'd turned around and dumped straight into the punch bowl for his party. And that's where the ribbons was coming from! Them lemons were so bright and plump and cheery that they were just busting out with a river of humming gold, a great stream of happy that flowed and oozed its way up from the cindery air of the lemon grove down to our little community below.
And there was a second river of light, too. This one didn't go as far, just about twenty or thirty feet up in the air, kind of like a little fountain. Except it weren't as random as a fountain. In fact, if I squinted kind of hard at it, I could see the curls of light form up loosely into a shape of sorts, kind of like what a pony might do if she were staring up at the sky and trying to find pictures in the clouds.
I tried to wrap my brain around the shape that the fountain of light was making. It was tall and sort of… snake-y. A little asymmetrical. Legs and everything, but they didn't seem to quite match up, left to right. An eagle's claw here, a lion's paw there. Long, goat-like face, topped with a pair of mismatched horns. Looked kinda like somepony I used to know at some point, and I was sure that if I just kept at it, just kept thinking about it hard enough, I'd eventually stumble across the name.
"D", something. Definitely started with a "D". That much I knew.
Ah, horsefeathers, I thought, then, weren't worth the effort in the end. I put the question out of my mind and stared some more at the beautiful light, mesmerized by the shape of it and how it was moving. And I might be wrong, here, but it almost seemed like the figure the light made was gazing out over Ponyville, looking at the state of utter chaos and unrest the town had been reduced to. I thought, maybe just for a second, that I could see it laughing.
Well, shoot, I thought. I didn't know if it was funny, as such, but all this light and ash and lemons and shiny, snaky figures guffawin' hysterically and gesturing in exultation at the sky sure was pretty in its own strange little way. Ain't nothing to do but sit for a piece and admire the beauty of it all, I concluded.
And that's exactly what I did, because, honest truth, there wasn't anything else in the world I'd rather do.
Everything was perfect, now.