“No, I refuse. I will not get up just because you insist on shining in my eyes, sun.” The sun ignored Silver’s feeble declaration, though its rays were partially foiled in their attempt to sear his eyes by a well placed hoof, granting minor relief. Fortunately for his health, the previous evening was the last night having to use his quick fermentation spells, as the first batch of naturally brewed cider would be ready by that evening. Realizing that he’d have to have a day off every now and then to research and experiment with different drinks, he announced that two days a week the tavern would be closed. Today would be the first day closed, giving him a much desired time to continue his research, though that would be difficult without proper equipment. Still refusing the sun any gratification, he stumbled to the shower and added drapes to his mental list of lab equipment.
Descending the stairs with only a partially dried mane, Silver grew curious at the sound of rather unladylike snores filling the dining area. He smiled as he found Berry contentedly asleep on the floor near the bar, covered with a blanket. A clatter drew him to the kitchen where he found Ruby dutifully attempting to gather something together for breakfast, standing fully outstretched on a hoof to try and reach the high cupboards.
“Uncle Shiny, can you get that for me? I think mom’s gonna be hungry when she wakes up.”
“Of course, sweetheart. Let’s make it together,” he replied, setting her down and moving towards the fridge, which held a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables. Knowing his cousin’s affinity for all things sweet and fruity, he decided that a simple smoothie would do just the trick. He let Ruby load up the blender and intentionally left the top off for laughs, spraying them both with yogurt and fruity bits and pieces. Slapping on the lid, he continued until it was an even consistency, pouring a small cup for Ruby before approaching the slumbering mare and dropping a small amount into her open mouth. The snoring stopped as the mouth clamped shut while she swallowed out of reflex, eliciting an appreciative sigh soon followed by a groan as the headache kicked in.
“You’re gonna kill me, you know that Silver? What’d you put in that stuff to make it so dang tasty?”
“Oh, a little of this, a ton of that. Here, drink this.” Berry cracked open an eye and lifted a leaden hoof up to the vial, staring at it a moment before letting her hoof fall to her sides.
“Is this another one of your experiments? It’s not gonna make me vomit, will it?”
“Just trust me. I want to see how well this works, and you’ll be a perfect trial.”
“Gee, I feel so much safer now,” she muttered, giving in and downing the fluid. It tasted faintly of vegetables, but she couldn’t identify what kind. Silver watched as she lay inert, saying nothing for a time. “That feels... really funny,” she murmured, placing a hoof to her stomach as the mixture began to take effect.
“Shiny, that stuff’s safe, right?”
“I’m pretty sure, yeah.” Berry slowly sat up, staring up at Silver as her muzzle grew an oafishly grand smile.
“You’re a genius, you know that?”
“So it worked then? No hangover?”
“Well, there’s a little bit of the headache left over, but other than that I feel about a million times better.” The cure worked much faster than Silver had anticipated, but combined with the positive feedback he got from Aloe and a few other customers, he could slap a completed label on this recipe and get to work on the myriad of others he had floating around in his mind. Berry was soon slurping hungrily on her smoothie, and he wandered back to the kitchen to prepare something for himself, choosing some fruit and a small portion of cheese rather than taking the time to make anything fancy. While drinks came easy to him, cooking did not, and he regarded ponies who could with as much awe as most ponies did his creations.
“So, what’s next on your menu of delicious drinks to prepare?”
“Well, I have a couple of variations of things, like chocolate mead. I’d also like to see if I can conceal a small electrical charge inside of some kind of wine.”
“Have Storm test that one for sure, he’s nearly immune to lightning.”
“Is that even possible?”
“I saw it at his parents’ wedding. That couple is crazy. Cool, but crazy. What else?”
“Mom, you’re drooling again.” Berry’s mind had inadvertently wandered, imagining the taste of electrified wine and temporarily increasing her salivation tenfold, as only alcohol could do. She nodded her thanks to Ruby and wiped a hoof across her mouth and eagerly awaited the rest of his explanations, though he had to stop laughing before he could do so.
“For the children, I thought I might try using some liquid rainbow to make a drink that changes flavors, depending on the colors you drink.”
“Shiny, that sounds amazing! Make that one first!”
“All right, little lady, if you insist. Now, don’t you have school to get to?” Taking a quick peek at the clock, Ruby gave a cry of alarm and immediately bolted out the door, not wanting to be tardy for the umpteenth time. “Berry, I’m going to start gathering materials for my experiments. I need to ask Twilight to let the rest of the testers know that I’ll have something ready to try by tomorrow morning, and ask her about procuring the special ingredients on this list.” Berry looked over the list with fascination, looking up at him with a fiendish smile.
“Ever the brave one, eh Silver?” He matched her grin and shrugged, taking back the list. “Mind if I grab one for the road?” He waved her off as she downed a glass and cantered out the door, humming happily as she rolled the last few drops around in her mouth, unwilling to let the sweet taste go. Silver sat on a stool, slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of having an entire day to himself, even if he would spend most of it working anyways. It would be prudent of him to rest at least a little, though if it were up to him, he’d try to work in a way to visit that ornery earth pony that seemed to always be on the fringe of his mind.
Small though Ponyville may be by comparison to Manehatten, when one has literally only been to one’s house and the Town Hall, it can seem just as large. Fortunately, directions came easily enough, and he soon found himself outside the Ponyville Library, where a rather potent tantrum seemed to be in full swing, as evidenced by the shrill cries only a filly foal can make. Flashes of light could be seen from the windows, and Silver hesitated at the door. The necessity of summoning his courage was negated as a frantic Spike exited and slammed the door behind him, breathing heavily as his eyes darted nervously all around.
“Are you... a baby dragon? Never would have expected to see one here, of all places.”
“Trust me, I’m not nearly as scary as that foal.” There was a massive thump as something solid connected with the door behind Spike, and he jumped away in fear, backing away slowly. Silver was more curious than anything else, and he creaked open the door to find the library in total disarray, with books flying all around the room. Upstairs he could see bright flashes of golden light, and dodging the tomes as best as he could, Silver ascended the steps to find Dawn bawling on the floor with in front of Twilight, whose stern expression clearly indicated she wasn’t going to give an inch.
Fed up with her mother’s distrust for her lecture on the many health benefits of a diet consisting entirely of cupcakes, Dawn made a break for the lower floor. Silver, not wanting to interfere, stepped aside to let her pass and was immediately sorry he had done so, the little filly miscalculating her descent and falling down the stairs. The books ceased their milling about as the foal’s smarting nose commanded her full attention. Twilight was instantly at her side, cradling Dawn as she had a much calmer, and more justified, releasing of tears. Cerulean, who up until this point had long since been buried under a mound of books, rose from the dust and sat next to Twilight, generating a small puff of snow atop Dawn’s nose to soothe the inflammation.
“Sorry, it looks like I caught you at a bad time,” Silver said, slowly approaching the family.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you weren’t hurt,” Twilight replied as she stroked Dawn’s mane, who was still mourning her ill-fated run-in with the floor. “What is it you need? I don’t have many books that talk about alchemy, unfortunately.”
“Yeah, you really sparked her interest, Silver.”
“I’d be more than happy to discuss it with you sometime, though I can’t get started on it again without any of this.” Twilight levitated the note over and skimmed it, her eyes growing wide as she read some of the ingredients.
“Do you have any idea what you’re getting into with this stuff? Nopony in Ponyville is going to get anywhere near anything having to do with Poison Joke, not after... well, not after a certain incident which shall not be recounted.”
“Even still, I’d like to try, though the equipment is more important than the special ingredients at this point. Any idea where I can find that stuff around town?” Twilight turned to grab a quill when one appeared in front of her, wrapped in the telltale blue aura of a well-trained stallion. She whispered her thanks and scribbled out a number of shops around town on the back of the list, as well as what items he could expect to purchase. She then proceeded to list some ponies who may be able to procure his more specific ingredients.
“There, that should just about do it.”
“Thank you, Twilight.” Dawn had calmed down most of the way at this point, though she was still hiding behind her mane and sniffling. “Hey there, sweetheart, cheer up. I’ll tell you what, if you stop crying and be a good girl, I’ll make you a drink that has a different taste for every color in the rainbow. How’s that sound?” The filly all but jumped out of Twilight’s hooves, stomping her hooves excitedly before pointing at the door, a clear indication he should waste no more time with idle banter and get to making her drink. “Alright, I’m going, I’m going! Oh, and I should have some drinks ready to sample by tomorrow, so stop on by around, say, ten in the morning?”
“That sounds great! I can hardly wait to imbibe some alchemically augmented beverages.”
“You hear that, Dawn? Your father’s getting smarter.” Silver chuckled at Cerulean’s face while the stallion tried to figure out if that was a compliment or an insult. Waving as he made his way back to town, Silver eagerly began making towards the first shop on the list, hoping to have everything gathered by noon. He nearly made that goal, arriving with the last of the equipment around twelve forty-five. It was minorly vexing to find that the package he had requested from his parents had yet to arrive, containing the more elusive ingredients specifically for alchemy, and thus hard to obtain at any conventional store. Fairly tired from using his magic for menial tasks and desiring a break, he decided to take a cask of the real cider to Sweet Apple Acres to see how it compared. Applejack had been spot on in her assessment of the brew he had served the first night, its quality subpar compared to what he’d normally allow himself to release. And if it served as a decent lead in to a conversation, well, that was okay with him too.
Zap Apple season was, perhaps, the most anticipated, though most stressful, time of Spring. Granny Smith was always on full alert, preparing the watering cans and singing to her hearts content, along with every other secret to preparing their fabled Zap Apple Jam. The timber wolves had raised quite a din the night before, which meant that today was watering day. Lifting the last can into the wagon, she followed Big Macintosh out into the fields to start their rather daunting task.
Applejack decided to forego a lunch break, not wanting to allow her mind any time to dwell on any number of questions that may have arisen, especially ones revolving around a certain silver stallion. If somepony found a way to track the number of times he crossed her mind, she was pretty sure she’d have already broken one thousand in the few days he had been in Ponyville. Her mind became so involved in work that she gained the ability to wander. This was immediately put to use, and she raised her head as who else but Silver Moonshine should come walking into her orchard, a cask levitating close beside him. It was rude of her mind to play such tricks, taunting her parched throat with whatever happened to be inside the cask, even should it be that slumgullion that was served the first night at the tavern.
“Ah must be loosin’ mah bloomin’ mind,” she muttered as she turned away, continuing to water the admittedly barren looking trees.
“Well, I’m not an apple farmer by any means, but it does seem odd to be watering these charred stumps. I think they’ve about had it.” Applejack dropped the watering can as she realized that Silver was, in fact, no hallucination but himself in the flesh. In the suit, rather, since he was still insisting on covering the good majority of his body with those infuriatingly snappy clothes. More importantly, however, whatever was in the cask was real, too.
“What’s in the cask?” Silver was a little taken aback by her forward approach, and she shook her head a few times before trying again. “Wasn’t tryin’ to be rude. Ahm terribly thirsty, ok?”
“That works just fine for me, I was hoping I could get your opinion on this batch. And, if you’d allow me the honor, I’d like to try the Apple family cider that I heard you swear by three nights ago.”
“If you’re tryin’ t’ use alcohol to butter me up, it won’t work.”
What the hay was with this mare’s suspicions of me? Applejack resisted the urge to recoil as the he dropped the barrel to the ground, his normally cheerful countenance absent, being quickly exchanged for controlled anger. “Using alcohol to manipulate others is something I despise more than anything, and I’d thank you not to accuse me of such a disgusting act.” Applejack couldn’t meet his gaze, in part because she knew she had no right to suspect such a thing. She also could quite clearly see that his anger was real, and thus his answer was true.
“Ahm... ahm sorry, that was wrong of me t’ say.” Silver nodded, averting his gaze and remaining silent as the apology unsuccessfully attempted to placate the tempests of frustration that were whipped into a frenzy by the mare’s callous remark. As much as she may distrust the stallion standing in front of her, she didn’t mean to hurt him the way she had. Cramming her apprehension into the dark corner it crawled from, she hoisted the barrel of cider onto her back and stood in front of Silver. “What ah said wasn’t fair t’ you, an’ ah want to make it up to you. Come on, let’s have a drink an’ calm down, though I will be fair and warn you: if you’re lookin’ to challenge the taste of Apple family cider, you’d best be prepared t’ lose.”
“Whatever you say, sweetheart.” Applejack cringed at the added emphasis on the name, but ignored it, knowing she was deserving of a little punishment herself. Big Macintosh watched them go, nodding to Silver before returning back to watering. The silence was about as comfortable as a muddy blanket on a rainy day, and Applejack heaved a small sigh of relief as the first sign of the Zap Apple harvest started, drawing Silver’s attention as the sky overhead was suddenly filled with clouds. “What they hay is this?” The stallion steeled his nerves, noting that Applejack looked entirely unconcerned as a myriad of lightning bolts rained down from the sky, striking the trees and causing soft, red leaves to spring from the branches.
“You leave yer mouth open like that an’ somethin’ might fly in.”
“What exactly am I looking at right now?”
“That, Silver, is the first sign of the Zap Apple harvest.”
“Zap Apple? What in Equestria is a Zap Apple? I’ve never heard of it.”
“That’s ‘cause this is the only farm in Equestria that grows ‘em. Apple family specialty, they’re magic apples. They’re rainbow colored through an’ through. We use ‘em to make Zap Apple Jam, which provides enough bits to make it through to the autumn harvest.”
“Magic apples...” This could be huge. While he had dabbled in making many types of alcoholic beverages, cider was the one that came most easily, so the idea of using magic apples was too tantalizing to resist. “Would it be possible for me to purchase some of said Zap Apples?”
“Ah’ll talk t’ the family. We normally use every last one that we harvest, since the Zap Apples go bad after a single day on the trees.” Leading Silver around the house and into the apple cellar, she grabbed two mugs from the cupboard and set Silver’s cask down. “Ok, whose cider first?”
“Best for last, I’ve heard it said. Let’s start with mine.” Ugh, there’s that silver tongue o’ his that’s supposed t’ be so charming.
“Unlucky fer you, ahm immune to yer flattery.” Silver continued to smile while she filled the two mugs, handing one to him and waiting until he took a deep draft. Even after the trip, it was still cool from the cellar, and the taste was hardly comparable to the hastily made cider he had been forced to serve. He brought the mug to his lips once more, this time to hide his amusement at the amazement in Applejack’s eyes as she stared at the drink in disbelief. “It’s... it’s decent.”
“High praise from a scrutinizing mare, such as yourself.” Now stop that, it’s startin’ t’ work, an’ ah haven’t had enough to blame it on the alcohol. In an attempt to stall, she chugged the rest of the cider with gusto, following up with a contented sigh and resisting the urge to go back for seconds.
“Ahll right now, are you ready fer some real cider?” She allowed a small grin to play at the corners of her mouth as she accepted the now empty mug that was being eagerly offered to her. Selecting the large cask that she and Big Macintosh had gotten into the day before the tavern had opened, she filled both mugs and sat watching as Silver examined the color and clarity of the liquor. The smell alone was enough to indicate the victor in the competition.
“I will say this now, before this masterpiece graces my tongue; this is some of the finest cider I’ve ever seen produced, magically or otherwise. You should feel proud, Applejack. I could stand to learn a thing or two from you.” With that, he took an appreciative drink, savoring the flavor before swallowing. “I stand corrected, I could stand to study under you as a student. This is fine alcohol.” He had simply been speaking his mind, but Applejack had a very different interpretation of his words. Silver wouldn’t have noticed her visibly blushing had she not been shifting from hoof to hoof, unable to resist the effects his words were having with her emotions. Unfortunately for him, his mind became muddled due to the rather becoming shade of pink that was slowly growing on the mare’s cheeks. They looked soft. Wait, what the what? Where did that come from?
“Ah told you ah’d win.” Oh, come on, Applejack. Would a simple “Thank you” be so ‘ard? It shouldn’t be, so come on. “Uh, what ah mean is, well...” Thank... you.
“You don’t compromise.”
“Ah beg yer pardon?”
“Even this cask that I brought today has been imbued with magic to accelerate fermentation. I wager you do nothing of the sort, letting nature run its course and being patient for the outcome.”
“That’s right, the Apple family never prioritizes quantity over quality.”
“I only have a few extremely large casks which are not imbued with any kind of magic. The only reason I use these or my magic to outright ferment anything is so I actually have a product to sell until the good stuff is finally ready. I suppose," he stopped, giving a rueful chuckle, “that it was quite prideful of me to hope that my rushed product could compare.” An’ now ah’ve gone an’ made him feel bad. An’ ponies think Cerulean had trouble talkin’...
“Don’t be too hard on yerself, you have t’ make ends meet somehow. At least you know the difference, unlike someponies,” she muttered, recalling the fiasco with those charlatan unicorns the last cider season.
“Thank you for indulging my request, Applejack. I must be going but, if I may, one more cup?”
“Sure thing, sugarcube.”