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.