Daybreak. Despite how early it was, Applejack was already up in time to see Celestia's sun make its morning climb into the sky. She knew she should have gotten as much rest as possible, but it was difficult to sleep when you had such an adventure planned out ahead of you. The mare had already made her way downstairs and out the door, frowning as the grass crunched beneath her - a frost this early in the year was not a good sign, and certainly didn't bode well for the trip she and Twilight would be taking. At the very least, the applebucking season was essentially done. Just a few rows remained, meaning Big Macintosh and Apple Bloom would have a fairly easy time running the farm in her absence.
"Good morning, Applejack!"
Applejack cried out and defensively leaped backwards, bumping into the side of the house and sending her flat on her face. Her hat had slipped down over her face, and for the life of her, she couldn't see who had shown up - she knew it was a mare, but nothing beyond that. A lavender hoof pushed the hat up, and she couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at who did it. "Twilight? What are ya doin' up this early? I always figured ya to be the kinda gal that slept in."
"Who do I look like, Rainbow Dash?" Twilight allowed herself a giggle before helping her friend to her hooves. "Sorry for scaring you, AJ. I knew you got up awful early though, and I didn't want to keep you waiting. You don't mind or anything, right?"
"What? Naw, it's quite alright, sugarcube. Ya had breakfast yet?"
There was a low growl, followed by a rather embarrassed looking Twilight Sparkle. "Er... no. I suppose I forgot to eat before I left."
"C'mon in, Twi - yer jus' in time." Applejack smiled and lead her friend into her home, and the smell of cooking eggs already wafted through the house. Though they were all close friends, it was rare for Twilight to actually enter any of her friends houses - rather, it was most often the other way around. Thankfully, it didn't take long for breakfast to finish either, and the two friends hurriedly ate, discussing their plans over eggs and daffodils, with a glass of cold milk to drink.
"Okay, so based upon what I've read and my own calculations, we'll have to cross this river here, and then make our way through this forest. The tree is somewhere on the other side of all that."
"Somewhere? We're gonna need somethin' better than 'somewhere', Twilight. Don' want us walkin' in circles or nothin'. An' is that forest anythin' like the Everfree Forest?"
The lavender mare sighed and shook her head. "No idea. It's not close enough to the Everfree Forest to really be connected to it, but nopony knows much about it either. Just be prepared for anything."
"Alright, an' what about that river?" Applejack took another bite out of her eggs, quickly chewing and swallowing before speaking further. "There better be some way to cross that darn thing."
"There is. Looks like there's a bridge over it." She squinted at a map she had drawn out herself. "Though... I don't know what kind of bridge it is. It might be a stone bridge, or just a rope bridge."
The two mares finished off the rest of their breakfast and finished packing their saddlebags - both carried a week's worth of supplies, more than enough to last them on their trip. Apple Bloom was still fast asleep, and so only Big Macintosh was there to see them off on their journey.
"Now Miss Twilight, ya gotta promise me yer gonna bring back mah sis in one piece. Got it?" The stallion spat on his hoof and held it out - Twilight had seen this same behavior between Applejack and Rainbow Dash, and though her books spoke of all the germs transferred during such an activity, she was willing to let it slide just this once. The mare spat on her own hoof and firmly pressed it against Big Macintosh's. "Got it. Don't worry, Big Macintosh, we'll be safe."
"I know ya'll will be. An' AJ?" He walked up to his sister and gave her a brief nuzzle. "Stay safe out there. I know both of ya'll are gonna be jus' fine, but don' do anythin' stupid. Ya won' have me ta rescue ya."
"Quit yer worryin', Big Mac. There's nothin' me and Twilight can't do together." Applejack offered her brother a warm smile - it would have to suffice. With their goodbyes said and done, the two departed for the tree, slowly making their way for the horizon until they had disappeared from view entirely.
They knew their destination. Getting to it would be something else entirely.
"So, Twi... how come none of th' other girls came with us?"
They had been walking for quite a while now, and if she truly had to guess, Applejack would have put the time at past noon or early afternoon. She had wanted to race off at first, but was quickly reminded of the lesson Twilight Sparkle had learned from her books when they had competed in the Running of the Leaves - pacing was key. The only thing the two of them did seem to know was that Ponyville was long gone, and it was just them and the wilderness.
"Well, Rarity had several commissions she had to take care of, and Fluttershy had to nurse some birds back to health. Pinkie Pie said she had to house-sit for Mr. and Mrs. Cake. Oh, and Rainbow got called back to Cloudsdale. Something about a 'weather team evaluation'. So that leaves... us."
"Dang. And yer sure the library is gonna be jus' fine with ya gone?"
"Positive!" At the mention of that, Twilight quickly began to think of worst-case scenarios, almost all of them outlandish: most involved the absolute destruction of the library, or the loss of several important books. One even involved flooding, though she wasn't sure how that would even work. She quickly dismissed it all from her mind, laughing nervously as she walked along. "Ah... yeah. It'll be fine, I guess."
"C'mon, Twi. Time fer lunch." The two ponies took shelter under the shade of a tree and unpacked their own separate lunches - a daffodil sandwich and water for Twilight, and not surprisingly, some apples and water for Applejack. Her friend's choice in foods managed to evoke a laugh from the lavender unicorn, but she was too busy looking over her self-made map to see the stern glare that Applejack had sent her way.
"Let's see... based upon the current position of the sun in comparison to where it was when we left with Sweet Apple Acres, in addition to..." Twilight steadily mumbled to herself as she worked out where they were, and Applejack could do nothing but sit and watch in silence as she finished her lunch. Even after she had finished, her friend wasn't finished with her ramblings - finally, the orange mare simply had to ask.
"So uh... Twilight, where th' heck are we?"
The lavender unicorn bolted up from the map and blinked at Applejack before catching up on things. "Oh! Well, if my calculations are right, we're near that river I pointed out earlier. Still no idea what kind of bridge there is, though - it's just... a bridge. That's all I know about it."
Applejack had already packed her things back up and was in the process of hefting her saddlebags onto her back. "Jus' how close are we?"
"A couple of miles, give or take. It's not too far." Twilight carefully rolled the map up and placed it within her bags, sliding them on and standing up. Lunch had been faster than she had anticipated, but they were making good time - no sense in slowing their pace now. The two of them departed from underneath the tree, making their way for their destination once more.
Neither of them knew what lay ahead, but they had each other. They were ready.
Both Twilight Sparkle and Applejack found themselves staring with mouths agape. They had both expected a wide, meandering river - what they had gotten were violent and roaring rapids, and the only way across was a rickety-looking rope bridge. Applejack paced back and forth at the bridge entrance, and Twilight tapped her chin in thought. It certainly didn't look safe, and neither one was incredibly eager to attempt a crossing, but it was their only option.
"There's got to be some sort of regulation against this."
Applejack looked up, chuckling as she watched her friend nervously poke the rope that made up much of the bridge. "Well sugarcube, I don' see any other way of gettin' across. We've come this far already - there's no turnin' back, if you ask me."
"Yeah, I know..." Twilight sighed and hung her head. "I'm just really not looking forward to doing this."
"Just a bit."
"S'okay, Twi. I'll go firs' if yer still nervous about it, jus' so ya know it's safe." The orange mare smiled at Twilight, and she seemingly brightened up a bit at that.
"You'd do that for me?"
Applejack nodded and slowly approached the bridge, taking the first step upon the wooden planks, and then another, and then another. It was holding for the time being, and she found herself somewhat relieved, but by no means was she near the other side. The mare tried everything in her power to keep from looking down at the raging waters below, and it took everything she had to press onwards. Even as the bridge gently swayed in the breeze, Applejack found herself quickening her pace just to reach the safety of the other cliff edge - solid ground was better than no ground. She trotted across the remainder of the bridge, smiling triumphantly as she felt her hooves upon the earth once more. "Alright, Twi! It's safe! C'mon over!"
"O-okay. Right. Here goes nothing." Twilight let out a tiny 'eep' of fear as she begrudgingly made her way across the bridge, and the gentle swaying made her feel no better. Halfway across, she made the mistake of looking down, and instantly froze upon seeing the rapids below. Try as she might, she couldn't force herself to move or look away.
"Twilight? What's wrong, sugarcube? Yer almost here!"
The lavender unicorn nervously muttered to herself as she slowly made her way once more, her legs shaking with every step. She tried to put on a brave face, but she was completely and utterly terrified, and Twilight let out a yelp as she felt herself drop. Frantic, she rapidly glanced about, crying out in terror as she saw the reason for the sudden drop - the rope was beginning to tear and fray. Applejack saw it too, and desperately begged her friend to hurry to safety, Twilight's only response being the sound of her hooves upon the wooden planks as she scurried to the other side.
And then the world dropped out from beneath her.
Applejack gasped as she watched Twilight plummet into the rapids, and her instincts kicked into overdrive as her body began to feed on pure adrenaline. Acting quickly, the orange mare tossed her saddlebags off her back and grabbed a length of rope, fashioning it into a lasso and running to the edge of the cliff. She scanned the churning waters, her heart beating a mile a minute as she frantically searched for any sign of her friend. Dread steadily began to overcome her as she saw no sign at all of the mare, but then she saw it - that familiar purple color. Racing alongside Twilight, Applejack threw the lasso towards her, quickly yanking on it once it wrapped around her. She grimaced and grunted as she struggled against the river itself, her muscles aching and burning as she slowly pulled Twilight Sparkle to safety. Running to the shore, the orange mare pulled Twilight further in-land, and Applejack fell to the ground, panting as she caught her breath. "That... that was a close one, Twi... right? Right, Twi?"
Something was wrong. She felt it somewhere within her, that something was terribly wrong. Hopping to her hooves, Applejack ran over to Twilight and placed an ear to her chest - no breathing. "No. No no no. Ya ain't dyin' on me, Twilight. I won' let ya!" She rolled her friend onto her back and placed her hooves on Twilight's chest, gently pushing downwards multiple times, searching for any sign of life within the young unicorn. Still nothing. Applejack shook her head and forced her friend's mouth open, pressing her mouth against Twilight's as she attempted to breath that spark of life back into her. One breath, then two. Still nothing.
Already, she felt tears well up within her eyes as she continued to work to save her friend's life. "Don' leave me, Twilight! Please don' leave me!" More chest compressions, and then more mouth-to-mouth. Still nothing. Applejack was openly sobbing at this point, her emotions running rampant as she poured her heart and soul into her attempts. "Fight, damnit! C'mon Twi, fight it!" Tears ran down her cheeks as she frantically pressed down on Twilight's chest as she fought against the fates themselves, seeking to bring one of her closest friends back from the brink of death - and then it happened. Twilight Sparkle coughed and gagged, throwing up the water she had inhaled as she found herself brought back to the land of the living, and a tearful Applejack quickly supported her with a leg under her head. With the water gone from her lungs, the lavender mare gasped for air, grimacing as she briefly struggled to breathe. At last, she slowly opened her eyes, confused as she found herself staring at Applejack.
Applejack couldn't help but laugh, tears still streaming from her eyes as she nodded. "Yeah... yeah, it's me, Twilight."
"What... what happened?"
"Well... the bridge gave out and I had ta pluck ya from the water. Ya almost drowned." There was still a hint of fear in her voice, but she soon continued. "I almos' lost ya."
"You saved me, then." Applejack slowly nodded, a smile on her face, and Twilight reached up to give her a hug. For a while, they stayed that way - two friends in an embrace, neither wanting to break away. Eventually, Twilight Sparkle let go and lay back down, rolling over onto her side. "Can we just... take a break, AJ? I think I need a nap after all that..."
"Well 'course we can, sugarcube. I ain't surprised that yer tired after ya fought death itself."
"I didn't fight it." Twilight smiled and closed her eyes, slowly falling asleep. "You did."
Applejack smiled back and pulled a blanket from her saddlebags, covering up her friend. She wiped whatever tears were still in her eyes and snuffled as she dragged Twilight's saddlebags over to where she lay. Most everything was soaked, and some things were missing entirely, but she still had Twilight. They still had each other. The orange mare groaned as she took a seat beside her sleeping companion - now that the adrenaline rush was gone, her body ached from all the effort she had gone through. She rolled over onto her side, leaning against Twilight Sparkle as she felt her own eyes grow heavy. Sure, they had managed to fight the cold grasp of death and emerge victorious, but for now?
It was nap time.