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This tale is very important to me.
Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria, there were two regal sisters who ruled together and created harmony for all the land.
To do this, the eldest used her unicorn powers to raise the sun at dawn. The younger brought out the moon to begin the night.
Thus, the two sisters maintained balance for their kingdom and their subjects: all the different types of ponies.
But as time went on, the younger sister became resentful.
The ponies relished and played in the day her elder sister brought forth, but shunned and slept through her beautiful night.
One fateful day, the younger unicorn refused to lower the moon to make way for the dawn.
The elder sister tried to reason with her, but the bitterness in the young one's heart had transformed her into a wicked mare of darkness: Nightmare Moon.
She vowed that she would shroud the land in eternal night.
Reluctantly, the elder sister harnessed the most powerful magic known to ponydom: The Elements of Harmony!
Using the magic of The Elements of Harmony, she defeated her younger sister and banished her permanently in the moon.
"That story gets duller every time I hear it, Twilight," the baby dragon interrupted his mount.
"I thought it was your favorite, Spike," the unicorn mare answered back.
"Yeah, when I was five," the baby dragon named Spike laughed as he took in the country air. They were still a day or two away from Canterlot, their home town, and the road before them hadn’t gotten any smoother. "Don’t you know any cooler stories?"
"Cooler stories?" the unicorn named Twilight inquired. "Like?"
"How about one about an awesome hero that fights angels?" Spike laughed.
"An angel," Twilight started, "right. Those only exist in your comics."
"Yeah, and?" Spike retorted. "Heroes also yell out their cool attacks. Dragon Fang!" he yelled out while swinging an invisible sword, nearly toppling over and looking ridiculous.
"That’s not how real fights work," Twilight pointed out matter-of-factly. She tried not to sound so smug about it, but couldn’t help it when Spike was acting so ridiculous. "If I went around shouting every spell I cast, I would look silly."
"Or cool," Spike replied, regaining his balance.
"Those comics are rotting your mind."
"What else was I supposed to do? While you were attending some boring lecture all I could do was pick a corner in the local library and read every comic they had," Spike complained.
"You could have attended the lecture on harmotech application with me," Twilight flashed Spike a cheesy grin, knowing his answer right away.
"Blech, no thanks." Spike stuck out his tongue.
Hours passed as the two continued along the worn path. The sun moved along in the sky overhead, continuing along its natural path impeded by no force. Eventually, they were stopped by a small cloaked being that stood on two legs. The tattered brown cloak over the being obscured every part of its body. "Spare bits?" the being asked Twilight with a high pitched voice.
"If we had any," Spike answered, mustering every dead-pan bone in his body, "we wouldn’t be hoofing it."
Twilight returned a nasty look back to Spike before turning back to the figure. "Sorry, but we barely have enough bits for ourselves." Her pack held a little under thirty bits, a sparse amount.
"That’s a shame," the cloaked being replied before throwing it off. A two-legged dog with claws and clad in pots and pans for armor stood before Twilight. A kobold. "Han’sel! Gre’tel!" it called out. Behind Twilight and Spike, two more kobolds popped out of a bush bringing the total up to three. Each of them drew a rusty butcher knife and pointed the impromptu weapon at the mare. Attack!
Twilight stepped back to avoid the closest kobold’s attack. It lunged at her, swinging the rusty cleaver madly. "Spike!" Twilight called to the baby dragon. "Jump!"
Spike launched himself high into the air from Twilight’s back. Wielding a steel short-bow, Spike nocked an arrow and aimed it at the two upcoming kobolds called Han’sel and Gre’tel. Spike released the arrow. "Burning Lotus!" he called out, firing an arrow that ignited with flame mid-flight. The arrow struck one of the kobolds that had appeared behind Twilight. Upon contact, the arrow exploded and knocked the kobold off her feet sending her spiraling into the ground, the impact with the ground making her howl with pain.
The other two paid no attention to their friend’s cries of pain as they surrounded Twilight. They stared at her, hungry for her purse and her life. Twilight eyed the kobold in front of her and began to charge her spell, her horn giving off a bright magenta glow. She rose herself on her hind-legs and stomped the ground with her forelegs, the magic in her horn coursing through her body and flowing into her hooves. The earth below the kobold behind Twilight erupted below him, the rocks magically flinging themselves into the sky and launching the kobold with them.
"You pay for that!" the kobold in front of Twilight cried.
"Don’t think so," Twilight grunted as she raised herself on her fore-hooves and bucked the falling kobold behind her. "Spike, now!"
"What!" the kobold cried before Spike landed square on his back, causing him to collapse. The battle had been won and in record time.
"Oh yeah! We did it! We win!" Spike cried out victoriously.
"Let go let go!" The kobold under Spike struggled to get out from Spike.
"And let you stick around to attack other ponies? No way."
"Let them go, Spike," Twilight interjected, "there isn’t a police station for miles and we need to get going. I’m sure they learned their lesson."
"Yes! Lesson learned! Lesson learned!" the kobold pleaded, devoid of any notion of pride.
"You sure, Twilight?" Spike asked.
"We can’t bring them with us. So let’s just go. Hop on." Twilight motioned back to the long road ahead.
"All right." Spike gave up on attempting persuading Twilight and jumped back on her.
"Kobold’s never forget kindness! Bye bye, stranger pony," the kobold that was once under Spike called out.
"Bye Bye!" Han’sel and Gre’tel called out, each tending to their wounds.
"What a bunch of screwballs," Spike commented when they were out of earshot. "They try to kill us, we beat them up and then they say good bye to us as if we were all friends."
"Kobolds tend to have a very different view of morality," Twilight responded.
"More book knowledge?"
"Yep. By the way, what was up with that ‘burning lotus’?" Twilight cocked an invisible eyebrow.
"I just thought of it! A really cool attack name!" Spike energetically replied.
"Didn’t we just go over how ridiculous that is?"
"Yeah, but it was ridiculously cool instead." Spike ignored Twilight’s quizzical stare.
Spike took in the scenery. With the kobold attack behind them the countryside began to feel peaceful again. The look and smell of the country was everywhere: a blue sky above, green grass to the left and right, and a long trotted dirt road under them. He would have fallen asleep, but he promised Twilight he would stay awake to keep her company on the long lonely road. "We could have hired a carriage to take us back to Canterlot if you didn’t ‘accidentally’ buy all those books you know," he chided.
"We’re not in Oatland very often, and these are important essays on principles of harmotech development and application," Twilight replied, smiling and ignoring Spike’s tone.
"And this steam tech one is for?"
"It looked interesting." Twilight had a hard time resisting a good book. "My personal library could use some variety."
"Well, all right, so long as I don’t have to walk. It’s still kinda dull out here though. Well when we’re not getting attacked by anything."
"Well that’s why I told you the story, which you rudely interrupted."
"The same one you’ve told me over and over again?" Spike complained.
"It’s a personal favorite," Twilight laughed. Since the day when she hatched Spike with her magic she told him that exact bed time story at least once a week when he was younger. It’s the bedtime story Twilight received from her parents in her foal-hood. She passed it on to Spike like a tradition, even if it annoyed him.
Spike ignored her and focused on his growing boredom and hunger. He reached for his pack and dug around hoping to chance upon any stray gems he might have forgotten to eat the day before. His search was fruitless."Shoot. Out of snacks," he cursed, "you have anything, Twilight?"
"Check my bags. I might still have some cookies left from the bakery." Spike hopped up and dove into her bags, knocking around various delicate trinkets and valuables. Moments later he emerged from the bag, empty handed. "Nothing?" Twilight replied, a little surprised. "I guess we better stop somewhere to eat." Twilight felt her own stomach begging for a meal. She still had a long way to go before reaching Canterlot. "Check the map, Spike."
Spike dove right back into Twilight’s side mounted bags and pulled out a map of Equestria. "Town of Apple Acres is just a few miles north of here," he informed her, "it’s kind of out of the way though, but it does have apples in its name."
"Apple fritters sound nice."
"Keep eating them and you’ll get chubby," he chided.
"Excuse me, who’s doing all the walking here? And carrying your lazy tail?" Twilight retorted, annoyed.
"I’m a baby dragon," Spike replied back with a cheesy grin, "I have room to grow. I also do all the house chores while you spend all day studying at your desk. This is welcome exercise for your usual routine." Twilight couldn’t argue with the truth. She sighed and changed directions at the next crossroad.
Twilight: Huff-puff huff-puff
Spike: I still have some water in my canteen.
Spike: No problem. I wish I could help more but my stubby legs would get me left behind in a flash if I went on foot.
Twilight: It’s all right, Spike. You’ll be big one day.
Twilight: Big enough to carry me anywhere in the world.
Spike: And where in the world do you need to go?
Twilight: You know, I never really thought about it, but how many can say they’ve ridden a dragon. It’s like something out of a fairy tale.
Spike: I guess it does sound cool, that is if you're not the one being ridden.
Twilight: And what are you doing now?
Spike: Taking advantage of my caretaker's responsibilities.
Twilight: What am I going to do with you...
The road eventually turned to Apple Acres, a town under the control of Canterlot. For most of Canterlot’s citizens Apple Acres is its chief source of food. The town itself resembled a colonial settlement with most of the buildings made of wood. Any establishment found here hung a sign with a picture of their products or service offered rather than a shop name, a sign of the mass illiteracy. Through the stench of moldy wood that hung in the air Twilight could smell apples. Sweet delicious apples. She turned her head to a building that hung a sign with an apple on it. "I think we can get food here," She told Spike.
"You think," he chided.
The apple-signed building opened into a worn down bar. At far side of the room two ponies played pool with an incomplete set of billiard balls; the lack of an eight ball didn’t stop two stallions from playing anyway. A large dirt stained window did little for the lighting and atmosphere and it gave everything inside a dirty, dusty look. Still, the smell of baked apple goods overpowered the bleak setting and Twilight and Spike’s stomach. At the main counter of the bar stood an old earth-pony mare. Her mane was tied back in a bun and white from age and her green coat lacked any youthful luster. Her tired, sunken eyes turned to Twilight. "Wha’cha havin’?" she grumbled, tiredly.
Twilight approached the bar and sat on one of the stools. It immediately gave way under her, bringing her down to the floor with a loud thud. Spike and the old mare both got a good chuckle out of the universe's cruel joke. The old green mare got out from behind the counter to help Twilight up. "Sorry ‘bout that. We’ve been needin’ some new stools for awhile now." Twilight’s slip-up seemed to bring up the old mare’s spirit. "Name’s Granny Smith. Yeah, Granny is my name since I was a filly. Made it weird to talk to my real granny," She joked. "So, you gonna order or rub your haunches in public for the fellas?" she joked dryly.
Twilight’s face turned red as she turned to the two stallions in the back. One of them gave her a wink. Twilight tried to compose herself as she turned back to Granny Smith. "Two apple fritters for me, thanks."
"I’ll take a slice of apple pie if you have any," Spike added, choosing to deposit himself on the counter rather than risk sitting on a broken stool.
Granny Smith nodded and turned to the kitchen. "Gimme ten minutes to warm it all up. Can’t afford to hire a separate chef now-a-days," she barely mumbled, complaining to no one in particular. Ten minutes later, Granny Smith returned with the food and two cups of water. "Eat up."
Spike wasted no time devouring his pie with draconian ferocity. Twilight occasionally wondered if Spike liked to pretend if he was an actual big, scary, ferocious dragon when he ate food like that. Occasionally it was cute. Sometimes it was unnerving. It was always messy though. She turned to her own fritters and used her magic to lift the food to her mouth, careful not to make a mess while digging in. She took a bite. "These are great!" she commented to Granny Smith.
"They better be," Granny Smith laughed, "cooking’s all I’m good for now-a-days. My hip ain’t what it used to be." Granny Smith accepted the compliment with some dry humor. "Don’t get many folks around here. Let alone unicorns and... What’s this overgrown newt suppose to be anyway?"
"I’m not a newt! I’m a dragon!" Spike replied feeling offend.
"Dragon? Thought those went extinct years ago," Granny Smith mumbled.
"Well obviously we haven’t... I think," Spike replied.
"So where are the two of you off to? A traveling unicorn and her pet overgrown newt."
"We’re on our way back to Canterlot," Twilight replied. "We couldn’t afford a carriage-"
"Because someone bought too many books," Spike interjected.
"And we stopped here for some food." Twilight ignored Spike much to Granny Smith’s humor.
"Well then how are you going to pay this here bill?" Granny Smith slipped a small sheet of paper over the table; a receipt for the meal. Twenty bits.
"Twenty bits!" Twilight gasped.
"Twenty bits!" Spike exclaimed.
"Twenty bits!" The two stallions in the back laughed.
"Twenty bits." Granny Smith grinned. "I need to pay off that stool you broke somehow."
Twilight instantly lost any compassion she had for the old mare. Grudgingly, she took out the twenty bits from her bit-purse and placed them on the table. Granny Smith took the bits and hung a key on Twilight’s horn. "What’s this for?" Twilight asked, unamused.
"I figure you need a place to stay if you're down on your bits and headin’ for Canterlot. Something a lot of us here know quite well is what it’s like to be bitless, so go find a pony called Applejack in the apple orchards and tell her you’re roomin’ with us tonight and that Granny Smith sent you." Granny Smith smiled.
"Oh! Thank you ma’am. I don’t know what to say," Twilight said, feeling warmed by the generosity of the old mare. Maybe she wasn’t all bad, she thought.
"You paid for two new stools, so it's the least I can do." And that warm feeling left instantly. The two stallions in the back were bent over the table laughing their tails off. "You two shut up! Drivin’ away business," Granny Smith yelled to the two in the back.
"Business? Ain’t no one for miles, granny!" one of them yelled back.
"I ain’t your granny!" Granny Smith spat back. "Call me that again and I’ll have to whip you whippersnappers into shape." Twilight decided to leave the scene before she got involved. She had heard country ponies tended to solve disagreements with their hooves. She turned to the doorway, using her magic to grab Spike, and made her way towards the door. Once outside, one of the stallions that were playing pool went flying through the window next to her with a broken pool cue following after. "You owe me a window, you hear!" Granny Smith yelled out.
Twilight looked around town, trying to find the apple orchards. As it turned out it wasn’t far off from the bar she just dined at which was probably an intentional design choice. The orchard seemed to stretch pretty far. Twilight looked farther out, deeper into the orchard. The farther the land went the sicker the trees looked. The sound of hooves hitting wood caught her attention. Turning her head towards the sound, Twilight found an orange pony dressed in an unzipped cow girl jacket with a hat to match it. The cow girl pony gave the apple tree next to her a hard buck, the shock of which caused the apples to fall out of the tree and into buckets located at the trunk. Twilight called out to her. "Are you Applejack?"
The orange pony turned to face Twilight. Her face was decorated with freckles, solidify her country girl status.
"Who’s askin’?" she spat back to Twilight.
Twilight jumped at the sudden reply. "I was at the bar. The owner, Granny Smith, gave me this key and said to find Applejack."
"Ah, Granny Smith sent you." The mare lightened up a little. "I’m Applejack. Your name is?"
"Twilight," Twilight responded.
"And I’m Spike," Spike added somewhat annoyed he’s been left out of the conversation for so long.
"Twi’ and Spike," Applejack repeated, "gotcha. So what did you do to get that key?" Applejack asked.
"Broke a stool and was billed twenty bits," Twilight mumbled still feeling cheated. Applejack responded with a light-hearted chuckle.
"Yeah, that's Granny Smith all right. No one’s paid a meal at proper price in ages. Everything is so broke she has to charge customers to pay for it. Still, she’s my granny. My actual granny that is. Granny Granny Smith I use to call her until-" Applejack looked back and noticed the disinterest in her guests faces. "Never mind. You want me to show you to your room now, right?"
"That would be nice. I could use the load off," Twilight admitted. Applejack turned to show her the way to a barn just a few blocks away. Twilight was hoping she wouldn’t actually be sleeping in the barn and that some separate main house was behind it. Her fears we’re both debunked and confirmed at the same time. The barn had a small side attachment.
"Right in here." Applejack led her. "You gonna take that key off your horn any time soon. You look mighty silly like that." Twilight had forgotten about the key Granny Smith hung. Using her magic she levitated the key off her horn and placed it in her bags. "Fancy unicorn trick you got going there." Applejack opened the door into the side building. "Hey Apple Bloom. We got guests!"
A loud crashing sound was heard from within. A small filly with apple red mane and a yellow coat launched herself out of the kitchen to meet the guests. Her head was adorned with a red bow, and a pot for a helmet. "Guests! Where?"
Soon after her arrival a frizzy, red-maned filly appeared by the first one’s side. Her almond-white coated face was obscured by a pair of purple framed glasses and a colander helmet. "Gusths! Ooh! I sthould make sthome treatsth!" she said with a heavy lisp. She disappeared back into the kitchen, intent on making treats.
"Anyway," Applejack started, "Apple Bloom, this here is Twilight and Spike. Granny scammed ‘em out of some bits so we’re putting her up tonight."
"Hi!" Apple Bloom turned to the guests. "I’m Apple Bloom, and my friend making you candy is Twist. Welcome to the apple family Apple Acres Inn. I’ll be your hostess. I’ll take your bags to your room and put a mint on the pillow." With superfluous, youthful exuberance Apple Bloom had snatched Twilight’s and Spike’s bags and ran off to the back of the house. Twilight and Spike were left stupefied by the encounter.
"Sorry about that. Bless her lil’ heart she’s just tryin’ to find her special talent and earn her cutie mark. So whenever guests show she tries inn keeping and hosting."
"And how many guests have you had?" Twilight spat out in a dead-pan tone.
"You’re the third one in two months," Applejack responded.
"Not a lot of visitors?" Spike asked.
"Yeah. Most ponies now-a-days take carriages or those fancy harmotech air things to go around or just don’t move at all. Puts a dent on the town’s economy," Applejack spat.
"That sucks," Spike sympathized with the country mare, "but don’t you guys trade with Canterlot a lot?"
"Yeah, but money is gettin’ tighter there too. Ponies just can’t afford as much apples as before." Applejack’s tone was getting lower, the subject obviously bringing her mood down. "I’ll just take you to your rooms now," She said turning into the hallway and leading Twilight and Spike to their room for the night.
Twilight didn’t quite expect such a nice room. The sight of the barn set her expectations to a pile of hay for a bed, but instead she received a modestly furnished room with a bed sized for, one might expect, a legendary winged unicorn. Her bags lay in the corner and Apple Bloom had fallen asleep right on the bed with the mint in her mouth. "Oh, Apple Bloom." Applejack picked up the little filly with her mouth and gently placed her on her back.
"This bed is so nice. Why place it in a guest room?" Twilight asked.
"We can’t move the dang thing 'cause it’s too big," Applejack laughed. "Use to belong to my parents. Use to anyway, but we converted it into a guest room when bits started gettin’ tight. So enjoy," she said turning to the door way. "Please don’t think ill of Granny Smith. She means well, but times are tough for us here." Applejack left the room with the sleeping filly. Twilight and Spike were now alone in the room.
Twilight turned to the bed. She wasn’t ready to sleep yet despite all the walking. She turned to her bags and started levitating out some books to study. "Back to the books?" Spike asked.
"Yeah. These things don’t read themselves," Twilight responded.
"How about we look around town. We’re almost never out of Canterlot so let’s take the chance to do some sight-seeing."
"It’s a dusty little town with a ton of apples, Spike. Nothing to really see."
"C’mon. Just for an hour. Please."
Twilight sighed and gave up. "Fine. I spoil you, you know."
"I know, so let’s go!" Spike said, excitedly tugging on Twilight.
The door to the room opened revealing the frizzy haired friend of Apple Bloom, Twist. "I have thome cookieth for you." She smiled.
"Aw, isn’t that sweet." Twilight couldn’t control herself as she commented on the kindness of the filly.
"Sweet nothing I’m gonna have cavities for years!" Spike added shoveling cookies into his maw, prompting Twilight to grab him and drag him away.
"Thank you. Just place them on the table and I’ll eat them later." Twist happily obliged before going to wake up Apple Bloom for another game of kitchen wars.
A large crowd had begun to grow in the town square. In the center of the crowd stood a gilded wagon that exuded steam. "Looks interesting," Spike said while tugging on Twilight’s cloak. "I think it’s a magic show," he said, pointing to the sign that said ‘magic show’.
"Spike, I’m a unicorn. You see me do magic all the time," Twilight stated in her matter-of-fact tone once again.
"Yeah, but you’ve never done a magic show," Spike replied with perfect logic. Twilight just ignored the comment and scanned the town for anything else of interest. A blaring pink pony caught her eye, but her attention was further diverted to the building the pony walked into: A museum, one of her favorite establishments.
"A museum of farming tools? Sounds interesting," she commented somewhat ecstatically. "Just think about all the knowledge it must hold on the advancement of pony based tools."
"Nah, magic shows are cooler," Spike dismissed Twilight, "I think it’s starting." Spike bounced with anticipation.
With a puff of steam the wagon in the center of town slowly began to open and expand. The crowd slowly backed away to allow room for the expansion. A sign popped out of the top of the wagon reading Dark Horns Troupe Presents: The Great and Powerful Trixie!
"Dark horns? Never heard of them."
"Think they have anything to do with the Dark Wings circus troupe?"
"Don’t know. Maybe it’s one of them copy-cat deals."
All at once the light in the area was dimmed, as if someone had tried to block out the sun. Twilight looked up to see that somebody was trying to block out the sun. A cloud spell has been cast overhead. For most of the ponies here who had little interaction with unicorns or even pegasi it was a feat of gods to move clouds. Twilight saw the spell as a cheap parlor trick. It was still an impressive spell to be able to use, but she thought it could be used for much more than a smoke and mirrors gambit. She turned her attention back to the stage as a cloud of smoke erupted and then dissipated to reveal a blue-coated white-maned unicorn with a wizard’s hat and robe. Multi-colored lights erupted from the clouds and focused on the new unicorn. Admittedly, Twilight was slightly impressed by the light show. Everyone else was completely dazzled by the sudden pyrotechnics.
"Behold, simple ponies of Apple Acres!" the blue mare erupted. "I am the Great and Powerful Trixie!" A multitude of fireworks erupted from the stage to write the show-boating mare’s name in the sky. She received some stamps from the crowd, but the comment about the ponies being simple had offended many. "Yeesh. Tough crowd," Trixie muttered under her breath before composing herself. "Today, I will astound and stupefy you with feats of daring magic! Stories of wondrous valor! And acts of considerable incredibility!" she received a few more stamps now. In her mind, she was getting in the zone. "Assistant Snips!" At the call, a short stubby unicorn colt with little neck, blue fur, and a messy orange mane popped out, pushing a box with various slits in it.
"Right here for you Miss G. and P.T." The little cot piped up, depositing the box, and disappearing back into the shadows of the stage.
"Excellent." Trixie opened the box with her magic and climbed into it. "Now, assistant Snails!" A lanky colt unicorn with a muddy-orange coat and a blue-green mane had stepped out. He was pulling a tray stacked with daggers.
"All ready for you, Miss Trixie," The assistant replied with a slow drawl.
"Excellent!" Trixie replied again. "Now behold ponies of Apple Acres as my assistant here takes these daggers and thrusts them into my coffin of pain! Let the show commence!" At the command Snips started placing daggers into the box. Every time a dagger went in Trixie received an ‘ooh’ or ‘ah’. Trixie confidently smiled as she received her entertainers reward before- "OW! Snails what they hay are you doing!" she lashed out.
"Eyuh, sorry Miss Trixie. I got clumsy hooves, eh," Snails replied. The bit seemed to amuse the crowd and some even laughed at the scolding Trixie gave to Snails. Twilight began to wonder if this was more a comedy act than magic routine. In a wave of disinterest she looked around at the audience. She spotted Snips, Trixie’s first assistant, creeping around the floor taking full advantage of the blocked out light and Trixie’s attention grabbing show as he attempted to pry bits out of open pockets. No one seemed to notice as Trixie went on with her show.
"Thief!" Twilight called out, pointing at Snips. The rest of the crowd turned over to Snips.
Snips gave the crowd and incredibly weak smile. "Busted!" Snips cried.
"The act is over! Snips! Let’s go!" Trixie yelled to her assistant.
Snips bucked up and ran back to the stage as it quickly transformed back into wagon. "Hope you enjoyed the show folks. Encore tomorrow at 7:00 AM pacific time zone, but now it’s time we vamoosed!" Snips waved farewell to them all before the wagon trailed off in a puff of steam.
"Confounded unicorn thieves! Takin’ our hard earned bits!" a familiar country tone called out. It was Applejack.
"Didn’t your grandma scam us?" Spike replied.
"Hard earned scammin’, mind you."
"Seems to me like a bit of karma," Twilight added. "What goes around comes around."
"You sure you want to poke at the pony cookin’ your dinner tonight?" Applejack glared.
"Point taken," Twilight responded. "They’re gone now and I don’t think that little guy managed to take a whole lot."
"This is terrible! Traumatically terrible!" a voice cried out, the owner appearing soon after; a cream colored earth pony with a white mane. "Our museum has been positively pilfered! Our town's most priceless precious purloined by perilous pirates!" he alliterated. Twilight surmised that this pony was quite literate.
"Wait, say that again, Clockwork?" Applejack asked.
"The big fancy blade key thingy!" Clockwork cried yet again. "Those thieves must have taken it and taken off!"
"What!" Applejack exclaimed. "Well then we’re gonna have to get it back then."
"We?" Twilight said confusingly. "As in involving me?"
"Yep. You’re a unicorn. They were all unicorns. You gotta know somethin’ about how they work."
"I don’t know." Twilight shrugged. "Follow the trails of their steam wagon?"
"Well all right then. Let’s go!" Applejack grabbed Twilight’s mane in her teeth and dragged her off, following the trail of the wagon, Twilight screaming as she was pulled off.
"Oh boy, adventure!" Spike yelled out bouncing along with excitement. "Wait for me!"
Twilight: What in Equestria is a big fancy blade key thingy?
Applejack: Exactly what it says. It’s big. It’s fancy looking. You can cut things with it. It has teeth like a key. And it’s a thingy.
Twilight: Couldn’t think of proper name?
Applejack: Might have had one at some point but no one remembers.
Spike: Ooh! I bet it’s some kind of super important weapon of awesome magic!
Applejack: Things as worthless as an empty can of oats now.
Twilight: So why are we chasing after it?
Applejack: It has sentimental value to the town.
Twilight: Sentimental value?
Applejack: It’s like a symbol for us.
Twilight: And you forgot what it’s called?
Applejack: For all we know it never had a name. But we tilled soil with that thing when Apple Acres was first founded.
Twilight: Wouldn’t that make it a big fancy blade hoe thingy?
Applejack: Yeah, but the young’uns said that sounded dumb. So we went with key.
Twilight: And key thingy sounds better?
Twilight: I’m marginally having a migraine now.
Spike: Let’s go retrieve the hoe blade!
Their journey had led them into a part of the Everfree Forest expansion that bordered close to the Canterlot region. "Well, this was a bad idea," Twilight remarked, "If they went in there then they’re as good as dead." Twilight turned to leave.
"Now hold on," Applejack gabbed Twilight, "I hear tales of ponies foolhardy enough to live here and makin’ it work. Maybe them bandits we’re among those Everfree livin’ ponies," Applejack stated, "meanin’ they’re all right and they have the town treasure."
"And what will we do if we encounter anything like gremlins or even a chimera!" Twilight panicked a little at the thought of encountering a chimera of any shape.
"Oh I can handle a gremlin or two. Anythin’ else, well, we run like the ponies we are!" Applejack replied with confidence, puffing out her chest. "I can outrun near anything in here."
"That’s great Applejack..." Twilight didn’t have the same level of confidence in her own physical skill. She turned her head to the ground, hoping Applejack wouldn’t see her uneasiness.
"If we stick to the shallow parts I’m sure we’ll be fine, sugarcube." Applejack tried to cheer her up, noticing the lack of confidence in Twilight’s voice. "I dragged you here, and I’ll be bucked by a dragon before I let you die a fool death in this forest." She hoped to cheer her up.
"I can arrange that," Spike piped up.
"Oh? You know a dragon lil’guy?"
"I am one," Spike stated with pride in his voice.
"Yeah, a shrimpy one," Applejack added, laughing as Spike’s face shifted from confidence to annoyance. "Sorry, but I heard dragons were mean and terrible and vicious. Not... you."
"Give me time and I’ll be burning your crops down in no time," Spike replied, darkly.
"Oh be careful about that lil’ guy." Applejack nudged the dragon. "Us apple family ponies don’t take kindly to threats," she chided with a smile. "Now let’s go before them bandits make off with the towns big fancy blade key thingy." Applejack led the way into the forest. "I promise you, I’ll keep you safe Miss. Twi’," she winked.
Twilight found a bit of comfort in the promise. "Thanks." Twilight followed, doing her best to believe in Applejack’s promise to keep her safe. Spike followed right after her on foot, bow in hand, arrow nocked, and ready to take on anything.
The sounds of the forest did little to alleviate the frightening atmosphere. Bushes always rattled as if something was waiting within them to strike out. Twigs would break and Twilight would turn to find nothing. "It’s worse than anything I’ve ever read about," she mumbled, slightly unhinged to the point of talking to herself.
They followed the tracks from the wagon right into the tree it crashed into. It lay in a smoldering pile of junk on the floor of the forest. The occupants were nowhere to be found. "Well consarn it!" Applejack cursed. "Where the hay did they go off to?"
"That way," A soft voice answered back, the sudden answering of which had caused Twilight to jump into Applejack’s hooves. A cream yellow mare with a pink mane stepped out of the shadows. Her face was mostly obscured by a hood. A tattered and loosely fitting cloak hung from her body, covering nearly her whole body. Neither of the ponies or Spike could even see her hooves since the hem of the sleeves were so long.
"And who are you?" Applejack snapped at the new comer, causing her to jump into Twilight’s hooves. The sudden shift in weight caused Applejack to topple over and bring the two ponies down with her.
"Pony pile on Applejack!" Spike yelled as he jumped onto the pile.
"Don’t pony pile on me!" Applejack yelled out. "Is everypony here some kinda scaredy cat?"
"Sorry," The new pony replied.
"So who are you?" Applejack asked again, picking herself up and dusting her jacket.
"I’m..." If she had answered the question, no one heard it.
"You are?" Applejack asked again.
"I..." No one was sure if she even said another word.
"You are?" Twilight asked this time. The only noise that came out of the mare was a sound that lay somewhere between a squeak and a screech.
"You are?" This time Spike tried. He was answered with a quick tackle into a hug by the newcomer.
"Oh you are just so cute. Like a little pudgy overgrown lizard," the newcomer commented as she stroked spike’s scales.
"Pudgy!?" Spike cried out.
"Hah! Now who needs to go on a diet?" Twilight responded with enough indignation to call a bolt of lightning causing everyone to jump at the sudden crackle.
"Everfree weather for you," Applejack commented, "Doesn’t make a lick of sense. Just comes and goes randomly without any pegasi around." Applejack turned back to the newcomer. "So, now that you have your hooves around our pudgy little friend-"
"I am not pudgy! It’s just baby fat!" Spike defensively cried out.
"Mind telling us your name now?"
"I’m Fluttershy," the new comer finally answered.
"That’s great, Fluttershy. Now can you let go of me?" Spike asked.
"Oh, yes, of course." Fluttershy blushed as she let go of Spike, somewhat embarrassed by her behavior.
"So you saw the ponies that were in this here contraption?" Applejack asked, pointing to the broken steam wagon.
"Not really," Fluttershy answered. "I heard the crash and got so scared I ran into that bush, but based on the way the ground has been disturbed it’s obvious they went in that direction." Fluttershy once pointed deeper into the forest.
"Well I’ll be! A regular tracker pony," Applejack exclaimed. "You must have been taught by the best."
"Well, not really, just the way I was raised, really," Fluttershy replied.
"Well we need that lay of the land know how if we’re gonna track down those bandit unicorns and get back my towns big fancy blade key thingy."
"Big... fancy... what?"
"Don’t matter. Think you can help us? Pretty please? I can guarantee some apples and apple baked goods in it for you" Applejack attempted to bribe the shy mare.
"I guess that sounds nice," Fluttershy responded, tuning her head down as her hood covered even more of her face.
"Well then let’s go. Lead the way Miss ‘Shy." Applejack tried to encourage their new painfully shy party member to take lead, much to Fluttershy’s displeasure. After some shoving on Applejack’s part Fluttershy had clumsily started to lead them deep into the forest. She was somehow even quieter through it all.
Applejack: How you doin’ there? Trail gone cold?
Fluttershy: Uh, no. They seem to be... very disorganized so their path is really obvious.
Applejack: Well perfect. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself in all the hubbub. I’m Applejack. I’m an apple farmer.
Fluttershy: That’s nice.
Applejack: Yeah. It is nice.
Spike: Not one for conversation, are you.
Fluttershy: Well... I... Uh...
Spike: It’s all right. Neither is Twilight for that matter, the grouchy purple unicorn freaking out over there.
Fluttershy: Oh, and you are?
Spike: I’m Spike.
Fluttershy: Applejack, Twilight, and Spike. Okay.
Applejack: Anyway, how do you do all those cool land tracking things?
Fluttershy: Uh... I just pay attention.
Applejack: You must pay a lot of attention.
Fluttershy: It’s just looking for the little details.
Applejack: Nothing I’ve ever been good at.
Applejack: Oh buck up. It’s not like I’m blaming you. You’re being a real help right now.
Fluttershy: Um, thanks.
Applejack: You’re quite welcome
As they progressed further into the forest Twilight’s anxiety over her surroundings grew stronger. She felt her body get tenser with every inch. She looked to her traveling companions to examine their own faces, hoping that a confident look from Applejack might be enough to calm her nerves. Applejack herself didn’t look any more comfortable and even Spike, who first expressed delight over the ordeal, was beginning to look troubled. Fluttershy, though, looked the same as when they first met her, ever anxious. Despite her anxiousness though, the forest did not faze her. At least until she stopped and looked back at them with a worried look. "Goblins," She whispered trying not to panic all of them. Twilight reacted with panic.
"Goblins!?" she blurted out too late. Five of the small, hairless, pointy eared, creatures popped out. They were smaller than kobolds by a foot, but were more numerous and had advantage of knowing the forest better than the ponies did. One of them jumped out at Twilight with a sharpened pike in hand, but Applejack, true to her word, protected Twilight by head butting the creature mid-flight and then proceeding to trample over it.
"All right, some action!" Spike aimed his bow at the farthest goblin. The Goblin had a bow as well pointed back at Spike. "Let’s dance, punk!" Spike yelled as he threw himself to the side to dodge an arrow. He fired one of his own arrows before he hit the ground. The projectile stuck the goblin in the shoulder, causing it to release its bow and charge at him with a miniature pike. "Burning Lotus!" Spike cried out as he shot another bolt that ignited with fire before sticking into the goblin and then exploding. The goblin collapsed to the ground.
Two goblins had taken the chance to attack Applejack from behind. Applejack smirked as she reared herself on her forelegs. "Bad idea!" she said, bucking the goblins in the face. The sheer force of the strike sent the two goblins spiraling through a tree.
With most of the goblins incapacitated, Applejack scanned the area for the last one. It was cowering before Fluttershy who wore an uncharacteristic and disturbingly powerful death glare. The goblin dropped its makeshift weapons and ran away in tears shouting for its mother. As Fluttershy turned to face the others the glare disappeared from her expression. "That was a close one," Fluttershy exhaled. The other three stared back dumbfounded and unsure of what just happened. She winced. "Can you... please... stop staring," Fluttershy squeaked as she turned away, unwanting of the attention.
"That was amazing ‘Shy. You looked at that varmint straight in the eye and it ran away with wet under-knickers." Applejack patted Fluttershy on the back, who jumped at the contact.
"Uh, you okay, 'Shy'" Applejack asked.
"Y-yeah," Fluttershy replied, "I’ll just go back to tracking. They should be close." Fluttershy turned away from them and resumed leading.
Applejack examined her own hoof for a moment before following Fluttershy. Something felt off.
Twilight: You did it again.
Spike: What? The BURNING LOTUS!
Applejack: Yeah, what was with that?
Spike: It’s what I call that attack where my arrow explodes twice.
Twilight: It’s silly.
Applejack: Hmm... I should give it a try. Ugh. Apple Buck Storm!
Applejack: Oops, sorry.
Spike: Eh, kind of wordy. And why apple? Just buck storm could do.
Applejack: No. It’s gotta have apple in it.
Applejack: Just does.
Spike: Fine then. If that’s your naming scheme.
Twilight: Is everypony going to start calling out attacks now?
Twilight: Your thinking about it, aren't you.
Twilight: Everypony here is crazy...
As Fluttershy led them deeper into the forest, the air had changed from unnerving silence to ponies bickering. It wasn’t Twilight and her traveling cohorts that filled the air with inane chatter, but the stage mare that they were chasing, Trixie. Twilight definitely recognized Trixie’s voice, but there was another pony with her. Twilight assumed that this was another accomplice, the one that took the town artifact.
"This piece of junk is worth maybe thirty bits tops! It’s junk!" Trixie frustratingly yelled out from within the forest. "We can’t fix Trixie’s wagon with this."
Fluttershy led them into a nearby bush where they could spy on the bandits and survey the scene. They got a clear view of them. Trixie was huddled next to a camp fire with the two assistant colts playing on the other side. The pony Trixie was arguing with seemed to be cooking something with the campfire. She was a brilliant pink with her mane a darker shade of pink and filled with poofy curls. Twilight recognized her as the pony that walked into the museum before the show started. "And now Trixie is lost with you all!"
"Oh it could be worse, Trixie," The pink pony replied, her voice filled with sweetness and good intentions, the opposite of her grouchy accomplice. "We could be face to face with an Ursa Minor. That could be worse!"
"Don’t jinx Trixie," Trixie retorted, "stupid two-bit ponies wouldn’t know good magic if they were turned into rabbits and pulled out of Trixie’s hat. To think a town filled with earth ponies is actually more skeptic of magic than in awe of it"
"From what I saw the show was going fine," the pink pony tried to cheer up her accomplice, "until somepony went and caught Snips snipping purses."
"Yeah, sorry about that, Trixie." Snips, the pony Twilight caught, apologized to Trixie.
Trixie grumbled. "Well, it’s not your fault! It’s that blasted purple pony’s fault! If I ever see her I’ll turn her into a newt!" Trixie cried into the sky with indignation, calling forth yet another bolt of lightning and causing Twilight and her traveling companions to jump. "Who’s there!?" Trixie turned to the bush. She rose onto her hind legs and placed her hooves in front of her, ready to cast a spell.
Applejack burst out of the bush. "Stop right there," she commanded, "I’m from Apple Acres and I’m here to retrieve the towns big fancy blade key thingy and anything else you might have stolen!"
"You want that piece of junk?" Trixie’s expression turned from anger to annoyance. "Take it. It’s not worth the trouble of hauling it." Trixie turned to the pink pony. "Go fetch it for her, Pinkie." The pink pony stood still for a moment. "Pinkie! Get the thingy so Trixie can be rid of it!"
"Huh," the pink pony suddenly blurted, "oh! Right away oh loud and obnoxious Trixie!" The pink pony jumped through the air and right into the bush adjacent to the one that Twilight was hiding in. She jumped right back out, returning to her previous spot, with the big fancy blade key thingy in her mouth. It wasn’t very fancy. It was quite rusty and the teeth of it looked flat rather than sharp. It looked like a farmer’s tool, which was a perfect symbol for a farmer’s town. With their quest complete Twilight stepped out of the bush to stretch.
"Great, now let’s get back," Twilight said as she shook a few leaves out of her mane.
"You!" Trixie suddenly pointed at Twilight. "You’re the one who ruined Trixie’s act!" Trixie was screaming and livid with rage.
"You were stealing from your audience!" Twilight retorted.
"As a performer," Trixie said putting on an air of pseudo-sophisticating, "Trixie cannot allow anyone who interrupts Trixie’s routine to get away with it! Dark Horns! Battle formation!" Trixie cried out. The pink pony just continued to cook while Snips and Snails continued to play. Trixie glared at the three and cleared her throat. "Battle Formation! I said!" she screamed, getting her accomplices attention. The pink pony jumped in front of Trixie, a giant bladed pinwheel on her back. Snails stood next to her, a shield attached to a foreleg. Snips stood on the other side of Trixie, a staff with a pair of scissors taped to an end to make a crude spear. "En garde!" Trixie exclaimed.
Twilight groaned. "I never agreed to this. We have what we want so let’s go." A bolt of lightning grazed Twilight’s cheek.
"I said en garde." Trixie eyed Twilight. Her horn giving off a bright magenta glow and a hoof pointed at Twilight.
"This is crazy!" Twilight exclaimed.
"Ready go!" the pink pony yelled out as she charged in for a fight. The battle had started.
"Watch out!" Applejack jumped in front of Twilight to block the blow from the pink pony.
"Applejack!" Twilight called back as another bolt of lightning nearly missed her fight.
"You face Trixie now!" Trixie roared. "Lightning!" Trixie called out as a bolt of lightning escaped from one of her hooves.
"All right let’s go!" Spike jumped at the closest target, the shielded colt.
"What! But, what do I do?" Fluttershy barely dodged a blow from the scissor staff wielding colt. "Oh, this is bad."
Applejack and the pink pony butted heads. They two stared each other in the eye for a moment while their heads struggled to overpower the other. The pink pony managed to pull off a perfect impersonation of a dog growl before withdrawing her head, causing Applejack to stumble over. Grabbing her giant pinwheel with her teeth, the pink pony swung the giant bladed weapon overhead before returning it to her back. The attack missed. Applejack wasn’t going to let herself get hit with such a slow attack. Applejack turned her body and used the momentum of the turn to buck the pink pony in the chest. "Revolution Apple Buck!" Applejack cried out as the hit connected sending the pink pony into a tree.
The pink pony picked herself up and spit out a leaf. "Ooh! That was a neat attack name! Well try and stop this one!" She grabbed the pinwheel, this time with her fore-hooves, and charging at Applejack. "Party Devastation!" she cried out as she raised the weapon overhead. The pinwheel started turning like a buzz-saw before the pink pony swung down, rending the earth under her. Applejack managed to dodge most of the blow, but the earth-shrapnel caught her off guard. The spinning weapon continued to dig into the dirt, kicking up more dirt before becoming clogging up.
"Now!" Applejack roared as she rammed herself into the pink pony. "I got you now!"
"Nope!" the pink pony answered with innocent enthusiasm as she let go of the weapon and jabbed at Applejack’s stomach. "Thunder Hoof!" A joy buzzer at the end of the pink pony’s hoof activated, sending a current of electricity through Applejack.
"The hay!" Applejack cursed as she escaped from the pink pony’s attack.
"Joy buzzers." The pink pony held her hoof, revealing a hidden gadget.
"That’s a cheap shot!" Applejack dug her hooves into the ground. "I don’t like cheap shots. Applejack clenched her teeth.
"This thing is kind of wimpy compared to my other gags," the pink pony taunted. "I thought you were tougher than this."
"I’ll show you how tough I really am!" she yelled out as she charged at the pink pony again. "I’ll show you the strength of an honest work horse!" Applejack threw herself off the ground, slammed her shoulder deep into the pink pony. "Beast!" Applejack called out, a blue energy erupting from her in the form of a lion head and throwing the pink pony a few feet into the air. As the pink pony flew up Applejack grabbed her tail with her teeth and brought her back down to the ground. "La’thlide!" Applejack yelled with the pony in her teeth as she reintroduced the pink pony to the ground the hard way.
As Applejack panted from the energy she spent on the combo, the pink pony got up from the attack, almost no worse for wear. "That was a great combo!" she said, dusting herself. Applejack couldn’t believe the level of punishment the pink pony could take.
"How are you still standing!?" Applejack stated in disbelief.
"I got ponies worth fighting for. When you got that, anything is possible," she said in a suddenly serious tone, "or something like that. C’mon! Another round!" she said, charging Applejack.
Applejack gritted her teeth in a cocky grin. "Bring it pinky!"
Spike and one of Trixie’s assistant colts, Snails, were caught in a fearsome duel. Snail’s shield proved to be the bane of Spike’s bow and arrow. Spike found the burning lotus useless against a shielded foe. Snails on the other hand had taken to using his shield like a battering ram when not using it to defend. Whenever he saw Spike nock an arrow he would raise his shield to protect himself from the arrow and then charge into, Spike, knocking him around with his shield.
Spike was lucky his scales could protect him from the pain, but his body was beginning to ache from the constant bashing. "All right, new strategy." Spike grabbed his bow with both his hands and pulled on it. The bow separated into a pair of daggers. "All right, bring it!" Spike yelled as he charged into Snails.
Snails raised his shield to protect himself from Spike’s sudden onslaught. As Spike attacked Snails charged a spell to counter with. Spike continued to hack away at the shield before turning up his head and seeing the glow of unicorn magic. "Uh oh."
"Photon!" Snails called out. Rays of light built up in the space between Spike and Snails before erupting, sending the both of them flying in opposite directions.
Spike recovered from the attack. "Not too adept with magic," he chided.
"I’m getting better," Snails defended, placing his shield in front of him.
"Really?" Spike pointed his daggers at Snails. "C’mon!" he yelled as he charged at Snails.
"Okay!" Snails launched himself at Spike. "Helix Shot!" Snails called out as he jumped into the air, spinning himself into a living bullet.
"That’s better," Spike called back. "Fang Rush!" Spike called out, pointing his blades forward and picking up speed.
Snails attack broke through Spike’s, flinging the baby dragon into a tree. Spike bounced off the tree and landed on the ground below. While he still felt no pain Spike was dizzy and slowly losing consciousness.
Taking a deep breath Spike looked up only to find his opening. Snails’ attack had caused him to become dizzy and he was open to attack. Spike slammed his daggers together, returning his weapon to its bow state. He nocked a single arrow and called out his attack. "Gale Salvo!" Three arrows fired from the bow, aimed directly at Snails, each arrow cutting the wind as they flew.
Snails managed to compose himself in time to raise his shield at the last moment. The first two arrows collided with his shield, knocking him off balance. The last one stuck Snails in the side. Realizing his imminent defeat Snails tapped into the last of his strength to raise his shield. "That was... a good shot, eh," Snails complimented Spike.
"Thanks," Spike replied as his eyes grew heavier.
"Now," Snails pushed himself on, "Helix rebound!" Snails roared as he threw his shield at Spike. The shield flew through the air and smashed right into Spike before returning to Snails. That blow was the last push Spike needed to slip into unconsciousness. The shield flew past Snails and landed on the ground behind him. Snails was unable to catch the shield as he to fell to the floor. This battle was a draw.
Snips had attempted to spear Fluttershy with the pair of scissors tied to the end of his staff. Unfortunately, his stout build worked against him and he found Fluttershy to be unexpectedly agile, as if she had wings. However, she never struck back. Was she that much better than him in combat? He could feel his confidence waver. He shook his head to rid himself of the uneasiness. He had to try. "Scissor Spear!" he cried out as the pair of scissors at the end of his staff glowed along with his horn. He leapt into the air spinning, once again missing Fluttershy, and then barreled downwards at Fluttershy, who had somehow used her hoof to deflect the pinpoint move. At least that’s what he thought. He couldn’t see what lied under Fluttershy’s loosely fit robe.
"Uhm, is it my turn now?" Fluttershy asked. "I’ve been waiting here for my turn to attack. Can I go now?"
Snips stared at her in confusion. "Sure?" Snips answered back, unsure what else to say. Who stands around and waits to be attacked?
"Uh, Time out tap." Fluttershy tried to sound confident in her attack. She tapped Snips on the head with her hoof.
Snips’ will almost instantly broke. He felt compelled to just surrender then and there to the yellow mare. She was overpowering him with a force he couldn’t comprehend. Everything about her compelled him to want to obey her innocently cute attack and impose on himself a time out and surrender the match. "No!" Snips cried out, overpowering the urge to give in. "I won’t lose like this!" he cried out. The scissor on his staff began to glow once again along w. Once again he ran at Fluttershy, his emotions for Trixie reaching a fever pitch. "Fatal Scissor Surge!" He swung his staff at Fluttershy who dodged to the side but used the momentum to propel himself into another swing. Fluttershy side stepped again but found herself against a tree with nowhere to go. Seeing his chance Snips reared back and pointed his scissor staff at Fluttershy before charging for the deciding blow.
It was over before Snips knew what happened. His makeshift staff was gone. It lie in pieces on the ground, and now he did too. All he saw was a flash of steel and the sound of chains. How? He had no idea. He was defeated pure and simple. He was fine with this. He tried his hardest for Trixie. He swore to himself the next time he got up he would become stronger for his hero, but now was the time to rest. Fluttershy caressed the young colt as he drifted into unconsciousness. She bared him no ill will and understood Snips did not blame her. This was not a personal battle and if they ever met again they would not feel hate for one another. She scooped the colt into her lap and sang the colt a lullaby. A warrior’s lullaby.
Twilight dodged a lightning bolt. "This is crazy!" she cried."I don’t want to fight you!"
"You ruined my show you insolent foal! I have my pride as an entertainer at stake!" Trixie yelled back as she sent another bolt at Twilight. Lighting seemed to be Trixie’s element of choice.
"Are you crazy!?" Twilight narrowly dodged another bolt. "What if you set fire to this entire forest!?"
"Oh please. Only a fourth-rate unicorn would allow her magic to get so out of control. I guess that’s what you are. A fourth-rate unicorn." Trixie grinned as she insulted Twilight. Trixie was right though, if Twilight could control her magic well enough she could avoid causing wild fires. "Now face Trixie, you fourth-rate unicorn. Lightning!"
Twilight dodged another bolt. "Not good," Twilight told herself as she stomped the ground to send an earth spell at Trixie.
As the earth gave way under Trixie she expertly back flipped through the spell with grace that befit an acrobat. "Your spells are paltry, at best!" Trixie insulted Twilight. "Ready to accept defeat now, fourth-rate unicorn?"
"No! I’m not!" Twilight felt her blood begin to boil. She was done talking to the crazy mare. This utterly insane unicorn had called her out on her magic, now she was going to answer back. "You want magic? Here it is!" Twilight cried out.
"Trixie will show you real magic then!" Trixie raised herself to her hind legs, her horn glowing brighter than before, a ball of electricity forming in her forehooves. "Thunder Arrow!" Trixie called out as the bolt left her hooves and barreled at Twilight.
Twilight reared herself on her hind legs and stomped the ground again, this time to conjure a wall of earth to protect her. The spell destroyed the wall, but the spell had mostly been diffused by the earth by the time it hit Twilight. Now it was Twilight’s turn. She knew just the spell. Her horn began to glow stronger than it had all day. A blinding bright magenta light erupting from it. "Flame Lance!" She cried out as a flaming red dot formed in the sky.
Trixie knew what this spell would do and was prepared to counter it. She saw a magical spear of flame barreling out of the sky and right at her, and she could have easily countered it with an ice spell if Twilight had meant to hit her with the spell. As Trixie began to charge the spell, Twilight jumped up into the sky and caught the magic spear with her teeth before it could crash into Trixie. Trixie was dumbstruck to see this and realized Twilight true intentions. Twilight planned to use the spell as a weapon, and Twilight did just that as she charged forward, wildly swinging the magical spear clenched in her teeth. Trixie turned just in time to dodge the blow. "This is my element of choice!" Twilight yelled back as solid fire danced between her lips. "Fire!"
Trixie wasn’t prepared to deal with this. A fight against mages who simply cast their spells was what she specialized at, but a mage who could use magic as weapons? Those were few and far in between. Twilight swiped again, giving Trixie no time to cast spells. Trixie knew she was going to lose soon if she didn’t think of something. She tried to ward off Twilight with a barrage of weak lightning spells she could throw out at a speed rivaling the lightning itself. Twilight, however, dodged each bolts in perfect sequence, but was losing ground. Trixie found her opening. "I’ve got you now!" she yelled as she took the opportunity to unleash her stronger spell. "Thunder Arrow!"
Twilight saw the spell coming and jumped over it. Trixie looked up. Twilight was in the air and she threw the spear she had conjured moments ago. The flame lance was barreling at Trixie. She tried to ready an ice spell, but it was too late. She was hit by the burning spell. Trixie lost. "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"
Twilight landed on her hooves and collapsed to the ground exhausted. She felt silly to get so riled up in a fight but did feel a sense of accomplishment in defeating another unicorn mage, even if said mage was utterly insane and off her rocker. She looked around to the rest of her group. Applejack and the pink pony had both passed out on the floor with some very noticeable head trauma. Spike and Snails had also fallen unconscious. Lastly Fluttershy was serenading Snips to sleep. To Twilight, it looked like everyone had taken a nap instead of fight like they had wanted and she didn’t. "Wake up!" she yelled.
"I’m awake!" Applejack woke up startled.
"Not the dresses!" Spike awoke with a cold sweat.
"I didn’t do it, eh!" Snails shot up.
"Spare me!" Snips woke up, only to find himself nestled in Fluttershy. He felt oddly embarrassed as she just smiled back.
"Yay! We lose!" the pink pony stirred. "This calls for a party!"
"No party! We’re taking this dumb big fancy blade key thingy and leaving!" Twilight roared.
"Oh no you won't!" Trixie interjected. She was back on her hooves and looked fine aside from a few scorch marks. "Trixie is not done yet!" Mirroring Twilight she raised herself on her back hooves to stomp the ground. Rather than erupt, the ground under Twilight gave way as she fell to what she was hoping wasn’t her doom.
Twilight squeezed her eyes shut as she felt the wind surge under her. She wondered if this how she would die; lying flat as a pancake at the bottom of this hole. As she fell time seemed to slow. Actually she had come to a stop. Twilight opened her eyes. She wasn’t falling. She was rising. She looked up to see a winged Fluttershy was pulling her up. "Fluttershy? You’re a pegasus?" Twilight asked.
"Well... yes," Fluttershy said. Twilight felt relief wash over her. In a matter of minutes they were back on firm ground.
"Twilight! You’re all right!" Spike exclaimed as he jumped onto Twilight the moment she was on the ground.
"Yeah, thanks to Fluttershy," Twilight said, motioning to Fluttershy.
"Y-you’re welcome," Fluttershy responded, turning away.
"Well, do we have the big key thingy?" Twilight asked, looking around.
"Yep," affirmed Applejack. "Consarned bandits ran off the moment Trixie pulled her little underhooved trick. No honor among thieves I tell you," Applejack sighed. "Least we got this thing back. Let’s go." Applejack turned away from everyone and looked back on the path they came in from.
"Yeah, I need a bath." Twilight was not fond of the feeling of dirt and sweat all over her body. "Let’s head back to Apple Acres. Fluttershy, can you lead the way?"
"Yes," Fluttershy affirmed as she turned once again on the path they had taken to get there. The air grew cold.
Fluttershy: Um, this should be the way.
Twilight: Are you sure? This is a different path.
Fluttershy: Yes. This will take us to the main road faster.
Twilight: Oh, that’s great.
Spike: Why is everypony so quiet? We should be celebrating. Right, Applejack?
Applejack: Huh? Yeah, I suppose.
Spike: Yeesh. What’s gotten into everypony? We won but it seems as if we lost. C’mon party!
Twilight: I don’t like to party with strangers.
Spike: You don’t like to party period! And we’re not strangers! We’re friends.
Applejack: Yeah, hardly.
Spike: Yikes. So cold here.
They reached the forest clearing in one piece. They were all beaten and tired but they had triumphed with the big fancy blade key thingy as their reward. All Twilight could think about was a bath before finally turning in for the day. It had amounted to a long and tiresome day for her and the sun was nearly down. She turned to Fluttershy. "Thanks again. You’ve been a big help."
Fluttershy took a deep breath before finally smiling and saying "You’re welcome." She didn’t try to avert her eyes from anyone and even wore a rather cheesy smile. She managed to hold this for five seconds before turning her head away to avoid eye contact.
"Don’t do that!" Spike jumped on her back, causing her to jump. "We’re friends now."
"Spike, don’t jump on her back. It’s rude," Twilight reprimanded him as she bit his tail and pulled him off Fluttershy.
"No, it’s all right," Fluttershy responded, "I was just startled."
"See," Spike turned to Twilight, "it’s all right." Spike looked back to Fluttershy. "Say, Fluttershy, now that we’re all friends why don’t you take off that hood?"
"What!?" Fluttershy was startled by the question.
"Spike, don’t be rude," Twilight, once again, scolded Spike.
Fluttershy took a deep breath before lowering her hood to expose her whole face, much to everyone else’s surprise. Pink locks fell straight to the ground. No one had noticed with the hood up, but Fluttershy had very long hair and sky blue eyes. She noticed that they were all staring at her. "I don’t really go out for mane cuts," She tried to joke in her awkward way before turning her head away.
Applejack broke the silence with a hardy laugh. Up until then she had been uncharacteristically quiet. "Mane cut? You need a lot more than that to handle all that mane, sugarcube." Applejack turned to the road. "If you ever need any apples, remember Apple Acres is just a few hours walk away from here. I’ll be sure to repay you, I did promise that."
"A-all right," Fluttershy answered.
"All right then. Later." Applejack started on the road back to Apple Acres.
"Hey wait for me!" Twilight yelled. "Well, uh, good bye. Be well and... stuff." Twilight ran off. She expected she would never meet the shy pony again, making the farewell feel awkward after everything they just went through. She had traveled with, fought alongside, and was saved by these stranger ponies and after today the chances of seeing them again where slim, even if she was dragged here by Applejack in the first place. With Spike on her back she galloped up to Applejack who wasn’t too far ahead.
The way back had been uncharacteristically quiet. Spike had no energy to roll out quips to pester Twilight with and Applejack had less to say. They were all tired and ready to collapse. Upon reaching town the three of them would have been fine to pass out and fall asleep then and there. "Let’s deliver this thingy and get back to the barn." Applejack tiredly pushed herself forward.
The alliterative pony that had alerted them to the theft of the big fancy blade key thingy, Clockwork, was quick to express his joy in an alliterative way. "Oh how miraculously marvelous! The town of Apple Acres appreciates your ambition to arrest those abhorrent amateur illusionists."
"What he say?" Spike asked.
"He’s happy," Twilight answered.
"Oh, really?" Applejack replied. "Anyway, those bandits got away, but considering they’re lost in the Everfree forest I doubt we’ll see them again."
"Still I’m positively peppered with jeering joy that our big fancy blade key thingy is back in our marvelous museum." Clockwork jumped with joy.
"Well that’s good to hear. I think. We’ll be headin’ back to the barn now." Applejack lead the way out as she tried not to stare at the silly pony who was composing poetry to celebrate the return of the town’s big fancy blade key thingy. Hopefully he will have come up with a better name for it.
By the time the three reached the barn, the moon had taken its place in the sky. Twilight took a moment to stare at it. The formation of the craters and shadows had always caught her interest. The craters and shadows worked together to form an image; The Mare in the Moon it was occasionally called. Her father always told her many stories of it. "Comin’ Twi?" Applejack stood at the doorway. "Or you just gonna stand their starin’?"
"I’m coming. Say, do you have a bath I can use?" Twilight asked.
"Yeah. Follow me." Applejack led her behind the barn. Rather than a bath it looked like a miniature pool made from wood. "Hang your cloak on the rack there and enjoy as I get Apple Bloom to cook us up some grub. I’m too tired to cook."
Spike instantly threw his jacket off to the grass and jumped right into the pool. "Geronimo!" he yelled out. "Man, the country is awesome! They bathe in pools rather than tiny bathtubs."
"Those tiny bath tubs are still huge for your size," Twilight answered as she placed her cloak on a rack. It was drenched with dirt, sweat, a little blood, and was even a little scorched. Nothing a little magic couldn’t fix, but that was for another time. Twilight stepped into the giant tub and started to scrub out the sediments that were clinging to her fur.
"Pardon me," a deep male voice called out from the pool. A large red earth pony with an orange mane emerged from the bath. He stepped out, shook himself dry, and returned to the barn all in a matter of minutes. Twilight’s face turned a deep red.
"Man, you city ponies sure are sensitive," Applejack answered back as she jumped into the tub. "We have fur you know." Applejack had no clothes on.
"I’m just not used to it." Twilight tried to defend her stance. "In Canterlot ponies don’t bathe outside and share a tub."
"Sounds mighty dull. Nothing says relaxin’ like sharing a warm bath with the family and exchangin’ stories." She jumped into the bath.
"Really," Twilight muttered.
"Sounds like fun," Spike replied.
For the next few minutes Applejack stared at Twilight, making her feel uncomfortable. "Do I have something on my face?" Twilight finally asked.
"Your horn," Applejack responded.
"Er, that’s always on my face."
"No, I mean I heard a rumor about unicorn horns."
"A rumor?" Twilight questioned. "What kind of rumor?"
"Like they glow when you see a pony you like," Applejack responded.
"Where, in all of Equestria, did you hear something as ridiculous as that?" Twilight moved her hoof to her face, the energy drained from her from such a ridiculous allegation.
"Well, we got all kinds of rumors out here. Never see a unicorn around, so we just make stuff up to pass the time," Applejack replied.
"If you make it up then you know it isn’t true!" Twilight almost yelled.
"Yeah, but I forget what’s made up and what isn’t. Besides you looked liked my brother there what with all the blushing."
"I do not," Twilight defended herself. To her side Spike was caught in an uproarious giggle fit at her expense.
"Oh man! This is hilarious!" Spike almost drowned as he rolled in the water laughing his spikes off.
"That’s kind of how is here," Applejack laughed. "Small town on hard times where everypony is the same. That kinda thing happens," Applejack sighed.
Twilight: Spike, the space behind your spikes are filthy.
Spike: Not my fault it’s hard to reach their.
Applejack: You dote on the overgrown lizard like a mother. What’s the story?
Twilight: Huh, oh I hatched him.
Applejack: What? Like you sat on him? When he was an egg?
Twilight: No, I did it with magic.
Applejack: Is that natural?
Twilight: Well, most of the time, no, but dragons are a special case.
Applejack: So he really is a dragon.
Spike: Yes! I really am a dragon. Don’t ignore me.
Applejack: Er, sorry.
Spike: Apology accepted.
Applejack: So do you see Twilight as a mother?
Spike: Not really.
Twilight: What? I’m scrubbing behind your ears how is that not mother like?
Spike: Children don’t usually clean the house, organize the book collection, cook the meals, and everything in between.
Applejack: Hah, sounds more like a brother and a sister.
Twilight: You think so?
Applejack: Trust me. If there is anything I know its brother and sister relationships. Helps that I have one of each. You met Big Macintosh earlier.
Twilight: Oh... that big... guy...
Applejack: You blushin’?
Applejack: Careful. He’s the stud of the town and as dense as Canterlot fog. I know a lot of mares and stallions who won’t take kindly to foreign competition.
Twilight: It’s nothing like that. I just never been in the same tub with another colt other than my dad.
Applejack: Aw, ain’t that cute. Wait, that was like yeeeeaaaars ago, right?
Twilight: Of course!
Applejack: Just checkin’. Food should be done by the way.
Twilight: Finally, I’m starving.
Twilight: Ugh, before we go...
Twilight: Got any spare clothes?
Applejack: Again, we have fur.
Applejack: Fine, I’ll see what I can grab ya.
Applejack: … You’re welcome.
Twilight walked into the dining room. Applejack lent her a shirt with an apple pattern. It was a size too big, but it did get rid of the sense of nakedness she had without it. She still felt awkward when everyone else at the table everyone left their day where to hang. "Apple family apple fritters courtesy of Apple Bloom. The hostess of the apple family Apple Family Inn!" Apple Bloom proudly announced, balancing a tray of apple fritters on her head. "Do I have my cutie mark yet?"
"Nope," Granny Smith replied.
"Inn keeping is for chumps." Apple Bloom finally realized.
"‘Bout time you figured it out," Granny smith replied. "Now pass them fritters here before they get cold."
"Here you go Granny Smith."
"Hey don’t forget about me." Applejack tried to snatch a fritter.
"Hey I’m a guest! Don’t I get first dibs," Spike cried out.
"Your spiked butt you’re eating before me."
"I want some too!"
"And what’s that mean."
"Dang rugrats stealin’ my food."
"You steal my food all the time!"
"I’m an old mare. I need my nutrients."
"I’m a growing mare! I need ‘em more!"
"They’re almost all gone!"
"Don’t you agree with her."
"The overgrown lizards eating ‘em all!"
"Like hay he is!"
Twilight was amazed at the scene unfolding. The family that was so close they insult each other directly to each other’s faces, but now they are all laughing. She never experienced this at home with her father. She looked down at the single apple fritter on her plate and started eating quietly while everyone else fought over the tray.
"Man dinner was fun," Spike yawned as he lay in bed. "We never do anything like that with Night Light."
"Nope," Twilight agreed. "Makes it hard to eat though."
"Say Twilight, we have to come and visit some time."
"You sure? It takes half a day to get here and I can’t afford to fix up Granny Smith’s apple shop."
"But it’s been so fun here! And what about Fluttershy. It would be a shame if we never saw her again."
"I suppose," Twilight once again agreed. She felt a little saddened at the idea of never seeing these ponies again, but it was too much effort to keep a friendship with them with all her studies to contend with. "Maybe during summer break."
"Oh all right," Spike said as he closed his eyes. "Say Twilight. You never finished that story earlier."
"That’s because someone interrupted me," Twilight giggled back.
"Humor me," Spike laughed back.
"All right." Twilight smiled.
The eldest sister took responsibility for the moving of the sun and moon across the sky, but the grief she felt caused her to weep greatly over the horrible act she had done.
Her heart in turmoil, the many friends of the elder sister tried to comfort her, but no matter what the elder sister was unhappy.
Unable to quell the anguish within her, the eldest sister’s friends left her one by one until only three were left.
To these three ponies the elder sister gave a prophecy to hand down the generations before she closed the doors to her castle for good, never to be seen again.
Some say she’s still in her lost castle, moving the sun and moon for all of ponydom.
"And what was the message?" Spike asked even though he knew the answer. It made Twilight happy to tell this story.
When the stars in the sky are frozen
And the cries of the earth are calling
When the sky overhead has fallen
And the light of the sun is waning
When the cries of the moon have subsided
The land in our hearts coming into view
My castle doors will open again
To greet all of my subjects and friends
Light of harmony flooding the fields
The stars in our hearts twinkling still