Twilight awoke from a fitful sleep, to observe an early afternoon. The trees surrounding the clearing blocked the sunset, and Twilight was only able to discern the time by the many colors of the sky. Twilight looked around her to see what had happened while she had rested. Apparently sleep had gotten the better of her friends as well; Rarity was about three feet from Twilight and apparently had placed several pieces of fabric atop one another supporting her half an inch above the ground.
Rainbow Dash had flown up to the top of a nearby tree and curled herself up on a branch, her tail dangling over the limb. Fluttershy rested beneath the tree, her light pink mane wrapped around herself as if it were a blanket. The food had been packed away and all the bags were neatly organized where the picnic had been set up, Pinkie Pie lay as their guardian, A half eaten fritter by her fore hooves. Twilight stood and shook herself to wake up. So as not to wake her friends, she quietly walked off to another part of the clearing. Twilight sat down on the grass; she had slept for a few hours but somehow still felt exhausted. What was this place doing to them, could Rarity and herself be losing there magic?
No, Twilight refused to believe that. It had only been an afternoon; whatever was going on couldn’t keep her down forever. No magic was powerful enough to completely suppress the magic of Celestia’s apprentice! Standing up, she stared intently in front of her. Slowly and cautiously, she charged up her magic. Closing her eyes to help her concentrate, she began to cast the spell. Her horn glowed brightly and the gray line started to trace itself. But Twilight felt her magic grow weaker and weaker. She simply didn’t have the power to open the portal by herself. With a sob, she dropped the magic and the portal vanished.
Twilight staggered as she released the spell. Twin tears made there way down her face. Without opening her eyes, she stood unsteadily. Slowly sitting down again she made no effort to wipe away the light tears that snaked down her face.
“Y’all tried your best.” Applejack’s voice had come from behind Twilight. She’d jumped at the sound breaking an almost total silence, but recognizing the voice she didn’t turn around. “Listen Twi, I know you’re under a lot of pressure. But we can all see ya tried, the girls and I were talk’n and we know your going to get us through this. We already had Pinkie break down, I don’t know if we can take another episode from anypony, let alone you.” Twilight said nothing for a long time, but finally she raised her head.
“I know,” she said, turning to face her friend. “Applejack I know everyponys worried and scared. I’m amazed only Pinkie’s had an emotional breakdown. But that’s not what I think is getting everypony down.” Twilight stood up and wiped at her cheeks before walking to the orange mare. “We all have special gifts we’re born with. Things we learn how to use before we even get our cutie marks. But somehow this place is keeping us from using our talents.”
“Well not exactly Twilight, Rainbow was able to make it to the top of that tree, and even though you couldn’t finish it you started to open the portal.”
“How long do you think were going to be able to even do that? What if this place is slowly taking away our gifts? It’s not just hindering our magic or flight. Its taken away Pinkie’s… Pinkie! Whatever it is it can pick out things about us and weaken them. The only pony so far unaffected is you.”
“Actually Twilight that’s not exactly true neither, I just went out into the woods to see if I could find something useful. I couldn’t sleep so I figured I’d at least do something productive. I don’t know what I was look’n for, but I found a tree just brimm’n with nuts. I tried to buck them out of the tree, but when I hit the trunk a shoot of pain ran up my legs. I thought I had just hit it wrong so I tried again, but it just hurt more. My legs just ain’t work’n right.”
Twilight shook her head. “That’s the worst sign yet, whatever’s going on is affecting more then our general talents, it’s affecting our special skills. With Rainbow Dash and Myself, it’s harder to tell because the gifts were born with are our special talents. Pinkies problem worried me specifically, because she wasn’t born with her talent, but learned it over time. When Fluttershy calmed her down, I was reassured by the fact that at least she was acting normal. But now that you’re having trouble with something such as strength it’s only going to get worse from here.”
“Sugar cube, you’re letting this whole thing tie you up worse then a twisted lasso. I ain’t say’n we’re not in a mess of trouble here, but this ain’t as bad as you’r a think’n it is. Do you remember Discord? All the trouble he caused. How about the Ursa Minor? You didn’t hesitate when a dragon was try’n to run us out of Ponyville or when any’a your friends include’n me had trouble. If you sit down to let this run ya over we definitely ain’t going home.”
Twilight listened to Applejack without a change in expression and offered no response when she finished. The orange pony approached her friend and put on a smile that almost brightened the gathering night, without another word she wrapped her front hoofs around Twilight’s neck in a hug. Twilight returned the embrace once again letting tears fall down her face. The two ponies held each other in the gathering dark, Twilight’s light sobs the only sound. When Twilight made a move to pull away Applejack quickly dropped the hug and looked into Twilight’s foggy eyes.
“Why don’t we take a walk through these here woods before it gets too dark. Maybe we can tucker ourselves out before we got no choice but ta sleep again.” Twilight smiled at the offer and agreed prompting Applejack to lead the way as the two set off into the woods. Twilight thought of the dangers associated with the Everfree forest at night, but the Everfree was full of wild animals and so far Twilight hadn’t seen a single living thing besides her friends and the plants. The two ponies talked about idle things attempting to raise each other’s spirits. Both of them so enveloped in conversation they lost their way in the woods.
“Applejack, do you know if were going the right way?”
“Twilight don’t fret now, I’m sure I can figure it out, this place ain’t nothe’n but a bunch a trees. And I’ve been handling trees since I was a filly. I can find our way back before it gets too dark.” But darkness had already begun to engulf the world in its chilly grip. As each step the ponies took seemed to drive them further into the night, Applejack and Twilight stumbled upon an unwelcome sight.
“Twilight, now I know we done and gone the wrong way.” Said Applejack, her voice betraying her surprise. Twilight trotted next to her friend in order to see what she was talking about.
“What do you…” but Twilight soon saw the problem. The path Pinkie had found earlier was stretched out before them.
“Twilight, the others said that this thing burned your hoof when you tried to step on it, is that right?”
“Yes, I did…I mean it did…I mean… yes.”
“Well I just stepped on it, I didn’t see it until I felt the ground change under hoof. But it didn’t feel hot a’tall, in fact its pretty darn cool.”
“Applejack, we’ve gone the wrong way, we need to try and find the place we entered the woods earlier today and maybe then we can find our way back.”
“Twilight, Do you see the yellow lines on this thing? This has got ta be the strangest thing I’ve seen since Discord took over. What ya suppose the lines are?”
“Applejack, I don’t know what they could be, but it might be dangerous. Let’s just go back to the others.” But Applejack’s stubbornness had taken over, and the orange pony placed a hoof back onto the black surface.
“It’s…broken, it’s made up of lots of small pieces.” She took another step.
“Applejack, please stop, this isn’t a good idea.” Twilight wanted to force her friend back, but she didn’t want to use her magic without a guarantee that it would work, and she certainly wasn’t strong enough to push Applejack off with the earth pony fighting back. Applejack took slow, small steps toward the center of the path. As she neared the yellow lines, she quickened slightly. When she had reached the center, she bent her neck, in the dwindling light, now almost gone, she stared at the marks.
“Applejack, please come back, this isn’t a good idea.” Twilight looked around, constantly checking the horizon where it met the path and seamlessly fused together. To her surprise and horror, as the last rays of the sun seemed to vanish a glow came from the horizon “APPLEJACK!” Twilight screamed.
Applejack looked at the light; neither of them had ever seen something like that before, and as Twilight panicked on the side of the path Applejack stared with curiosity and amazement. The light grew on the horizon, and as the ball of light expanded a sound slowly grew with it. A rumble of metal that was soon joined by a shrill high-pitched wail that sounded erratically as the light grew ever brighter
Twilight made a hasty move, she rushed out onto the path straight at Applejack. Her hooves made loud thuds on the hard ground. At full speed she ran into Applejack’s side causing Applejack to cry out as she stumbled sideways. Now snapped out of her trance she followed Twilight off the path as a piercing screech added itself to the cacophony of sound.
Suddenly the light stopped growing, The noises had mostly quieted but a loud rumble still bombarded the pony’s ears. As the ponies looked past the blinding beams, they saw a monstrous creature. Its huge metallic body glistened in the dim light A long nose extended from a great head topped with two horns that forced out large amounts of steam. A small segment connected it to a perfectly rectangular body. The whole thing suspended on pairs of wheels spaced down the length of the beast. Twilight gawked at the behemoth that stood before her. Its shape was unlike anything she had ever seen before.
But Twilight was unprepared for what emerged from the front of the hulk. A section of the side of the beasts “head” opened, and from the space it left behind came a creature unlike any Twilight could have imagined, revealing the huge rumbling beast to be only a machine. As it entered the light staring straight at her Twilight was able to make out its form in the darkness.
It walked on its two back legs, and had on a kind of blue cloth pants that covered it from hoof to waist. Its back hooves themselves were covered by a long brown horseshoe that wrapped itself around every part of the hoof, extended forward double the size necessary. On its upper section it had a shirt, but unlike any in Ponyville.
Small, round, flattened beads spaced themselves evenly down the middle of the creature. The shirtsleeves ended at the joints of the fore hoofs, revealing the dirty white flesh and dragon like claws at the end of the fore hooves. But unlike dragons, whom only had four claws, this creature had five on the end of each hoof. They also differed from a dragons claw in that they had a rounded tip instead of a claw like point.
But the strangest thing of all was the head of the creature. The eyes were incredibly small for it to be full-grown. The nose was disconnected from the mouth and only protruded an inch or so from the face. The mane was kept short and stopped above the neck. This creature was without hesitation the strangest thing she had ever seen. But what scared her most was it was looking straight at her.
The creature made gestures to the ponies and opened its mouth to speak, but the noises it made were indiscernible. Twilight had no idea if it was speaking or making random incoherent sounds. The creature didn’t waste much time making noise, it ran back to the hole in the behemoth it emerged from and stuck its front section in, creating a new blend of noise to add to the symphony that had already come from the beast.
Twilight and Applejack had been dumbfounded by the sight of the creature, and stood frozen in place. Yet as the creature ducked its head out of sight, they regained their senses. Twilight looked over the massive form before her and realized she was not looking at two creatures, but a creature and its machine.
“Twilight, for the love of Celestia tell me you know what that thing is.” Applejack said, Her voice was collected, but a twinge of fear made its way through.
“No idea, I’ve never read about anything like this before. But it looks intelligent, if it can work something as huge as this thing.” Twilight replied, gesturing to the hulk towering before them. “But I don’t have the faintest idea what it said or what it’s doing.” Twilight was startled as the creature emerged with a foreleg behind its back. The hoof they could see reached out to the group of ponies as the creature slowly approached.
But Twilight new better then to trust this act, she backed away twice as quickly as the creature advanced. Applejack made to do the same, but accidentally ran into a tree and let out a yell of surprise, spinning around to see if it was another threat. The creature saw its opportunity, bringing around the previously hidden hoof, it swiftly slipped a rope around Applejacks neck.
Applejack knew for sure she was in danger this time and lashed out with her back hoofs in an attempt to buck her assailant. But the creature stood nearly double Applejack’s height and with some impressive agility dodged the desperately flailing hooves with ease. Using the rope too reel her in, it scooped up Applejack in its fore hoofs prompting an outcry from the terrified pony.
“HELP, TWILIGHT DO SOMTH’N A FORE IM HOGTIED AND GONE!” These events had taken only a few seconds, and Applejack’s outcry prompted Twilight to another rushed response. Her horn glowed as she seized the creature by the back of its shirt. The creature hadn’t expected this, and when Twilight pulled hard using her magic, the creature was thrown off balance. It released the captive Applejack and fell backwards onto the front of its machine. Applejack hit the solid surface of the path, and let out a scream of pain.
Twilight winced at the sound of Applejack’s scream, but knew she had to eliminate the danger before she could help her friend. The creature however had learned its lesson from the initial blow of Twilight’s magic. When Twilight made to use it again the creature retreated inside its machine. It quickly closed the side of the machine’s “head” it had emerged from and sped off into the distance.
The only light now came from the glow of Twilight’s horn, the only sounds were the low rumble of the retreating creatures machine, Twilight’s labored breathing, and small whimpers from Applejack. Twilight let her magic fall but had no time to act as tired as she felt. She rushed to Applejack who lay on her right side breathing hard through clenched teeth.
“Applejack, are you ok, can you stand?” Twilight said frantically, not sure what questions to ask. But noticing the rope still around Applejack’s neck, she used her magic to untie the knot and pull it aside.
“I don’t think so sugar cube. My back legs hurt’n pretty bad. I think I landed on it when that thing dropped me.” Twilight looked down at her friend, she knew she had to find a way to help, but what could she do?
“Applejack, I’m going to try to flip you onto your other side so I can see what happened to your leg, brace yourself ok?” Applejack sucked in a gust of air and tightened every muscle in her body. Twilight could tell moving hurt the leg, but Applejack stayed quiet until Twilight had completely flipped her over.
As both ponies looked down at the injury, Applejack breathed a sigh of relief. The leg was dislocated, but didn’t appear to be broken. Applejack started to stand up, but Twilight put a firm hoof on Applejack’s side to keep her lying down.
“Applejack I’m no doctor, I’m not even sure what I can do to help, but if you get up you could make this a lot worse.”
“Now Twilight what do you expect me to do down here? If I can’t get up how am I getting back to everypony else?”
“Applejack I’ll think of something. The first thing we have to do is get you away from this path.”
“Now sugar cube, tell me how you’re going to do that without me standing.”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find a way.” Twilight’s focus darted around trying to find a way to help Applejack. Using her magic had made her to tired to try carrying or dragging Applejack anywhere. And unless Applejack was able to crawl over twigs and rocks to get back to the others they were stuck.
Twilight thought desperately for a solution, and as her options slowly dwindled, she heard a sound in the distance. At first it was soft, but gradually it grew into a recognizable call.
“Twilight…Applejack…come on you guys, I can’t fly for too long.” It was Rainbow Dash’s voice, coming from over the tree line.
“RAINBOW DASH!” Twilight called out. Rainbow’s voice stopped for a second.
“Twilight, Twilight can you hear me!?!”
“Rainbow! Rainbow we’re on the path!” Rainbow appeared slightly to the right of Twilight and Applejack on the side of the path opposite them. Using Twilight’s glowing horn as a guide, she zoomed down to the pair and nearly crashed into the ground beside Twilight. Panting slightly she looked from Twilight to Applejack and grimaced at the dislocated leg.
“What happened to her?” Rainbow said catching her breath.
“Long story.” Said Twilight. “But the bottom line is I need you to go get the others, we have some work to do in order to get Applejack back to the clearing. Rainbow Dash nodded and took off, after a few minutes the rest of the ponies found their way to Applejack and Twilight.
“Oh my, what a ghastly knock. I knew you where in trouble when I heard all that noise coming from the woods, but I didn’t expect this.” Said Rarity, turning away from Applejack’s injury. Twilight rolled her eyes as she began giving out everypony’s instructions.
“Alright everypony, I know it’s late but I’m going to need all the help I can get. Pinkie, I need you to go find some large branches.” Pinkie shot a hoof to her forehead in a salute and attempted to bounce into the woods, but when she tripped and nearly fell on her face she settled for a fast trot.
“Rarity, when Pinkie gets back I’m going to build a small platform for Applejack. You need to lift Applejack onto it using your magic. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash will have to carry the platform between them through the trees back to the clearing. The rest of us will support the under side to help take some of the weight. Any questions?”
“Only one darling.” Said Rarity. “How are you going to hold this platform together?” Twilight took the rope that the creature had used on Applejack and held it up for Rarity to see in the dark. “Now where in Equestria did you get that?” Twilight was about to explain when Pinkie returned with several large branches that she pushed along with her fore hoof.
“Found some Twilight!” she said enthusiastically. “A super duper big tree fell over close to the edge of the forest and I broke off the branches that weren’t to skinny.” Twilight smiled as the bubbly nature of her friend shown through again. She had been worried after the episode earlier today but Pinkie seemed to be coping well.
Twilight quickly assembled the platform. Aligning the branches with her hoofs and securing a section of the rope on either end. She knotted a length of what rope remained dangling off the center of each side for Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy to use.
“You two ready?” She asked the pegasi.
“Sure Twilight, I need to get used to flying here anyway.” Said Rainbow Dash, taking one of the ropes in her mouth.
“I’ll do my best Twilight, I just hope I can make it back without stopping.” Said Fluttershy, taking the other lose rope. Rarity sneaked a peek at Applejack and quickly turned away seeing the wound.
“Twilight, please tell me you’re going to help me lift Applejack.” She said nervously. But Twilight was still exhausted from the earlier use of her magic and though she had built the platform quickly she now showed her fatigue.
“I’m sorry Rarity, but I don’t think I’d be much help. Try your best, I know you can do it.”
“Uh Twilight do I get a say in this?” said Applejack, she lay facing into the forest, and turned her head over her shoulder to be able to see the other ponies. “I don’t see why you can’t just pop this back in place.”
“I wish it was that simple Applejack, but nopony here has any experience with medicine. Fluttershy is the closest dealing with animals, but she has no idea how to help a pony. Besides, even if one of us did know what to do there’s no way of knowing if you didn’t injure more than just the socket, it could be broken. All we can do is get you somewhere safe and get home.
“Oh horse feathers Twilight, it ain’t broken! It just needs to be popped back in’ta place.”
“Applejack I’m sorry, but this is all we can do right now. If you’re ready we can bring you back to the clearing.” Applejack dropped her head and said nothing, which Twilight took as a ‘go ahead.’ She nodded at Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash who took off and hovered about four feet off the ground. This was high enough that the platform was lifted slightly above the heads of the ponies.
Rarity’s horn began to glow as magical energy engulfed Applejack. Very slowly Applejack raised into the air.
“Now Rarity, you drop me, an leg or no leg I’m gonna buck you so hard you’ll need more than a trip to the spa to fix yourself up.”
“Don’t struggle so much darling.” Said Rarity. “It makes it hard to concentrate.” After the platform was moved under Applejack, Rarity gently set her down onto it. Rarity, Twilight, and Pinkie quickly got underneath the platform to support it
Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy struggled to keep the platform stable. The fact neither of them could talk made it even more difficult. But the six ponies made it back to the clearing without much trouble, only hitting a tree twice.
When they arrived they set Applejack back on the ground Fluttershy practically falling out of the sky. She collapsed on the ground next to Applejack and spat out the rope. “Twilight, next time can I get the branches.” She said, breathing hard. Rainbow Dash managed to land and get the rope out of her mouth before collapsing.
“Twilight, next time just leave me in the woods, everypony’s gonna be sore tomarra.” Applejack said shyly, but the ponies that had taken the brunt of Applejack’s weight were in no position to talk.
“Applejack I’m sorry but we’re exhausted. In the morning we’ll find a way to help you, but right now we all need our beauty sleep.” Rarity managed to say before heading off to her makeshift bed. She managed to stagger her way to the heap of fabric before sleep overtook her. Pinkie barely made it halfway there. Twilight was content to curl up next to Applejack, and before long joined the others in an uneasy rest under Luna’s star filled sky.