56w, 6dAussie Bronies
TIME KEEPS ON SLIPPING
Spectrum Sprint slowly flew over the forest, completing the most recent of many passes for the day. Her wings felt heavy, and hot, like somepony had replaced her blood with molten iron. The usual hazy streak of color that followed her path was nowhere in sight, an unusual occurrence for her, given that it failed to appear at low speeds, something that Spectrum strongly disliked. Under different circumstances, the athletic, multicolored Pegasus might have enjoyed that familiar burning of over-worked flight muscles. But Ponyville's first weather-pony was too exhausted to even acknowledge the strain.
She'd spent the last few weeks scanning the Everfree in her spare time, looking.
"I owe Leafdapple that much at least. I can't give up on him now," she murmured to herself.
A quiet, persistent voice in the back of her mind reminded her that anypony who'd gone missing in the forest had never been seen again.
"No!" Spectrum yelled out loud to herself. "Not him! He's better than that!"
You've heard the stories. Ever since he got back from the tournament, he's been acting different.
"Shut up! It doesn't matter! I can't turn my back on him OR her!"
What do you owe them?
"They gave me everything! I was nothing until I came here, just another washout on the streets of Cloudsdale."
It's been weeks. He'd have come back by now.
She snorted. Spectrum couldn't tell if it was the fact that she was arguing with herself out loud that bothered her or whether it was the fact that she was losing.
Everypony else has given up by now.
"Except his family. Except his daughter, Except his wife, who also happens to be my best friend!"
You could just tell her that it's hopeless. You know she'd believe you.
Spectrum growled back. "I would never be so disloyal."
And yet the thought has crossed your mind.
"Oh? And how would you know!"
For starters, you're arguing with yourself; you already know what's going on in here.
Spectrum circled in a shallow, banking turn, barely flapping. She relished the break her sore wings got. The strange pillars of warm air that circulated out of the Everfree buoyed her light frame upwards. She had spent hours like this, during times when she needed to think, simply rising higher and higher until her breath misted in front of her eyes. Riding the thermals was a great way to spend some time alone, but Spectrum quickly realized if she allowed that to happen she'd eventually convince herself to abandon all hope. That was unacceptable. The Apples were counting on her.
With a grunt, she rolled out of the thermal and streaked down towards the forest to make another pass.
I will not let them down. Until they've given up, neither can I.
Apple Blossom sat on the porch of the Apple's ranch home, watching the wind playfully tease the leaves of the tiny seedlings that sprouted up from the soon-to-be orchard. She ran a hoof over the pink bandanna she was holding, remembering when her father had given it to her. She remembered being so thrilled when he'd presented it, pulling it out of saddlebags bursting with apples. She remembered the cool texture of it as he wrapped it around her head, carefully pushing her unruly red bangs out of her eyes as he did so. She remembered the reflection of herself in his eyes, as he looked down on her with a look of happiness that only a proud father could give. She remembered thinking to herself how cool it was that both she and him both had bandannas now.
She remembered the day she'd gotten her cutie mark. The last one in her class to do so, she'd endured the taunts and verbal jabs to the point where she ignored them as they simply washed over her like a stream washes over a pebble. She remembered how happy they had been that day, when the image of the budding flower of an apple tree had finally appeared on her flank, symbolizing her special talent for creation. She remembered how hard her father had smiled when it had happened, how he'd picked her up and spun her around and around until she felt like she was going to sick, and how she didn't care what else happened as long as he didn't stop. She remembered how he had roared his happiness up to the sky, proclaiming to the Goddesses his pride and joy for her.
She remembered how badly she'd wanted to be like him. He had been their rock, as well as their pillow; soft when he needed to be, and hard when he didn't. She remembered how she'd appreciated that. Her father had always known what to do when his family needed him. He had always protected them and cared for them. She knew that he'd throw down his life if it meant her's could last a mere moment longer.
A single tear fell down onto the pink bandanna, darkening the cloth in a perfect circle as she remembered her father. She put it back around her head and tied it firmly, her eyes steeling up.
She had to be the strong one now. Apple Blossom knew her father would have come back by now. There was only one possible explanation for his absence.
He wasn't coming back.
All she could do was remember him.
Leafdapple stared at the painting hanging over the fireplace. It showed the image of the home, just after completion, with its future occupants standing proudly on the front lawn, proudly bearing a number of nicks and scrapes associated with construction. Every face showed a smile, despite how hard the work had been. Her eyes lingered longingly over her husband's massive form, taking in his face. He had that look on him, that proud, if somewhat smug one that said "I knew we could do it". His heavy-lidded eyes were practically laughing with joy, the artist had done them so well.
Leafdapple shifted her gaze to the figure next to him, intently watching her own familiar red figure. The mare in the painting had a longer mane than she did now, spiky golden locks covering one cyan eye. She was leaning against her husband, sporting a terrific scrape on her hoof, but she was seemingly oblivious to it. Her eyes were fixed on the tiny yellow filly, barely a few years old, who had been painted in between the two, caught mid-bounce. Leafdapple fondly remembered that day; Apple Blossom couldn't sit still, despite having helped with construction earlier that morning.
The red mare turned away from the painting with some difficulty. That was one of the few images of her husband in the house. Paintings were expensive to make, and they'd never had many extra bits to spare. Leafdapple made her way into the kitchen and splashed some water on her face, attempting to clear her head. The cool liquid felt soothing on her eyes, which were red and puffy from many a sleepless night. For a while she managed to focus solely on the sensation, relishing the relief it brought.
Eventually the cold water began to numb her face, so she stopped the flow and reached for a towel. The fibers felt strangely nonexistent to her; she could feel the pressure, but not the texture. The chill of her wash had desensitized her face thoroughly. Leafdapple straightened up and set the towel down before trotting over to her place at the kitchen table.
Despite only being used for a few years, the massive pine slab was scored with innumerable marks from careless mistakes with silverware, crashing dinnerware, and other various objects brutally slamming into it's ringed surface. Idly, Leafdapple sat down and began counting the small rings that spread outward form the center. As she did so, a memory flashed through her mind.
It was the day they'd brought the slab into the house. The roof wasn't even completed yet, so the sky could be seen through the several gaps present. Leafdapple dimly recalled the ceiling had looked kind of like a piano, except where the black keys went there was only the blue of the great beyond instead. She and Buckshot had finally finished rolling the great wheel through the door way, and both were covered in sweat, panting. They'd sat down against the wall, admiring the wooden monstrosity.
"Look at the size of it. How old do you think it is?" she'd asked him.
He'd pondered this for a while. "Few hundred years at least."
She remembered being surprised at this. "How can you tell?"
He stood and picked her up, placing her in front of the table with about as much effort as one would use to lift a napkin. The table was currently on it's side, it's freshly revealed rings creating a slightly disorientating spiral. He had placed her hoof on the surface, gently running it over the uncountable lines. "See those?"
She'd nodded, intently watching them.
"These are the growth rings. Every cycle of seasons, the tree makes a new one as it grows up and out."
"There are so many, though," she'd said in wonder.
"Exactly. This tree might have been the oldest in the forest for all we know."
"And we cut it down?" her voice took on a twinge of guilt for the fallen monarch.
"Aye," he wrapped a massive forelimb around her neck. "But don't think badly of it."
"The rings might show it's age, but they also reveal how well it lived."
She'd snuggled up to him, breathing in his warmth as he spoke. "How so?"
Buck had pointed to the rings again. "See how they're really thick? That means the tree grew a lot that year. When a tree has a growin' season like that, it makes a lot of seeds in the spring." Her husband rubbed the wood reverently. "How many seeds do ya think this thing made a year? You saw how big it was 'fore we cut it down."
Her eyes widened as she imagined the sheer scale of reproduction. "Thousands, maybe," she'd breathed in realization.
"Aye. And that's just in one year."
"So... What's your point?"
"This here tree has sired maybe half the forest if your guess is true. It had a good run, but it had ta come down."
"But why? Why not leave it there?"
He gave her a squeeze and looked up through a hole in the roof. "If we didn't take it down, it woulda fallen soon anyway, taking out a huge swath of bush when it did. We did the forest a favor, savin' it from unneeded harm."
"Trees fall all the time, why is this one any different?"
"We cleared room for more growth. With this biggun-," He slapped the slab fondly. "-Outta the way, ten more trees can grow up in its place."
Leafdapple had thought about this for a moment. "And so those trees could grow up and make more?"
"Good onya. Now yer gettin' it." He gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "Sometimes ya need ta take out a giant to let his children grow."
Those last words echoed around in her head. Whether he'd realized it or not, those words had lately come to define her.
Now the question was if she could let herself grow in her giant's absence.