“Well, at least the path is well-marked,” Twilight Sparkle said, as they reached the edge of the Everfree Forest. They hadn’t been able to find anypony else willing to accompany them into the forest, so Miss Apple was pulling the wagon with their tribute to the new queen, and the materials for Twilight’s presentation. Twilight’s contribution was to hold up a half dozen candles so they could find their way safely along the dark roads without tripping over anything, but it looked like it wouldn’t be necessary, since somepony had embedded a series of glowing gems in the trees to either side of the path.
She leaned close to read the sign under the first light. “Oh, it’s an advertisement. ‘Rarity’s Rare Earths’.”
Applejack let out a heavy sigh. “Rarity’s here, then.”
“Looks like it,” Twilight said, heading down the path. She snuffed the candles and put them back in her bag, in case they needed them later. “What is it with you two, anyway? They’re not competition – we’re in a completely different industry.”
“It’s not a business matter,” Applejack said. “You never had to go to one of her parties.”
“New money?” Twilight said, with a smirk that she was sure Miss Apple couldn’t see.
“I’m new money,” Applejack replied. “The Oranges are new money. Rarity is… something else.”
With the path marked, the Everfree Forest hardly lived up to its reputation. They ran into a few monsters – a manticore, a river serpent, and a strange pony-like creature that Twilight recognized as a zebra – but nothing they couldn’t buy off with a pastry from their wagon. It was a long walk, though, lit by dozens, hundreds of gems.
“It was really nice of her to put so many gems out,” Twilight remarked, impressed. “This must have cost a fortune!”
“Showoff,” was Applejack’s surly response. “She probably thought it was the ‘noble’ thing to do.”
“Well,” Twilight said, “It kind of was.”
“She probably pulled all these gems out of the ground with that dowsing spell she’s so proud of,” Applejack said. “It didn’t cost her one bit.”
Twilight was going to explain about opportunity costs, but was saved by the end of the trail – at a rickety rope bridge, that looked like it was as likely to hold up under their wagon as the ruin on the far side was to spontaneously grow wings and fly off to invade Cloudsdale. It was also about a foot and a half too narrow.
They stared at the bridge. “Saddlebags from here, I guess,” Applejack said, unhitching herself from the wagon.
“At least it isn’t a very long walk,” Twilight said, as her boss loaded her up with books and charts. “I can see the ruins just on the other side.” She staggered as a second set of saddlebags dropped onto her haunches. “Oof!” Her horn glowed as she levitated them up off her back. “I’ll, heh heh, I’ll just carry the rest.”
Applejack looked at her magic warily. “Don’t drop them,” she said, loading the rest of their supplies onto her own back.
“I’m fine! Levitation is… fine,” Twilight Sparkle said, snatching a third set for herself to demonstrate. “Besides, that bridge looks pretty rickety, it’s better not to have all the weight resting on our hooves. Do you think we should go over one at a time?”
Miss Apple snorted. “From the looks of it, it’s been here for a thousand years. If the bridge didn’t collapse under the weight of Rarity’s ego, I don’t see how a couple hundred pounds of ponies are going to take it down.”
They went across one at a time anyway, Twilight first since she was lighter. She had a bit of a scare near the middle when her hoof slipped out from under her on one of the wet wooden boards, but although the bridge wobbled and swayed alarmingly, freezing in terror let it stabilize enough for her continue. She let out a little gasp of relief as she trotted up onto solid ground, and gently set down the bags she’d been levitating, which were starting to wear on her horn a bit.
Just then, there was a loud crash, a flash of light, and a sharp pain in her back, and her vision whited out.
It was a school field trip – not the first, and not the most interesting, at least to young Twilight Sparkle. The factory was *crowded*, and *loud*, and hardly anything was labeled. The tour guide was trying to explain what was going on, but even with him shouting at the top of his lungs, Twilight couldn’t make out a word of what he was saying from the back of the pack of students, many of whom were taller and all of whom were far more enthusiastic. It didn’t help that they hadn’t had a safety helmet for unicorns in her size, and the one she was wearing almost swallowed her entire head.
Honestly, she wished she’d brought a book.
“I can’t hold it! It’s too heavy!” said somepony behind her, and the fear in their voice made Twilight turn and look, to see a unicorn struggling to hold back a wobbling, glowing column of glass and metal which was tilting alarmingly right… towards… her…
“Run! RUN!” screamed an earth pony around a rope held in his teeth, as his hooves slipped along the catwalk. It was useless, though – the factory was too loud, and the only pony paying attention was Twilight, and she was glued to the ground as her doom came tumbling towards her, spraying lightning as it shattered into a million shards of glass.
Twilight’s horn seemed to activate of its own volition, forming a bubble to stop the deadly rain, inches from her face – but it didn’t stop there. Stray bolts of magic shot out at random, turning the falling unicorn into a pigeon, lifting the earth pony on the crumbling catwalk into midair, blowing a hole in the roof of the building – and more that Twilight didn’t even see as her vision whited out. She struggled to end the chaos, but she couldn’t even feel the floor under her hooves, until Applejack…
Somepony gently placed their hooves on her shoulders, and a soft voice said, “Shhh… it’s okay.”
Twilight’s vision cleared, resolving into a Shadowbolt hovering before her. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” the black-uniformed Pegasus said, her words and demeanor clashing with her terrifying outfit. Then again, her long pink mane didn’t really match it that well either.
“Twilight!” came a voice behind her, as Applejack raced across the bridge.
“I’m okay,” Twilight said, glancing back at Applejack. “I’m okay. Just – what hit me?”
“BWA HA HA HA HA!” came a raucous laugh from above. Another Shadowbolt, this one with an equally incongruous rainbow mane, peered down over the edge of a tiny thundercloud. “You should have seen the look on your face!”
“Mystery solved,” Twilight growled, jerking her saddlebags back up off the ground.
“You sure you’re okay, sweetie?” Applejack asked, looking her over. “You looked like you were about to –“
“I’m FINE,” Twilight snapped a little louder than she’d intended. She gave a contrite cringe as Applejack flinched. “I’m – I’m sorry, Miss Apple. I was just startled, but everything’s under control.”
She settled the second set of saddlebags onto her back, though, covering her cutie mark. Every time she thought she’d finally come to terms with her ‘special talent’, something had to happen to remind her of the day she’d gotten the cursed thing.