Applejack and Pinkie Pie’s Excellent Adventure
-No, wait, that’s terrible. How about-
Episode 3: Return of the Poni
-No good, I used that one last time-
Well, It Fits Better For This One
-You think I don’t know that?-
What Do You Want From Me? I’m Just a Title
-This is getting irritatingly meta. Let’s just go with-
Here’s Some More Nerd Ponies
“Come on, Spike! How long is this gonna take?”
“Hey, it’ll be done when it’s done, alright?”
Applejack narrowed her eyes. “It’s been months. How much time does it take to come up with a new campaign?”
“Look, do you want it done quick, or do you want it done right?” the little dragon huffed. He was surrounded on all sides by his guides and miniatures, covering what was usually Twilight’s writing desk. Applejack, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie craned their necks to get a look at his notes, but he snatched them up before they could see anything. “Hey, no peeking!”
“He’s always like this before a new campaign.” said Pinkie, pretending she hadn’t just been looking, “Spike’s a super perfectionist DM.”
“That’s right!” said Spike with a cocky grin, “You can’t rush perfection.”
“Yeah, sure.” Applejack snorted, “So what the heck am I supposed to do ‘til then? Now that the harvest is in storage I’ve got nothin’ to do ‘til Winter Wrap Up.”
“I’ve got a lot of free time, too.” said Fluttershy, “The cottage has been awfully quiet since all the little bunnies and everything started their hibernation.”
“And Sugarcube Corner’s kitchen is being rebuilt!” said Pinkie, “After that explosion that I had nothing to do with.”
“Well, tough cookies, sister.” said Spike, “I’m not rolling this out until it’s good and done. You’re gonna love it, too! I had to adapt the rules from six different games to be able to do everything I wanted, and now I’m customizing each of the areas for your characters.”
Applejack pulled a sour face. “Does that mean I’m stuck playing Dwarfy again?”
“Whats wrong with Dwarfy?” said Pinkie, “You don’t like Dwarfy? I love Dwarfy!”
Applejack shrugged. “Ehhh, I’m gettin’ kinda sick of playing a generic dwarf fighter when there are so many cool races and classes I haven’t even tried yet. I wanna experiment a little. Maybe try something crazy and different, like a treant.”
“I’d like to be a treant.” said Fluttershy.
“No, no! What? No!” Spike said, getting flustered, “I’ll have to start all over if you make new characters!”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Well, fine. But I at least want to take a prestige class or multiclass or something. Dwarfy’s a long way off from bein’ optimized.”
“Aw, listen to you!” said Pinkie, chucking Applejack playfully on her shoulder, “A few months ago you were all, ‘Ah ain’t unner-stan’ this here dang ol’ game’, and now here you are, min-maxing like a champ!”
Applejack grinned sheepishly. “Heh, yeah. Guess I’ve gone native, huh?”
Spike rubbed his temples irritably. “You know, I’m not gonna finish this any faster if you all keep standing around and yakking in my ear.”
“Okay, okay, we get the message.” sighed Applejack, “Come on, guys. I’ve got an idea.”
As they all turned to leave, the door to the library’s study clicked open and Twilight popped her head out. Her hair was frazzled, and there were dark circles under her eyes.
“Hey, Pinkie, can I talk to you for a minute?” she said, stifling a yawn.
“Oh! We were just...” Pinkie started.
“It’s okay, go on ahead.” said Applejack, “We can meet up back at the barn later.” She turned back to Fluttershy, “So anyway, Fluttershy, I’ve been meanin’ to ask you somethin’ about chipmunks.”
“Oh, I know everything about chipmunks!” she said, following her out the door.
Pinkie squinted in the dim light of the study as she entered. Books and scrolls were stacked high around the room, even more so than usual. The only source of light came from several candles surrounding a desk in the corner. Pinned to the wall above it were a series of complicated diagrams Pinkie couldn’t even begin to understand.
“Wowsers,” she said, “Looks like you’ve been hitting the books pretty hard. So this is what you’ve been up to for the last few weeks!”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah, sorry I’ve been so distant lately.” said Twilight distractedly, sitting down at the desk, “I’ve been pretty busy working on a new spell.”
“Cool-cool-COOL!” shouted Pinkie, doing an energetic little dance in place, “What’s it do? Does it turn ponies into things, or blow things up, or make sparkles shoot out of things? Go on, tell-me-tell-me-tell-me!”
Twilight smiled wearily. “Nothing so dramatic. Not all spells can be sparkles and explosions.” She yawned again as she shuffled through her notes. “It’s a new method of magically assisted psychological analysis. It could be a boon to the mental health field. That is,” she grumbled, “If I can get it to work, of course.”
Pinkie stopped dancing and raised an eyebrow at Twilight. “Psychological? Like, for helping crazy ponies?”
“Ideally, yes.” Twilight said, chuckling slightly.
Pinkie looked at the piles of books and notes around the room, then back at Twilight. Her voice was suddenly serious. “This... this is for her, isn’t it?”
Twilight nodded, squeezing her eyes shut. “Yeah... yeah, it’s for her.”
“I thought she was getting better?” Pinkie said with concern, “She seemed okay the last time we saw her, didn’t she?”
“She’s not violent anymore, if that’s what you mean.” said Twilight, “But every time I talk to her, she seems so... lost. Half the time I don’t know if I’m talking to her or the Stranger.” She sniffed, tears beginning to bead in the corners of her eyes.
“Hey,” said Pinkie, putting a comforting hoof on her shoulder, “It’s not your fault.”
“I was the one who introduced her to the game.”
“None of us had any idea she’d react like that, Twilight.” Pinkie persisted, “You can’t blame yourself.”
Twilight blinked away her tears. “It’s not about blame, it’s about responsibility.” she said, managing to summon up a steely resolve, “I’m going to fix this. I swear it.”
“Okay, if you say so.” said Pinkie, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“That’s kind of the reason I asked you in here.” said Twilight, “Have you noticed how Applejack’s been acting lately?”
“What, Applejack?” said Pinkie, sightly taken aback, “What do you mean? I guess she’s a little grumpier than usual, but she always gets like that when the harvest season is over. Unless...” Pinkie cocked her head at Twilight. “Hold on... you don’t think... I mean, this is Applejack we’re talking about, here.”
“I’m not saying she’s turning into... you know.” said Twilight, “I’m just concerned, is all. You heard her talking earlier. She’s getting much deeper into the game than the rest of us ever have. I mean, multiclassing?” she gave an exasperated sigh, “There’s no going back once you start with that.”
“So, you want me to keep an eye on her? Keep her from going crazy?”
“I, uh...” Twilight blinked at her. “Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like a bad idea.”
“No-no-no, it’s a GREAT idea!” said Pinkie, the bounce returning to her step, “It’s like a mission! A quest! The quest to save Applejack’s marbles!”
“Just let me know if she starts acting strangely.” said Twilight, “And try to keep her from playing the game, if you can.”
“Aye-aye, captain!” said Pinkie with a plucky salute, “You can count on me!”
Twilight watched her as she bounced out of the study, a mare on a mission.
Act 1: Mac and Me
Sweet Apple Acres stood calm and still in the crisp late-autumn air. The trees’ branches rattled skeletally in the breeze, their fruit long since picked and their leaves mostly fallen. A farm is never truly at rest; there’s always work to be done somewhere. Still, it was a stark difference from the hustle and bustle of only a few weeks ago, when the last harvest of the year was in full swing. Now, the farm was eerily quiet, giving the impression that it was girding itself for the long winter to come. Pinkie Pie bounced her way along the rough dirt road leading to the barn, a bright splotch of color against the muted browns and grays of the landscape. The barn door creaked open as she approached and Applejack waved to her from the door frame.
“There you are! We’ve been waitin’ for you.” she said, letting her inside, “What was it Twi’ wanted to talk about?”
“Magic!” Pinkie blurted out, “Just... magic stuff. You know, ‘cause that’s what she does, right?”
“Studyin’ again, huh? Figures.” said Applejack, shaking her head bemusedly, “Sometimes I worry about that girl.”
Inside the barn barrels of apples were stacked to the ceiling, meticulously organised by cultivar. Despite how full the barn was packed it represented only a fraction of the total crop. Most of the harvest were sealed up airtight and sunk into the lake for long-term storage, where the cold and lack of air would keep them as fresh as the day they were picked well into spring. Applejack lead her friend through the maze-like columns of barrels.
“Come on, we’re set up over here.” she said.
“Yeah, the game, remember?” Applejack said with a lopsided grin.
Pinkie thought fast. “Hey, uh, don’t you want to do something else? Like, uhh...” she drew a blank, “...stuff?” After mentally kicking herself, she tried harder, looking for any excuse. “I thought Spike wasn’t finished with his campaign? We don’t have a DM.”
“Sure we do.” Applejack said confidently, “I called in a favor.”
They rounded a stack of barrels, coming on an open space lit by an old kerosene lantern. A rough circle of hay bails were arranged around a large wooden spool, tipped on its side and serving as a makeshift table. Fluttershy and Big Macintosh were already seated and waiting for them.
“Nice, eh?” said Applejack, “It’s a mite chilly in here, but we’ve got some hot cider and plenty of apples to snack on. And the hay, if you get sick of apples. ‘Course, then you gotta choose between food and furniture.”
“Big Macintosh?” said Pinkie, “I didn’t know you were into Dungeons and Dragons.”
“Uh...” he started.
“He ain’t, normally.” Applejack cut him off, “But he owes me one. Right, big bro?”
“Whatever you say, sis.” the big stallion drawled, “But I still don’t get why you need me. I never even played this game before. Wouldn’ one a’ ya’ll make a better dragon-master?”
“I told you,” Applejack said testily, “Me and Fluttershy don’t feel like it. Spike’s great and all, but he can’t improvise worth diddly squat. And Pinkie Pie’s games always end up blowin’ us all to kingdom come.”
“That’s my style!” Pinkie said proudly, “Gotta end with a bang!”
“I, uh, don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.” said Fluttershy.
“So anyway, you’re the best we got.” continued Applejack, “Just do it like I told you, and you’ll do fine.”
“Okay,” said Big Macintosh with a resigned sigh, “Here goes nothin’, I guess.”
Zinnadiana Lyreplucker the twenty-seventh leaned back in her chair, sipping her ale. The tavern around her buzzed with life. It was the kind of dive bar that adventurers always preferred: cheap liquor, an inexplicably large number of weapons available for purchase behind the counter, and a high tolerance for bar brawls. Seedy-looking characters of all shapes and sizes were packed into every corner of the room, talking, drinking, playing cards, and doing their best to project an air of menace.
“I don’t like places like this, Zinny.” said her companion.
“I guess it’s a little clichéd,” said the bard, “But we’ve gotta start somewhere. They gave you a booster seat, right?”
“That’s not what I mean.” said Gracelove Silentall, halfling cleric. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “A member of the Order of the Silver Star shouldn't be seen in a house of such ill repute.”
“Pssh. Clerics.” said Zinnadiana dismissively, “Try and show ‘em a good time, and all they do is complain. Where’s our third, by the way? We ought to get ourselves equipped if we plan on seeing some action.”
“I haven’t seen...”
There was a crash as the doors to the tavern flew open, and a man clad in leather armor with a dark green hood stepped through. All eyes turned to watch him as he strode boldly up to the bar and rapped forcefully on the counter top get the bartender's attention. He lowered his hood, revealing an unruly shock of red hair and a pointed beard.
“Greetings, barkeep! My name is Marcus Ealdræd.” he said, flashing a devil-may-care grin, “I require a pint of ale and a shank of mutton, and I’d like to take a look at your selection of scimitars.”
“Aw, you’re not playing Dwarfy?” said Pinkie, looking crestfallen.
“Nah, it’s like I said earlier.” said Applejack, “I want to try out some of the other races and classes. Marcus is a ranger I built around duel-wielding melee combat. He’s a human, too. Gotta love that bonus feat.”
“How did you say that last name, again?” asked Fluttershy.
“Like ‘all-dread’. Cool, huh?” grinned Applejack.
“Oh, is that how you pronounce that little squashed-together a and e?” said Pinkie, squinting at the character sheet.
“Beats me.” Applejack shrugged, “Just thought it looked cool. You guys sure you don’t want to make new characters too? We don’t exactly have a balanced party, here.”
“No way!” said Pinkie firmly, “Every party could use a bard.”
“Yeah, but a bard and a cleric?” said Applejack, “That’s a little defense-heavy. Anyway, I figured Fluttershy was more the type to play a druid.”
“Oh, I thought about it.” said Fluttershy, “But Spike likes to use a lot of undead monsters, so I went with a cleric. The Order of the Silver Star is dedicated to the eradication of necrotic creatures.”
“Necrotic creatures, eh?” said Applejack, tapping her chin with her hoof thoughtfully, “Hey, there’s an idea! Big Macintosh, try to work in some undead stuff.” She bent over her character sheet, scribbling some notes. “I can get a truckload a’ bonuses if I pick that as my favored enemy.”
“Uh, sure,” said Big Macintosh, struggling to keep up with their conversation, “Let’s say there’s a haunted castle, or something, just west a’...”
“Whoa whoa whoa whoa, what are you doing?” Applejack cut him off, “You can’t just tell us where it is. I told you, no railroading!”
Big Macintosh blinked at her. “So, how’ll ya’ll know where to go if I can’t tell you?”
“That’s a knowledge skill check, duh!” said Applejack, rolling her eyes. She pulled out her DM’s guide, flipping to the appropriate entry. “See? I put a buncha’ skill points into Knowledge (streetwise), and darn it, I’m gonna use ‘em!”
“So let me get this straight,” Big Macintosh said dubiously, “If I just tell you, it’s ‘railroading’, but if we roll some dice and THEN I tell you, it’s fine?”
“Exactly.” Applejack said brightly, “See, I told ya you’d get the hang of it!”
“Word on the street says there’s a haunted castle just west of here.” said Marcus, sitting down at the table, “You want in?”
“Sounds like a blast!” said Zinnadiana.
“It would be my pleasure, Mr. Ealdræd.” said Gracelove, demurely.
“Super!” said the ranger, clapping his hands together, “Need to pick up any weapons, or are you good?”
In response, Zinnadiana plucked a few discordant notes on her lute, causing a bayonet to slide out of the instrument's neck with a barely audible hiss. She grinned at him. “Plus, I’ve always got my trusty steam-crossbow.”
“Cool, cool.” nodded the ranger, “How about you, Gracelove?”
“I have no need of earthly weapons.” said the diminutive cleric, “My faith will protect me.”
“Suit yourself.” said Marcus, “I’ll get us some field rations and torches before we leave.”
“Make sure you get a ten-foot pole, too.” said Zinnadiana, “We might need to poke some stuff.”
“All right, that’s enough hanging out in the tavern,” said Applejack impatiently, “Lets pick up the pace, here.”
“Hey, go easy on the big guy.” said Pinkie, “This is his first time as DM.”’
“I think he’s doing really well, actually.” said Fluttershy. She smiled encouragingly at him.
“He’s doing... fine.” said Applejack, giving her brother a doubtful look, “I guess he’s got the right motivation. Right, bro?”
“Hey, uh, let’s just move on, huh?” Big Macintosh said quickly. He smiled stiffly, his eyes shifting back and forth.
Pinkie exchanged a look with Fluttershy. She shrugged back at her, but remained silent.
The red stallion cleared his throat. “So, anyway, the castle’s big and scary, and it’s got bats flyin’ around it an’ stuff. The front doors open into a long hallway...”
The hallway stretched out before the party. The walls were made of smooth gray stone, dimly lit by a few ancient, dripping candle holders and decorated with a series of faded portraits. They move forward cautiously, brushing cobwebs out of their way.
“Nice place.” said Marcus, looking around, “Bit of a fixer-upper.”
“Wait,” said Gracelove, halting their progress, “What’s that up ahead?”
Marcus squinted in the hazy gloom of the corridor. There was indeed something ahead, standing in the intersection of two hallways. The creature looked like a large cat, but very thin, almost emaciated. It was dark blue, bordering on black, and two strange, snake-like appendages slithered at its shoulders. Grooming itself casually with one of its six paws, it seemed to pay the adventurers no heed.
“Aw, sweet, displacer beast!” said Marcus, gleefully unsheathing his scimitars.
“Hold up,” said Zinnadiana anxiously, “I’ve never seen them act like this. Aren’t they usually the type to sneak up on you?”
“Nah, we got the drop on ‘im.” Marcus flashed his trademark grin, “My stealth score’s though the roof.”
“Zinny’s right.” said Gracelove, “We should exercise caution.”
“You’re over-thinking it.” said Marcus, “Just get your buffs and heals ready, and I’ll make with the choppity-chop.”
The ranger crept along the stone corridor, his footfalls barely making a sound. The displacer beast faced away from him, appearing oblivious to his approach. Gracelove and Zinnadiana held their breath. When he was finally within range he leaped forward, spinning his scimitars savagely.
“Eat it, squid-kitty!”
The image of the displacer beast shimmered and disappeared as the blades passed through it, slipping out of his hands and clattering uselessly on the flagstone floor. Marcus froze in place, feeling hot breath on his neck. He slowly turned his head, coming face to face with a wall of needle-like teeth.
A tentacle shot out, wrapping itself around the ranger’s torso and lifting him into the air.
“Marcus!” shouted Zinnadiana, rushing forward to aid her comrade.
“It’s okay, I’ve got this under... oomph!” he was cut off as the beast slammed him into the stone wall, “...Okay, maybe I could use some help.” he admitted, wheezing.
“I’m on it!” shouted Zinnadiana. She launched a volley of bolts from her auto-crossbow. The beast’s free tentacle lashed out, flicking them out of the air effortlessly.
Dropping her crossbow, the bard dove into the fray with her lute’s bayonet drawn. She played a stirring tune as she charged, sliding up the frets in a rapid glissando. The blade began to glow with arcane energy.
The beast tossed Marcus back down the corridor over Zinnadiana’s head, bringing both of its tentacles to bear on the new threat. The ranger landed hard behind her on the cold stone floor, the air knocked out of his lungs.
Zinnadiana didn’t waste the brief opportunity, ducking under the tentacle and jabbing her blade deeply into the creature’s side. The magical energy discharged, crackling across its flesh as it roared with pain. Rearing back on its hind legs, it brought its powerful claws down on the bard, knocking her to the ground. It staggered backwards momentarily, wrapping a tentacle around the lute still impaled in its side. Wincing, it gingerly pulled the blade out of the wound. It turned back to face the party, tightening its grip on the instrument and crushing it with a sad series of twanging noises. A deep growl rumbled in its throat.
Marcus lifted his head, his vision returning to him. Across the hallway, he could see Zinnadiana sprawled out on the floor, still stunned from the earlier attack. Just beyond her, the displacer beast advanced on the tiny, unarmed cleric, its form shimmering and shifting like a mirage.
“Gracelove!” he shouted, “Hold on, I’m coming!” He hauled himself to his feet, rushing forward.
Suddenly, he felt his stomach lurch as the floor dropped out from under him. He fell headlong into an empty shaft, far too deep to see the bottom. Thinking fast, he pulled a dagger from his belt and jammed it into a crack between the stones of the wall, arresting his fall several yards below the trapdoor. He pulled out a second dagger and began to slowly pull himself back up the shaft, using the blades as improvised pitons. It was an agonizingly slow way to climb.
“Dang it!” he shouted, inching his way up bit by bit, “Should have... put more... points... into... Climb!” Sounds of the battle above echoed indistinctly against the walls around him as he made his way upwards. His panic only worsened when the sounds went suddenly quiet.
“Gracelove? Gracelove, speak to me!” he shouted, straining his aching muscles in an effort to climb faster. As he neared the top, a small silhouette moved into view above him, offering a tiny hand to help pull him up.
“Thank the Gods, you’re okay!” he said, accepting her hand and cresting the ledge of the pit, “What happened? Where’s the displacer beast?”
“Oh, I took care of him.” she said with a sly smile.
“How could you possibly...” he started, then noticed a wobbly green form just behind the cleric.
“Gah! Cube!” he shrieked, stumbling backwards and almost falling into the pit again.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Jiggly’s friendly!” said Gracelove, “I summoned him to eat the displacer beast. Their illusions don’t work on gelatinous cubes. See? No eyeballs.”
On closer inspection, Marcus could make out a vague shape slowly churning within the cube’s squelching mass. He stared at it disbelievingly. “So, you actually trained this thing?” he said, “I thought they only had the intelligence of an amoeba.”
“Yes, but Mr. Jiggly is extra smart.” she said with motherly pride, “Aren’tcha, boy? You’re so smart! Yes you are! Yes you are! Who’s a good cube? You want a Jiggly Snack?”
The cube quivered in what could generously be described as anticipation.
“Okay, here you go, boy!” She reached into her bag, pulling out a screaming zombie head, which she tossed to the cube. It sunk into the goo and began to dissolve.
Marcus looked away, feeling slightly ill. “Hey, where’s Zinnadiana?” he said with sudden concern.
“I’m over here.” said a sad voice from down the hall. Zinnadiana was standing bent over the crushed remains of her instrument. “I’m fine, but the dang thing jacked up my lute.”
“Oh, Zinny,” said Gracelove mournfully, “I’m so sorry.”
“Ah, it’s okay.” the bard shrugged, “I still have my travel harpsichord.”
“All right, what the heck was that all about?” said Applejack angrily. Big Macintosh swallowed nervously under her glare.
“What’s the matter, AJ?” said Pinkie, “That was a great encounter! Didn’t you like the displacer beast?”
“The displacer beast was awesome, I’m not talking about that.” said Applejack curtly, “I’m talking about that trapdoor. It’s awful convenient that it just happened to go off when it did. How many times did we pass over that spot?”
“Ya’ll kept jumpin’ over it!” said Big Macintosh, starting to sweat, “And Fluttershy was too light to set it off.”
“I trust Big Macintosh.” said Fluttershy, trying to defuse the situation, “I’m sure he’s playing by the rules.”
“He’d better be.” said Applejack, still glaring at her brother, “We wouldn’t want somepony to say something unfortunate, would we?”
“What do you mean by that?” said Pinkie, raising an eyebrow.
“Nothin’!” said Big Macintosh, “She means nothin’!”
“And besides,” continued Applejack, “We still haven’t seen any undead yet. I burned my favored enemy for that, and for what? And we could use some character motivation, here. Your story line's a joke! So far we’ve just been wandering around a deserted castle like morons. I mean, who’s castle is this suppose’ to be, anyway? Who are we fightin’ against?”
Big Macintosh snorted, starting to get annoyed. “She’s an evil vampire queen, and she’s holdin’ all the innocent farmers hostage!” He blurted out, realizing what he was saying too late to stop himself. He fell silent, looking at his sister nervously. Across the table, Pinkie Pie stifled a giggle.
“That’s...” said Applejack, blinking, “...actually pretty good. You just come up with that off the top a’ your head?”
Big Macintosh coughed. “Sudden flash a’ inspiration, I guess.”
“Well, all right then.” said Applejack, rubbing her hooves together, “Let’s go kick her butt!”
The heavy wooden doors creaked ominously as the heroes pushed them open. They entered a cavernous room, devoid of windows and filled with a thick, oily mist. Twin staircases curved elegantly at either side of the room, mirroring each other and meeting at a balcony overlooking an ostentatious ballroom floor. At the center of the balcony was a raised platform, on which rested an elaborately decorated coffin.
“Okay, here’s the plan.” said Marcus, “Me and Gracelove’ll watch your back, and you shank her with what’s left of your lute.”
Zinnadiana looked uncertainly at the sharp shard of wood that used to be her lute’s neck. It did seem to make a decent stake. “You sure you just want to stab her while she’s sleeping?” she asked, “That doesn’t seem sporting.”
“Hey, XP is XP.” he shrugged, “Besides, I don’t want to get caught off-guard like last time. Who knows what kind of minions she has waiting for us?”
“I’ll have Mr. Jiggly patrol the lower level.” said Gracelove, “That way, each of us can keep an eye on a stairway.”
“Good idea,” said Marcus, “I think that covers all our bases. Let’s do it.”
Zinnadiana inched toward the coffin, the stake raised above her head. She glanced back at each of her allies, who gave her a nod when they were in position. She took a deep breath, then slowly lifted the lid. She paused a moment, staring into it.
“What?” said Marcus, “What’s wrong?”
“The coffin,” she said blankly, “It’s empty.”
Cackling laughter reverberated through the room, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. The mist around them swirled and coalesced, forming into the shape of a woman floating over their heads. The vampire had long, tangled white hair and a gaunt, feral face, and it wore flowing black robes. It grinned devilishly, showing off its sharp fangs.
“BLAH!” it shouted, “I’m the Vampire Queen Apel’Jek, and I suuuuuuuuuck!” It flew around them mockingly. “Also, I’m ugly and my face looks like a butt!”
Pinkie Pie erupted in a bubbling fit of laughter. She doubled over, clutching her sides with tears streaming down her face. Fluttershy suppressed a giggle of her own, looking nervously between Big Macintosh and Applejack.
Applejack glared at her brother. “Oh, har har.” she said, “Real freakin’ mature.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about sis.” said Big Macintosh, trying to keep his lips from curling into a grin.
“Come on AJ, that was funny!” said Pinkie, still snorting uncontrollably.
“It was childish, is what it was.” said Applejack. She paused, a sadistic smile flashing across her face. She looked her brother dead in the eye. “Just like when Big Macintosh used to borrow my dolls to play ‘mommy’.”
Big Macintosh exploded with rage. “You TOLD! You SWORE you wouldn’ tell!” He launched himself over the table, barreling into his sister and tackling her to the ground.
“Bring it on, bro!” said Applejack, maneuvering into a headlock, “Wouldn’t be the first time I kicked your tail!”
They rolled across the barn’s floor, kicking up a cloud of dust as they wrestled. Although Big Macintosh had a definite size advantage, the two were fairly evenly matched. Years of sibling rivalry gave Applejack the experience to be able to hold her own against her older brother.
Pinkie looked at them for moment. She turned to Fluttershy. “So, this is all kinds of awkward, huh?” she said conversationally, “What was it you were saying about chipmunks earlier?”
“Shouldn’t we stop them?” said Fluttershy. She watched anxiously as the brawling siblings bumped into a barrel, knocking it over and spilling its contents across the floor.
“Nah, they’re fine.” she said casually, “All brothers and sisters get into a scrap like this every now and then. Trust me, I grew up with two sisters myself.” She bent down to pick up one of the apples that had rolled near her. “All right, fuji's! Score!”
“Oh, well, okay, I guess...” said Fluttershy reluctantly. She furrowed her brow as a thought occurred to her. “Wait, all brothers and sisters? You mean, even little Applebloom...?”
“Especially little Applebloom.” said Pinkie, “I’ll bet she’s a biter, too. The youngest ones are always biters.” She crunched on her apple.
The siblings rolled to a stop, running out of steam. They each shakily stood up again, dusty, a little bruised, but none too worse for wear. Applejack looked around for her hat, her chest still heaving.
“Okay... huff...” she panted, “You... huff... got that... huff... outta your... huff... system.” She found her hat and slapped it back into place, managing to catch her breath. “You wanna get back to the game?”
“You’re kidding!” said Big Macintosh, “I did everything you asked me to, but you still told! Deal’s off!”
“Listen,” said Applejack, digging in her heels, “You and I both know you got nothin’ to do for the rest of the day. Unless some work just falls outta the sky, neither of us is goin’ nowhere.”
Fluttershy’s ears perked up. “Oh! I, uh, just remembered!” she said suddenly. All eyes turned to look at her. Her instincts told her to hide, but she soldiered on. “Big Macintosh, ah, agreed to help me with my animals.” she said, her eyes shifting nervously, “One of them is, um, sleeping in the wrong place.”
Applejack looked at her skeptically. “Ain’t that somethin’ you could handle on your own?”
“It’s, uh, a bear.” she said, thinking quickly, “Aaaaand he’s really heavy, so he, uh, agreed to help me move him?” Her voice raised into an almost plaintive squeak.
Applejack looked doubtful.
“Hold on,” said Pinkie thoughtfully, “Are you talking about Harry the bear? The one you were house-sitting for that one time?”
“Y...yes!” said Fluttershy, “That’s him all right! Good ol’... Harry!” She laughed in what she hoped was a casual and disarming way.
Applejack glanced between her and her brother, who was putting on his best poker face. “Well...” she said eventually, “I wouldn’t want to get between you and your work...” Over her shoulder, Big Macintosh shot Fluttershy a silent, desperate ‘thank you’. “I guess you’re off the hook this time, big bro.”
The stallion and the pegasus got up to leave. Pinkie called after them on their way out.
“Hey, Fluttershy!” she said, “You know, you really need to introduce me to Harry sometime.”
“Y... yeah...” said Fluttershy, a rictus grin plastered across her face, “I s...sure do! Well, we’ll, uh, s...see you both later!” The two made their exit quickly, before things could get more complicated.
Applejack snorted, kicking up some dust with her hooves. “Well, that was a wash.” she sulked.
“It wasn’t all that bad.” said Pinkie, “We still had some fun, right?”
“Yeah, but we didn’t get to finish!” Applejack huffed. “And now we’re down a DM and a third player.”
“Maybe we could do something else.” said Pinkie, remembering her mission. She scrunched up her face in thought. “Why don’t we check up on your sister? Isn’t she hanging out with her friends at the clubhouse today?”
“I dunno,” said Applejack doubtfully, “Are we already desperate enough to start playing with little kids?”
Pinkie rolled her eyes. “I meant we should just try hanging out with them.” she said, “You know, your beloved little sister? Maybe have a heartwarming family moment?” She paused, trying to think of a more compelling reason. “Um... I think Rarity’s keeping an eye on them. It’d be nice to see her, right?”
“Hey, yeah!” said Applejack, her face lighting up, “Rarity’s a great DM! Good idea, Pinkie!”
“But... but I didn’t...” Pinkie started, but Applejack was already on her way to the door. She slumped her shoulders in defeat. “Aw, man... This quest is gonna be harder than I thought...”
Act 2: The Children’s Crusade