I had a scary incident last night. I was in the middle of revising sections of the next chapter's draft, when my computer decided to bluescreen on me. Thankfully, I was able to restore it to an earlier point (getting back my spiffy MGS2 wallpaper that I changed last month), but the incident prompted me to think about the content on my computer, and how irreplaceable it all is.
In general, there isn't much on my hard drive that I'd weep over losing, and very little that I truly need, for practical purposes. But the incident did spur me to do something that I've wanted to do for a while, and that's to post sections from older drafts of Pony Gear Solid.
Let's start by looking at some stuff which was cut from the previous chapter - mostly stuff pertaining to the meeting between the Mane Six (plus Spike and Apple Bloom, but sans Rainbow Dash) and the story's villains. It's mostly alternate dialogue, a slightly different sequence of events, and a slightly different backstory for Macbeth (at one point, I'd used the minotaurs instead of the griffins for the Great Offscreen Cold War, figuring that griffons had a bad enough rep in the fandom). Also, you'll notice that Cain has a very different character than what I'd settled on. He's much more of a generic mercenary, as opposed to the detached depressive who shows up in the finished chapter.
I'd like to post a disclaimer: What you're seeing here is largely unedited and unrevised, so it might be clunkier than you're used to. Or it might not be, which would be a terrible indictment on my own abilities as an editor.
"Would you kindly show the prisoners to the courtyard? Ah, except for..." He pointed at Twilight, then at Applebloom. "I'd like those two to remain here, if that's alright."
Applejack stepped in front of Applebloom, glaring at the pony beneath the brim of her hat. "I go, she goes," she snapped. "Y'all ain't separating us again."
The human (Commander Cain himself, judging by the way Macbeth addressed him) shrugged. "Fine by me, though I should probably point out that the lot of you're going to die down there. I guess if you want your sister to die, then she's welcome to accompany you."
"Oh, how delightful," said Rarity in a sardonic deadpan. "We're all going to be executed, and I'm going to die looking frumpy." Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie exchanged a quizzical look, and Rarity shrugged. "What? I can't prefer to face the music looking my best?"
Twilight smiled wanly, moved somewhat by her friend's display of wit in the face of the inevitable. "Rarity's unusual prioritizing aside," said Twilight, drawing Applejack's attention. "I think that we should do as they say, Applejack."
Applejack rounded on her, and Twilight turned away, avoiding her gaze. "Twilight Mathilda Sparkle, are you suggestin' that we throw in the towel? Come all this way out here to rescue my sister, an' pack it in when the goin' gets too tough?"
"No, not at all," said Twilight. After a brief moment of hesitation, she leaned closer to Applejack. "We can beat this, Applejack, but we need to bide our time and wait for the right moment. Go along with it, just for now."
Applejack scoffed loudly and moved away from Twilight. She glared at Macbeth and lowered her head, and for a moment, Twilight almost expected her to charge the old gray pony. He and his human ally seemed to have the same thought; his grin receded slightly, while Cain took his gun off of his shoulder and cradled its barrel in his free hand, as if preparing to fire it. The stand-off ended when Applejack slumped her shoulders and sighed. "Fine," she all but whispered.
"Applejack," whimpered Applebloom. "Please... I jus' got you back; don't leave me alone again!"
"I ain't," said Applejack. She trotted back to her sister and leaned in close, nuzzling her cheek gently. "I'm comin' back for you, Applebloom, an' that's a promise." She cast a look at Twilight, who looked away dispiritedly. "Twilight'll look after y'all while I'm gone."
"Oh, she'll be joining you presently," Macbeth interjected. "I just want to have some words with her beforehand, that's all."
Applejack's eye spasmed, but she largely ignored Macbeth. "Well, until that time," she said, "Twilight'll look after y'all. Don't worry; we ain't licked just yet."
Macbeth, in a bizarre display, giggled shrilly, drawing a raised eyebrow from his human ally. "Oh, it's funny because you're going to die in a terrible manner," he said through his chuckles.
Applejack's soft expression hardened, and she turned away from her sister. She squared her shoulders and raised her head high, glaring at Macbeth. "I am gonna buck you in that plothole you call a mouth," she growled.
Macbeth's grin widened. "When we meet again in Pony Hell, I'll give you one free shot."
Applejack snorted. She looked at Trenton over her shoulder. "Well? C'mon, ya big blue lummox. You gonna walk us down there, or not?"
Trenton looked up at Macbeth and Cain. The former nodded, but, Twilight noted, Trenton did not budge until Cain nodded, a full second later. It was a slight detail, but one worth nothing, she felt. The ninja marched robotically toward the door, gesturing for the ponies to follow. Applejack kissed her sister tenderly on the forehead, eliciting a quiet sob, then fell into step behind Trenton. Fluttershy marched morosely, her ears drooping, while Pinkie bounced cheerfully on the tips of her hooves - her usual mode of locomotion. Rarity paused to give Twilight a half-smile and a wink over her shoulder before joining them.
Trenton's cold, mechanical voice sent a shiver down Twilight's spine. "My testimony should be enough.To reiterate, our patrol encountered a lone filly in the Everfree Forest and chose to take her captive. On our way back, we were accosted by the Bearers of the Elements and a baby dragon. Knowing that we could not let them leave the forest with knowledge of our presence, we ordered them to stand down and be taken prisoner. They initiated a conflict, during which Captain Case and the rest of the fire team were overpowered and slain. Unwilling to push the conflict any further, I took the filly and retreated to this position, knowing that they would follow."
Twilight whirled, staring at Trenton with a look of shock on her face. That story was a complete and utter fabrication! "We didn't kill those soldiers!" She cast an accusing hoof at the ninja. "You did! You shot them dead with one of their own weapons!"
The human's disinterest evaporated, and he turned to face the captives and the ninja directly for the first time. His eyes sized up the group, running from person to person, before narrowing and landing on Trenton.
Macbeth took notice of the human's change in attitude, and laughed. "Oh, Commander, please don't tell me that you believe such a transparent lie."
The human - Commander Cain, Twilight realized - ignored Macbeth, focusing squarely on Trenton. "The men I sent with you just now? Where're they, eh?"
"Incapacitated," said Trenton immediately. "Knocked unconscious
I'll stop to point out a much more explicit depiction of Trenton manipulating events for his own purposes. In the finished chapter, he commits a lie of omission by not mentioning Snake among the intruders. Here, he outright lies about what happened in the forest.
You'll also notice that it ends mid-sentence. I don't remember my exact thought process, but I think I recognized how terribly written that section was and wisely decided to take a different direction with the scene.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Twilight's surprise at Trenton's familiarity with her returned, compounded by a feeling of unease that she fought to suppress. She quickly glanced at Cain; he was leaning on one hand against the window sill behind him, once again gripping his gun one-handed. It was a loose grip, she noticed. It wouldn't take much effort to wrench it out of his hand.
Wait for an opportune moment, Twilight, she told herself. Gotta keep 'em talking in the meantime. "How do you know who I am?" she asked, channeling her lingering unease into her voice.
"Oh, Trenton told me about you over tea one night," said Macbeth, lazily waving a hoof in the air as he spoke. "Princess Celestia's most faithful pen pal, slaving over an ink and quill once a week to tell her all about friendship, and magic, and all manner of asininity." He shook his head, rolling his eyes disgustedly.
Twilight felt a flush of indignation scorch her cheeks, chagrined by the casual dismissal of her hard-learned, ongoing investigation of the magic of friendship. "And how does Trenton know who I am?" she asked, her indignation coloring her enunciation.
Commander Cain snorted. "Trenton's spent nearly a year scouting Equestria. He's practically a walking encyclopedia of pony by now."
"At my request," Macbeth added. He hopped off of the dais and trotted toward Twilight. Cain noticed and moved to follow, but Macbeth stopped him with a raised hoof and a curt shake of the head. Dismissed, Cain shrugged and returned to leaning on the sill.
"Let me backtrack a bit, Ms. Sparkle, so that I can make you understand things a little bit better." Macbeth raised a hoof to his mouth and coughed into it, then pulled it away, examined it, and grimaced. He wiped it on his coat, and Twilight shuddered with disgust.
"First and foremost," he began, "there's the matter of introductions. It's that you know who I am already, but I consider that chance slim, at best.
Twilight felt a surge of defensiveness at the slander leveled at Celestia. "For the record, I do know who you are, Macbeth of Stalliongrad," she snapped, taking a step forward and casting an accusing hoof at the old stallion. "And I will not stand here while you insult the Princess to my face."
Macbeth, caught off guard, seemed stunned into silence. His grin receded into a tight-lipped smile; he clearly had not expected the conversation to proceed in this manner.
"Now, that sounded suspiciously like a threat," Cain practically purred. He raised his gun at Twilight, who eyed it cautiously, calculating whether she could rip it from his hands before he could get a shot off.
Macbeth rendered the question moot by raising his hoof yet again. Cain, mollified, lowered his gun and backed off, though he still watched Twilight with a vigilant wariness. "So you know who I am," said Macbeth. "Macbeth of Stalliongrad, who started an insurrection against Princess Celestia, failed, and was exiled for his sin. Correct?"
Twilight clenched her teeth together and nodded once.
"As I thought," Macbeth said, his lips spreading into another sinister grin. "You know me as Macbeth the revolutionary. Macbeth the terrorist. Apt titles, both, I suppose. I did plenty to earn them. But what about "Macbeth, Minister of the Royal Cabinet? Macbeth, Executor of the War Department?" At Twilight's shocked expression, Macbeth chuckled. "Stricken from the history books. As I thought."
Twilight inhaled sharply, trying to steel herself. Her shock and outrage were genuine, but she was determined not to let them control her actions. Use it, Twilight, she told herself. Play it up, so that they never see your jailbreak coming. "You're a liar," she said, her voice unsteady despite her fierce tone. "There is no War Department in Canterlot. Equestria abolished the military and renounced war - "
"Thirty-seven years ago," Macbeth supplied. His interruption drew a cold glare from Twilight. "And up until that time, I had my hooves full managing Equestria's military affairs. You wouldn't know it now, but the situation at the time was... unpleasant. Griffons, minotaurs, even dragons, all constantly wanted a piece of the Equestrian pie." Macbeth drew himself up like a prize horse, beaming. "My responsibility was to ensure that they never acted on their ambitions. And, if you'll permit me the conceit of bragging, I was damned good at my job."
Twilight smirked. "If you were so indispensable, then why did Princess Celestia can you and abolish the military?"
Macbeth's wide grin closed into a tight-lipped smile, and he ran his tongue along the outside of his mouth slowly. "Thirty-seven years ago, Princess Celestia vanished, without a trace, for an extended period of time. At the time, the minotaurs were issuing a series of odious demands for territorial concessions, coupled with very specific threats about what they would do should those demands not be met. The Princess had kept the situation controlled, but when she vanished, there was nopony in power who could negotiate with the minotaurs. A regency was established, with minister after minister trying their hoof at placating the minotaurs, but minister after minister stepped down in disgrace, rebuffed."
Yeah, this got cut for a reason, as I'm sure you can tell.
This next (very significantly long) chunk is from chapter five. It's a different version of what happened in Zecora's hut. This was back when chapters five, six, seven and eight were all a single chapter. The original idea was that Snake and the Mane Six would find the remaining members of Trenton's platoon slaughtered in the hut, and that they'd hold a conversation with one of them before he died. That idea was spun off into the fight with the timberwolves, and that also served as the genesis for the character of Captain Case.
I'm a little proud of the scene I wrote, but at the same time, I'm horrified that I ever associated it with My Little Pony. I quickly discarded it for being too grimdark, too soon in the story. Instead of ditching the idea altogether, though, I reworked it into a series of events which I thought worked far better. The scene in the hut in the final draft is (at least, I think so) far more charming and true to the show than the gory excrement I'd originally typed up. And the fight scene with the timberwolves served as an adequate middle ground between the light-hearted fun of the show and the darker (but not too grimdark) direction that I'm eventually taking the story down.
Since what's in the document begins mid-sentence, I'll include a bit from the final draft, which will be bolded for convenience.
The door flew inward, striking the wall with a thunderous crack and rebounding toward me. It struck me in the shoulder; I barely felt it. I pushed into the house, gun at the ready, and quickly scanned the room for any threats. Visibility was nearly nil. I didn't see anything immediately obvious besides a bulbous, indistinct shape that cluttered the center of the room.
“Twilight,” I muttered. “Light?”
There was a hum behind me and a flash of pale purple light, and suddenly, a dozen candles around the room ignited. revealing a scene of carnage that was rather pedestrian, all things considered. Gasps from the ponies behind me, and what sounded like a gurgling sob from Fluttershy, reminded me that it was only pedestrian by my standards.
There were two human corpses in the room. One was slumped against the far wall, beneath a bare shelf whose contents had spilled over the body. There was a red hole in the center of his vest, from which a not insubstantial amount of blood had poured. Even then, there was a tiny trickle that ran between two spare mags strapped to the front of the vest and down the side of his AK-47, which he still clutched tightly in his hands. His knees were propped up and spread out, and there was a red smear running down the wall above him, beginning at a narrow gash several feet over his head.
The other body was closer to the door, laying beside the bulbous black cauldron in the room's center. His arms and legs were spread eagled; his hands held no weapon, but an AK lay beside the corpse. I didn't have to guess too hard at how he'd died. His head was missing from his body.
“Damn,” I breathed, holstering my Beretta. “No sign of Zecora. I don't know if that's a good...” As I spoke, I turned back to the group, and my sentence trailed off into nothing.
They were pale, all of them. Even Rarity seemed whiter than before, and she was immaculately white already. Fluttershy was scooted as far away from the bodies as she could, her back pressed against the near wall, her face was knotted into absolute horror. Pinkie's face was just completely blank. She stood, stock still, beside Fluttershy. I wasn't able to gauge Rarity's expression, but she didn't look too sanguine about the sanguine scene before us. Applejack was trembling. Twilight chewed on her lip. Rainbow Dash was standing on all fours, not moving, not saying a word, staring at the decapitated corpse. She was the one to break the silence. “Where is his head?” she asked in a deadpan voice.
I looked at the door, took it in my hand, and pushed it closed. The object that it had struck when I'd stormed into the house was the second soldier's head.
Fluttershy screamed, shocking the rest of the group out of their trance. She bolted for the door. Pinkie stared after her, uncomprehending, for a few seconds before following, casting a look of helplessness at the rest of us as she went.
I knelt beside the headless body, looking over the wound. “Clean cut,” I murmured, speaking more to myself than to anybody else. “Too clean. This wasn't made by a conventional blade.” I rose and crossed toward the other soldier, the one who was covered in blood and all manner of residue, and squatted in front of him. I squinted at his chest wound.
“Straight stab. Too deep to be from a knife,” I said, speaking louder this time for their benefit. I glanced up at the wall above him, at the red smear and the thin, deep scratch, a couple of feet above where he sat. “Must've been impaled against the wall and slid down when the weapon was removed. A sword?”
Then the soldier coughed, and I jumped back, drawing my Beretta and leveling it at him. I shot a look at Twilight, whose curiosity overcame her shock, and she trotted toward us, Applejack in tow. Rarity and Rainbow Dash hung by the door, neither speaking, neither moving, just standing very closely together. I think they were consoling one another.
I took a slow, uncertain step forward. “Can you talk?” I asked
He coughed wetly a few times, shuddering with each one, and nodded once, slowly. The soldier raised his helmeted head and propped it against the wall, looking into my eyes from behind his visor. “Tell me what happened here,” I said firmly.
The soldier breathed irregularly for a moment, and I worried that he'd die before he could spill any pertinent information. But he survived it. Hardy bastard. “That...Trenton,” he rasped. “Nobody home when we got here...told us to stay and wait for him...came back and...”
“Did he have a foal with him?” asked Applejack, her voice quivering almost as badly as she. “Little yellow filly, red ribbon in her mane?”
The soldier looked at her and laughed, at her accent, at her Stetson, at the fact that a pony was saying words to a human being—it could have been any and all of those things. I looked at the rumpled, unmade bed out of the corner of my eye, at the red dots peppering the floor beside it. I could relate to this dying man.
“Under his arm. Eyes wide open.” the soldier said in answer to Applejack, and she let out a relieved sigh. “She was staring at his head...saw her just before he threw...”
“'Threw?'” I parroted. “Threw what?” I glanced at the score on the wall, above his head. Something clicked in my head. “Threw his sword. He threw his sword from where he was standing, and impaled you with it. Then he pulled it out and let you fall.”
The dying man looked at Applejack now. “Was she your...?”
“My sister,” said Applejack firmly. She was holding herself together admirably, given the circumstances. Better than Twilight, who was looking a little green.
“Sister,” said the soldier in a breathless voice. He sounded oddly thoughtful. “I have a sister. Joined this outfit for her...send her all my money so she can go to school...” He reared his head back and coughed, spattering blood in the direction of the two ponies. They recoiled in time to avoid being hit with any of it. “Sorry,” he said, his voice catching. “About your sister. About coming here. About everything. I'm so...so...” His voice broke and he sniffed.
Applejack closed her eyes, bowed, and took a step backward.
The dying man looked at me again. “Think I might be a while,” he croaked, sniffling. “Can you help...?”
I held up my gun so he could see. “It's not lethal. Just a tranquilizer.”
“Anything helps,” he said, and I could hear a smile in his voice. “Please...”
Applejack looked at me balefully, her green eyes misty. Twilight couldn't stop staring at the wound. I just sighed and pointed the gun at his neck.
“There are surprises in the armory,” he said suddenly, just as I was about to squeeze the trigger. I relaxed my finger, intrigued. “Good guns. Better than these. Bombs, too.”
I didn't quite know how to reply to that. He stopped talking again; the only sounds coming from him were his ragged breathing and the occasional sniffle. I looked briefly into Applejack's eyes. Then I fired. There was a muffled popping sound, the dart stuck him in the neck, and within moments, his ragged breathing evened, then faded altogether.
Trenton had two perfect opportunities to kill me. He let me live both times. But he murdered the entire squad sent after me, six comrades, for what? His actions were totally inconsistent, didn't add up at all. Nothing about this made any sense at all.
Two small ponies, one orange and wearing a Stetson hat, one purple and crowned with a single horn, stared at the corpse of a human being. “No sense to any of this,” I murmured softly.
Twilight tore her gaze away from the body and looked at me, her face unfathomably sad. She turned away from it and trotted toward the door. Rainbow Dash and Rarity weren't there anymore; they'd apparently slipped out without our noticing. Applejack followed Twilight out, and for a moment, I was alone there in Zecora's cottage. An hour ago, it had been a refuge. I'd slept here, eaten here, traded rhymes and heard the light-hearted laugher of a child here. Now it was a graveyard.
I looked again at the unmade bed, glanced at the cauldron. There was still cold soup inside it. Zecora had obviously left in a hurry.
The soldier had said that there was nobody home when they arrived. So where did she go? Did she know that they were coming somehow; did she flee before they arrived, afraid of their wrath? Or was she planning on leaving anyway?
Knowing that I wouldn't get another opportunity again any time soon, I drew out a cigarette and lit it up, placing it in my mouth. “Damn it, Zecora,” I said, puffing smoke on every breath. “Give me something to go on, here.”
The last bit of content I have for you is a scene which was ultimately cut from the story altogether, as opposed to just being reworked or rewritten. This was the alternate opening to chapter six, where Apple Bloom holds a conversation with Macbeth for no reason whatsoever.
This got cut for a number of reasons. First, I struggled with (and, I admit, I'm still struggling with) figuring out and writing the scenario in the castle. When I finally got something down that worked, this scene just didn't gel with it at all. Second, it was my first time writing Macbeth as a character, and I didn't quite know how to do that just yet. He comes off in the finished chapter as being batty, but you can see flashes of his charisma and intelligence; here, he comes off as a crazed, psychopathic rapist pedophile. I couldn't take it seriously at all (and I can barely take the finished character seriously). So it had to go.
The downside is that Apple Bloom doesn't appear for another two chapters after her disappearance. And I really like Apple Bloom. But not in a creepy, foalcon sort of way. I shouldn't have to say that, but I've been to Derpibooru, and with this fandom...
Her cell was drafty, damp, and didn't have a bed. No sheets, no blankets, not even a pillow to rest herself upon. There was a spot in the far corner where the floorwork had worn away, revealing a slightly more comfortable patch of comparatively soft gravel, but the smell wafting from it repulsed Applebloom enough to keep her laying on the hard stone floor.
She was drained. Not tired, physically; she'd gotten a decent night's sleep at Zecora's, and she hadn't exerted herself much during her and Snake's interrupted march toward Ponyville. But the range of emotions she'd experienced over the past twenty-four hours sapped her energy and left her lethargic. She didn't have the energy to mourn her sister, or to shiver at the memory of Trenton's blade striking down his two comrades. She couldn't even bring herself to be afraid of whatever fate was in store for her. Applebloom lay, an emotionless husk, simply counting the minutes until her captors were done with her.
The jailor, a scrawny soldier with a balaclava and no helmet, leaned back on his chair, resting his feet upon a splintering wooden table. His weapon was propped against the wall beside him. Trenton had brought him downstairs to keep an eye on Applebloom (“Like I'm goin' anywhere,” she'd muttered, drawing a ferocious glare from the cycloptic ninja); thus far, he'd looked at her a total of once and spent the rest of his time buried in some hardback book. Applebloom could see the cover from where she was sitting, but the words on it, while legible, made no sense. What in tarnation was a Huckleberry, anyway?
“Why're y'all even keepin' me here?” Applebloom asked at one point. “Ya aren't doin' anythin' with me. Gonna kill me, or'm I jus' the new class pet?”
The guard had responded by pointing a sinister-looking black object, which resembled the weapon that Snake had used to shoot the Manticore, at her. “They said I could shoot you if you got annoying,” he said in a bored voice. He wasn't looking in her direction.
And thus, Applebloom found herself alone with her thoughts in a drafty, damp, bedless jail cell. Without keeping track of time, she guessed that she'd spent roughly six gajillion hours in there before something interesting happened.
The sound of a metal door opening and shutting roused her from a brief and fitful nap. She lifted her head, blinking wearily at the stair leading from the dungeon to the upper floors. The clopping noise of hard hooves against stone grew louder, echoing as it drew nearer. The guard perked at the sound, hesitated for a moment, then bolted to his feet, standing at attention. Suddenly very curious with a dash of hope thrown in for good measure), Applebloom rose, stretching and shaking the kinks out of her joints and muscles. For a moment, she entertained fantasies of somepony coming to rescue her, kicking the jailer's butt and chewing the lock off of the cage. Was it Applejack? One of the others? Or had Princess Celestia herself arrived to save the day?
It was, instead, a gray stallion who alighted on the last step. His mane was long, unkempt and scraggly, matched by an unruly beard that covered much of his face. What she could see of his face was a patchwork of criss-crossing scars, the most prominent of which was a jagged one that ran down his left eye socket. The eye itself was milky and vacant, but his intact eye was a rather dull shade of teal.
There was something very familiar about him, something that Applebloom couldn't quite pin down. But even so, he didn't look like he was there to rescue her. Applebloom's heart sank as her hope went up in flames.
The stallion's surviving eye surveyed the room, darting here and there, before settling on the slacking guard. His blind eye rolled in the socket, and Applebloom felt the disturbing sensation of being watched by it.
“Guard,” he said shortly. His voice was raspy, like sandpaper, but not without a compelling quality to it. “Report.”
The guard snapped off a crisp military salute. “Nothing to, Mister Macbeth. The prisoner has been easy to manage so far, sir!”
“Really,” said Macbeth thoughtfully. He trotted toward the cage, keeping a slow, almost leisurely, pace. Applebloom drew away with every step he took, until she was pressed against the back wall and he was leaning forward against the bars of her cage. “You must be very mature for your age, then,” he said with a crooked smile. His teeth were mossy and yellow; Applebloom's gorge rose at the sight of them. “To be so well behaved when your hosts have so rudely left you without any creature comforts.” He turned his head to look at the guard. “Please explain this oversight.”
The guard blinked, clearly caught off guard by Macbeth's question, but managed to maintain a professional demeanor. “M-mister Trenton only told me to watch her, sir. Not to provide for her.”
“And if you had been watching her when I came in here, I could almost accept that as an excuse,” said Macbeth slyly. “Were you keeping an eye on the filly, as ordered, guard?”
The guard ran his tongue over his dry lips. “No, sir, I was not.” Macbeth said nothing. “Sir,” the guard added for good measure, beginning to slacken in his posture.
Macbeth returned his attention to Applebloom, rolling his eye to focus on her. “Then I'll cut you a deal, guard. Fetch our guest a blanket, a bucket, and something to eat, and I'll pretend that you were observing her with due diligence this entire time. Agreed?”
The soldier snapped back to full attention. “Sir!” He made for the stairs, quickly ascended them and threw the door open, not bothering to close it in his haste.
Applebloom came to the realization that she had been left alone with a creepy old stallion who was eying and grinning at her, a situation that Big Macintosh and Applejack had told her to always avoid, at any cost. She felt a familiar sensation clawing at her heart—fear.
“Well then,” said Macbeth, sitting on his haunches in front of the cage. “Shall we introduce ourselves?” He pressed a hoof against his chest, smiling in a smug and irritating fashion. “Macbeth is my name. Prodigal son of Stalliongrad. You have, perhaps, heard of me?”
Transfixed by his dead eye, Applebloom could only shake her head vacantly. Macbeth sucked his filthy teeth and withdrew a little. “Ah. I suppose I should have expected that. More's the pity.” He smiled at her again. “Well, I've introduced myself. Young lady, what may I call you?”
His voice was friendly, and his warm tone stood clashed with his ragged and destitute appearance. Half of Applebloom wanted to put her trust in this open and affable buck. Half of her wanted to dig a hole through the castle's foundation and hide. “M-my big sis told me never t'talk to strange ponies,” she managed to stammer.
Macbeth began to open his mouth, as though to reply, but stopped suddenly. His teeth bit down on his tongue, and he emitted a single, short laugh. “Sound advice,” he said mirthlessly. “But you know, young lady, a stranger is just a friend you haven't met. And I could be a very, very good friend to you, if you'll let me.”
“Would you let me go?” Applebloom blurted before she could stop herself. She wished she hadn't said those words as soon as they left her mouth, certain that the scary-looking buck would fly into a rage and possibly eat her alive.
She wasn't expecting him to laugh. Nor was she expecting his laugh to be as scary as being eaten alive. He burst into a fit of high-pitched, rapid chuckling, sounding very much like a hyena, before stopping just as suddenly as he had started and clearing his throat. “No, my dear,” he said, quite normal again. “That's unfortunately out of the question right now.”
The outburst startled and frightened Applebloom more than anything else about him. She felt like crying, felt the tears tickling her eyes, but she blinked them back. “Then I don't think I can be your friend, mister,” she said softly, fighting to keep her voice from quivering.
Macbeth's eyes flew open. He slammed against the bars of the cage, the impact of his hooves against the metal sending an ear-rending clang through the air, one that made Applebloom jump backward, her breath catching. The buck stared at her for a few moments, then spoke. “You shouldn't say such a thing, young lady.” The warmth in his voice stood in stark contrast to his menacing expression. “Very, very soon, there will be a reckoning. Ponies everywhere will have to decide where they stand and who they'll stand with, and if you're smart,” He barked the last word, spittle flying from his lips and peppering Applebloom. She gagged. “You'll stand by me.”
Applebloom could no longer able to stop herself from trembling, or her tears from running. She hugged her forelegs close to herself, pressing as closely to the wall as she could. “What am I doin' here, mister?” she sobbed. “Why won't you let me go?”
Macbeth smiled warmly at her and pulled away from the bars, sitting again in front of the cage. “It's a secret. Shh, it's a secret,” he whispered, winking his dead eye. Applebloom gagged again. “Can't let them know we're here, not until it's time. Can't have you running off and telling your degenerate village friends that Macbeth of Stalliongrad is hiding in the forest. Musn't let that happen. Could start a war. Prematurely, anyway. You can play hide and seek, right? You know how; you're good at it, right?”
Applebloom nodded shakily, and Macbeth laughed that horrible laugh again. “Good! Wonderful! So happy to hear that. So!” He leaned forward, smiling crookedly. “You'll stay here and play hide and seek with me. It'll be fun. Like a party! And while you're here, you and I can talk some more. And if you're a good girl...”
The door at the top of the stairwell opened again, and the guard frantically hurried down the steps. Macbeth suddenly scrambled back to his hooves and resumed his dignified posture as the soldier arrived, panting and sweating with a threadbare blanket and rusty bucket in his arms. “We can be friends,” said Macbeth.
That's about all. I also have the pre-rewrite chapter five, which, as you'll recall, was extensively revised based on a spot-on critical review. But I can't bring myself to look at that one. It's just too embarrassing.