“So, you got everythin’ set up, Big Mac?” the freckled farmgirl asked with a quizzical eye. Her burly brother just nodded in reply.
The party now convened at Sweet Apple Acres and everyone watched as the eldest Apple sibling made a few final adjustments on a large, wooden contraption. Well, almost everyone.
“So what’re we doing out here anyway? Why’s Big Mac setting up that big wood thing anyway? What’s it for? How’s it work? What’s going on?”
Little G's mouth was going off at a mile a minute, maybe two. He couldn’t think straight, what with all that sugar in his blood making him perkier than a kitten in a carton of catnip and probably twice as twitchy. That’s why he was moving, weaving his way between the girls, popping his head up every which way as his mouth chattered on in an incessant stream of childish babble.
“Now, now, Graves,” Rarity chided as he darted past her for probably the eighth time. “We wouldn’t want you to wear yourself out before you’ve gotten a chance to play, would we?”
“Worn out? Who, me? Pshaw, don’t worry about it!” he chittered away like a lightning-struck chipmunk. “I don’t remember the last time I felt so awake. I feel great! Actually, more than great! I feel really great! Wow, this must be what Pinkie Pie feels like all the time, doesn’t she? Huh? Isn't it?”
“Yup, pretty much!” the aforementioned girl beamed. “It helps when you eat as many cupcakes as I do.”
“Cupcakes huh? Yeah, maybe I should do that. Eat more cupcakes. Cupcakes are nice. Mmm, cupcakes.”
“Alright, we’re all set!” Applejack called out as she jogged over to her friends. “So who’s up for round one?”
“I think we should let the little guy go first,” Rainbow Dash snorted from her levitated perch. “Wait any longer, and he’ll probably blow a fuse.”
“Then I’ll go with him!” Pinkie Pie cheered as she grabbed the boy’s hand and pulled him over to the large, wooden contraption. “Come on, Graves, let’s do it!”
“Do it? What are we doing? What’s going on?”
“So this here’s pretty much a big race,” Applejack explained as she began climbing up a large platform. “The only catch is, the starting line’s way over there.”
Looking off into the distance, Graves caught sight of two large piles of straw probably a hundred yards away. He scratched his head.
“Well what are we doing over here then? Why aren’t we there? This is weird,” the little boy babbled.
“Oh it will,” Pinkie Pie giggled, as she climbed into a wooden basket at the end of a long board. “Just hop on and we’ll get started.”
Still scratching his head, Graves obliged by jumping into the other basket right next to Pinkie’s. Why he was there, he wasn’t sure, nor was he sure why Applejack and Big Macintosh were standing on scaffolding twenty feet in the air. Or why the scaffolding was right across from them on the other side of the board. The board that was connected to the basket in which he sat...
“Geronimo!” Applejack yelled as she and her brother both jumped. Time slowed to a crawl as Graves watched them land on the board, wood creaking as the catapult’s lever transferred all that kinetic force into the other end.
Right where he sat.
He was flying. Or tumbling. He couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that he was no longer on the ground and the wind was whipping around him as the world spun in a dizzying spiral. Eventually, the spinning stopped and he had a good second or two to scream his tiny little head off as he crashed into the pile of straw clear across the field.
“Whoohoo! Catch me if you can!”
Digging himself out of the haystack, the mini marshal caught sight of Pinkie Pie tearing back across the field towards their starting point. Barely taking time to grab his hat, Graves darted off after her, his sugar-fueled body making a good effort, but not enough to catch up with her longer legs as she beat him back by a good ten yards.
“No… fair. You… cheated,” Graves, panted as he finally made it back.
“No I didn’t,” Pinkie Pie smiled innocently. “I just gave myself an advantage by not telling you all the rules.”
“I… want a… rematch,” the little boy gasped, straightening up his hat. “This time… I’ll get you for sure.” The perky baker just grinned, the spark of competition lighting up at his words.
“Oh, it’s on.”
Rarity smile as she watched Graves run back towards them for probably the twentieth time already. Legs elegantly folded beneath her as she sat under the shade of a large apple tree, she and Fluttershy had watched as the little boy and his friends had chased each other all over Sweet Apple Acres, whooping and hollering as they raced and ran, screaming and laughing just like a bunch of big kids.
“Honestly, where do they get all that that energy?” she asked, giving her head a little shake as she saw Rainbow Dash sprinting neck and neck with the blond cowgirl. “I’m getting tired just watching them.”
“At least they’re having a good time,” Fluttershy smiled gracefully: the bunch of them reminded her of a pack of puppies nipping at each other’s tails.
Still, there’s a limit to how much kids can handle. When Graves climbed into the basket and nearly toppled out, Applejack spoke a few words to the marshal and gently shooed him over to where the two girls sat. Graves trudged over and plopped down next to them, looking very tired, but in the good kind of way like you do after having a long, productive day.
“Enjoying yourself, Graves?” Rarity smiled as she looked down at the little boy beside her. He just nodded, a sort of loopy grin on his face as he swayed where he sat.
“Yup. Feels like flying. I like it. Yup. Like it a lot.”
“That’s good,” Fluttershy giggled. “But it looks like you’ve gone and worn yourself out. Why don’t you lie down and take a nap.”
“Naw, I don’t need a nap,” he muttered with a flippant wave of the hand. “Just need to… sit down for a minute is all. Catch my breath.”
“Well why don’t you just lie down and relax then?” Rarity chuckled as she watched him sway precariously. “You’ll recharge a lot faster and then you can go and get right back out there.”
“Lie down. Yeah, that sounds good,” the little boy smiled dreamily, his eyes almost completely closed by now. “Lying down sounds real good.”
And without any warning, Graves toppled over and landed right in the pretty seamstress’ lap, gently snoring as he lay fast asleep.
Frozen for a minute, Rarity’s eyes quickly widened as her cheeks tinted pink.
“Graves!” she called out, sounding more than slightly scandalized. “What are you– I mean, why are you– you get up right this minute, young man; I’ll have you know that this kind of behavior is simply unacceptable!” Her words however, fell on completely deaf ears as the little marshal simply rolled over, a contented smile on his face while he snuffled in the slow rhythm of slumber.
“Aw, he looks so cute when he’s asleep,” Fluttershy cooed, before turning to her friend with a smile. “It seems like he really likes you, doesn’t he?”
“What do you mean?” Rarity asked, still slightly perturbed by the whole situation, but not exactly in a bad way.
“Well, think about it,” the pink-haired girl replied. “All day, he’s been trying to make sure we didn’t think of him as a little kid. But when he got all tired out, he wasn’t worrying about all that and just went straight to you. That must mean he really likes you.”
“Is that right?” the pretty seamstress asked, glancing down once more at the sleeping boy skeptically, as if not quite willing to let herself believe it. Fluttershy just giggled.
“Yep. In a way, he’s an awful lot like a little wolf-puppy. Always feisty and fighting, but very cuddly with the ones he really likes.” As if hearing the words, Graves mumbled something in his sleep and curled up, drawing even closer to Rarity as he settled back into stillness.
“Well, if he likes it so much, I guess I’ll allow it just this once,” Rarity sniffed primly. However, even she couldn't fully suppress the fond smile that appeared as she reached down to pick a few stray bits of hay from his hair. “Honestly, how does he manage to get into such a state so quickly?”
As the violet-haired seamstress was preoccupied fussing with the marshal and Fluttershy with watching said fussing, neither particularly noticed the odd static charge buzzing in the air. However, neither could miss the loud, crackling pop as Twilight teleported in with a flash of purple light.
“Oh good, you’re here!” she called in relief, a tired smile coming to a face framed by frazzled, messy hair. “I’ve finally done it! It took me a while, but I finally–” The rest of her statement got cut off as Fluttershy leaped to her feet and shoved a hand into her chattering friend’s mouth.
“Hmm, whmm ynnm wmnwn?” Twilight confusedly mumbled. A couple of quick glances towards the sleeping child, however, were enough to answer that question, and she finally nodded in silent understanding.
“Oh, sorry,” she whispered sheepishly as Fluttershy finally removed her hand. “I didn’t wake him did I?”
“Fortunately not,” Rarity sighed with a smile. “It seems that Graves is a pretty deep sleeper.” Indeed, aside from a few snuffling snores and a little random mumbling, the marshal simply stayed curled up and continued his nap.
“Aw, he looks just like Spike did when he was at that age,” the sweater-vested librarian giggled. “It almost seems a shame to turn him back so soon.”
“You mean you already fixed the spell?” Fluttershy whispered back in surprise, to which Twilight happily nodded.
“That’s what I was saying earlier. Everything’s set up back at the library: we just need to get him back and he’ll be back to his old self in no time.”
“… Do we really have to?” Fluttershy asked, her conscience torn between wanting to help her little friend and the knowledge that doing so would completely destroy his current cuteness. “I mean, it wouldn’t hurt if we waited just a little longer, would it?”
For a moment, both Twilight and Rarity gave the idea serious thought. It would be pretty fun, and they could always finish it later…
It was finally Rarity who broke the silence.
“No, I don’t suppose we can,” she sighed with a good bit of reluctance. “As much as I’d like trying new outfits on him, just imagine how he’d react if he learned we'd kept him a child any longer than necessary.”
The unconscious shudders in the other two girls were a clear testament to their understanding.
Reconvened back at the library, the six girls gathered around the magic circle drawn on the ground where a still slumbering Graves lay in the middle.
“Now, you’re sure it’ll work this time?” Applejack asked once more. “You kinda overshot it last time, and I’d hate to have to spend the rest of the day callin’ Graves Gramps, if yer catchin' my drift.”
“Don’t worry,” Twilight said with a confident grin. “I’m positive that this time, the spell will work exactly as I planned.”
“That’s what she always says,” Rainbow Dash muttered before a rough elbow from the freckled farm girl cut her off.
“Anyways, with the spell reversed and reconfigured,” the young scholar continued, oblivious to her friend’s doubts, “I should be able to revert the marshal back to the exact age he was this morning.”
“Well don’t just stand there then,” Pinkie Pie beamed. “Let ’er rip!”
As the low hum of charging magic began filling the room, Rarity blinked as a thought suddenly occurred to her. Quietly, as the mystic runes on the ground began to glow with a strong, white light, she turned to Fluttershy and whispered.
“What is it, Rarity?”
“Something just dawned on me: I was called in this morning because Graves was left without clothes after his transformation, right?”
“Right?” Fluttershy nodded as the hum grew louder by the second.
“And that occurred because when he reverted to a child, his garments remained as they were, correct?”
“That’s correct,” Fluttershy agreed, not sure what her fashion-thinking friend was getting at.
“Well…” Rarity paused, a flash of worry crossing her face as Twilight entered the final incantations of the spell. “If clothes don’t change with this magic, then what happens when Graves suddenly gets much bigger than what he’s wearing?”
Fluttershy had only a moment to glance over in wide-eyed horror before the light swallowed everything.
Slowly, Graves opened his eyes and blearily blinked. He was looking at a ceiling. That meant he was back inside.
What the hay had happened?
The last few hours had been blurry, a sort of glucose-induced stupor that made it hard to remember anything that had occurred. He did remember something about being outside though, about doing something fun and something else relating to a nap. A very nice nap, he recalled, but for the life of him couldn’t figure out why. Yawning, he put a hand to his mouth to cover it, but paused as he caught sight of it.
It was his hand. Not the small and soft hand of his accursed childish form, but the tough, calloused hand that he knew like… well, like the back of his hand. He was back to normal.
Sighing in relief, Graves pushed himself up and stretched, relishing the feeling of being back in his old body. It was only after this, however, that he noticed he wasn’t alone.
“Looks like your spell worked, Twilight,” he chuckled gratefully in his regular baritone rumble and not some high-pitched squeak. Goodness, he’d missed his voice. “'Course, you sort of did start the mess in the first place, so I’ll…”
“Why are you all staring at me like that?”
Twilight just stood there, almost like she’d cast a time spell and frozen herself at the apex of stunned shock. And it wasn’t just her. Fluttershy was peeking red-faced through parted fingers, Pinkie Pie appeared to have been struck with apoplexy, and Rainbow Dash just looked fit to crack up as Applejack calmly pulled a hat down to cover her pink-tinted face.
“What, is there something on my face?”
“Oh, it’s not what’s on you, Graves,” Rarity remarked, the faintest shadow of an appraising smile on her otherwise calm and serene face. “Rather, it’s more like what’s not there that makes it such an… eye-catching spectacle.”
Raising an eyebrow in question, Graves looked down at himself. He considered it for a moment, and then looked right back up, his face as cool and composed as a winter pond.
“… Would someone please tell me why I’m naked?”
To Be Continued...
The Journey of Graves will continue in the seventh story: Return to the Gala