Bam!!! The tree reeled under the blow, the branches flailing wildly causing ripe apples to be torn from their stems and fall into awaiting baskets. Applejack turned and looked up, noticing one apple stubbornly clinging to the tree. She scowled at the apple and, as if on cue, it snapped free and landed neatly on top of a full basket. Applejack smiled, removing her hat to wipe her brow, before trotting over to the next tree. Rearing her hind legs, she leaned forward to deliver the next powerful buck –
Applejack’s concentration broke and she lost her balance, falling face first into the ground. Spitting out dirt, she moaned, “Ow.” Quickly she scrambled to her hooves and let loose a torrent, “What in tarnation! What were you thinkin’ sneaking up on a... pony....” Her words died in her throat as she saw the pink alicorn glaring at her, and instantly Applejack fell into a bow. “Pardon yer highness. Ah didn’t know it was you.”
Pinkamena’s scowl turned into a smirk, “Finally, a subject that knows proper royal etiquette.” After a moment to savor the reverence, she commanded, “Rise fair – uh – what is your name?”
Glancing up, she replied, “Applejack.”
Rubbing her chin with a wingtip, Pinkamena mused, “That sounds familiar. Well, rise fair Applejack.”
“Thanks. And if’n it sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been in the papers – me and my friends.”
Pinkamena returned a blank stare.
“Uh – Elements of Harmony,” supplied Applejack.
Again a blank stare.
“Defeat of Nightmare Moon,” she elaborated.
Still a blank stare.
“And Discord. Bridesmaids at the royal wedding a few moons back. And the defeat of Tirek. Any of this ringin’ a bell?”
Sighing, Pinkamena said, “I am afraid not.”
“You should talk to Twilight. She’d be happier than a flea at a dog show to give y’all a lecture on it.”
More to herself than Applejack, she muttered, “Yes, I’m sure she would.” Turning back to the pony before her, Pinkamena asked, “Tell me Applejack, what are you doing?”
“Oh this?” she asked, motioning to the apple trees bare of fruit. “Well, Ah’m applebuckin’.”
“Eeyup.” Noting the alicorn’s confusion, she explained, “It’s how we harvest apples. We’re earth ponies, so we ain’t got no fancy unicorn magic and we cain’t fly up to the apples like them pegasi.”
“Yes, I can see your point. I imagine it is a good way to relieve pent up frustration?”
“Well, Ah’d be lyin’ if Ah said Ah hadn’t gone out applebuckin’ a few times to work off mah anger. Especially after some of the stunts mah sister an her friends ’ave pulled.”
Motioning to the trees, Pinkamena asked, “May I?”
Applejack stepped aside, allowing the alicorn to approach the next tree. She reared her back legs and thrust them backwards. Wham! A number of apples fell into the baskets, but many remained on the tree. Pinkamena frowned.
“Now don’t ya worry. It takes time tah learn to applebuck right. Ya just have to hit the trunk squarely in the middle.”
Pinkamena reared again. Bam!!! The tree shook again, and very quickly every last apple fell into the baskets.
“Now ya got it!”
Smiling, Pinkamena asked, “May I applebuck a few more trees.”
“’Course. You go right ahead, Ah need to take haul the apples back to the barn. Ah’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Applejack hitched herself up to the wagon as Pinkamena sized up the next tree....
( ( ( | ) ) )
The now empty cart bounced along the old, rutted farm path, no longer weighed down by hundreds of large red apples. Applejack pulled the wagon off to the side and unhitched herself before trotting down the row of trees where she’d left the alicorn only a half hour before. Every tree was bare and the baskets filled to the brim with apples. But the pink alicorn was nowhere to be found. She paused, rubbing her head in confusion. Bam! Applejack turned and walked over to the next row, her jaw dropping as she saw every single tree applebucked, the fruit laying scattered across the ground. “What in tarnation?” Bam!! Applejack hurried to the next row but found it the same. Bam!!! Applejack raced to the fourth row and found Pinkamena rearing back before another tree. Bam!!!! The tree shuddered, and all the fruit fell onto the ground. “What’s goin’ on?” the cowpony demanded.
Looking up, Pinkamena greeted with a smile, “Hello Applejack.”
“What are ya doin’!”
“I am applebucking. Is something a matter?” she asked, cocking her head as she approached Applejack.
“Well, you’re buckin’ the trees alright, but there’s no baskets ta catch all the apples. Now Ah ’ave to pick them all up.”
Gazing at the mess left in her wake, Pinkamena sheepishly replied, “Oh. I must have... been caught up in the moment. Do not fret, for I can fix this.” A pale blue aura surrounded all the apples and levitated them into the air. “Where should I put them?”
( ( ( | ) ) )
A few minutes later the wagon overflowed with apples, while a dozen filled baskets stood ready nearby. As Applejack hitched herself up for another run to the barn, Pinkamena levitated the baskets into the air. “Thanks for the help,” said Applejack as she began pulling the cart.
“My pleasure,” replied a smiling Pinkamena as she fell in beside Applejack. “Applebucking has proved to be a great way to relieve frustration and anger. I may be doing this quite a bit in the future.”
“Well, y’all certainly seemed more relaxed. But if Ah can ask you a question, what got ya so worked up in the first place?”
Her bright smile faded. “I met Pinkie Pie,” the last two words said with biting disgust.
“Pinkie Pie? Well, Ah can understand that. She can be a hooffull at times and sometimes Ah think she’s a few apples short of a bushel.”
“I have never met a pony so obsessed with parties... and baking... and fun,” she said, shaking her head.
“Well, that is how she got her cutie mark. She threw a party for her whole family.”
Thunk! Th-thunk! Thunk! The baskets fell to the ground, spilling the apples everywhere. Pinkamena stood there, her eyes wide and mouth open.
“Somethin’ a matter?”
“Her family,” Pinkamena whispered.
“Are you okay?”
Snapping back to the moment, Pinkamena shook her head. “I am very sorry,” she said as she hurriedly gathered the apples. An orange hoof caused her to stop.
“Would ya like to talk about it?”
She inhaled deeply then exhaled slowly, deliberately. “Yes.”
“How ’bout we take a seat over yonder,” Applejack suggested, motioning to the shade of a large apple tree. She helped Pinkamena over and the two sat in silence for a while.
At last, the alicorn said, “I never properly introduced myself. I am Princess...” She hung her head low and closed her eyes, “...Pinkamena Diane Pie.” Applejack remained quiet. Looking up into the cowpony’s eyes, Pinkamena asked, “I am sure you noticed the similarity that Pinkie Pie and I share?”
“Well,” Applejack began, “Ah did think ya looked like an alicorn version of Pinkie Pie. You are what Ah’d expect, ’cept the straight mane. But Ah saw y’all’s cutie mark,” she said, motioning to the sword and shield on the alicorn’s flank, “and realized that ya weren’t the same pony.”
“No, we are not. I come from another Equestria. I am sure you know that Princess Twilight Sparkle has travelled to other worlds before?” Applejack nodded. “I helped her defeat one Starlight Glimmer and save this world. But in the process my world was....” She trailed off, gazing into the distance.
“Destroyed? Then y’all’s family and friends –”
“No.” She turned back to Applejack. “My family was lost long ago, during the war against King Sombra.”
“King Sombra? That unicorn from the Crystal Empire?”
“Yes. In my world, he conquered most of Equestria. I lost everypony I ever cared about, and became an alicorn for my sacrifice. And now I am alone in this world.” Tears trickled down her cheek, and she brushed them aside. Taking a deep breath, she stood up, “I am sorry to unload my burden upon you. I do not expect you to understand –” She found herself in a tight hug from Applejack. Momentarily taken aback, she raised a foreleg and returned the embrace, burying her head into the earth pony’s fur.
Finally parting, “Applejack said, Ah may not have gone through everythin’ you have, but Ah know what it’s like to lose family members.” Now it was Applejack’s turn to glance away as she sat back down.
Pinkamena took a seat opposite her. “Would you like to talk about it?”
“Not much to tell. Ma gave birth to mah sister, Apple Bloom. But it was hard on Ma, and she passed that night. Pa took it real hard. He died a few weeks later. Doctors said it was a heart attack, but Ah always knew it was from a broken heart. Over the past few years mah brother Big Mac and Granny Smith and me ’ave had to raise Apple Bloom.”
“I am very sorry.”
“It’s alright. It happened so long ago... but still gets me sometimes.” She wiped her eyes.
The two sat in silence for a while.
Applejack finally turned to Pinkamena. “You know yer wrong?”
“Ah said yer wrong.”
“Pray tell,” irritation rising in her voice.
“Yer not alone.”
She paused. “How so?” Pinkamena asked, her voice again calm.
“Well for starters, you’ve made one friend today.”
“Are we friends? We just met.”
“Ain’t no time requirement to becoming friends.”
Pinkamena smiled. “It has been so long since I had a friend. Being ruler of Equestria, I had to keep a certain distance between myself and the subjects. I suppose... that is moot now.”
“And...,” Applejack finally said, “yer not goin’ to want to hear this, but there’s also Pinkie Pie.”
Pinkamena groaned and rubbed her head. “Tell me why I should put up with her.”
“She’s you. If you had been in this world, you’d be her. An’ if she spent time in your world, she’d be you. Ah think ya have more in common than ya realize.”
“But she is so... irritating.”
“Maybe. But she’s also carin’, an thoughtful, an always there fer a friend.”
“What is her Element again?”
“Laughter,” Pinkamena said derisively. “How is that important? How does that help with survival and keeping order?”
“There’s more to life than just survivin’. When you see the smiles she puts on ponies’ faces, and how happy she makes them... well, ya realize just how important laughter can be.”
Pinkamena stared back.
“Look, Ah ain’t sayin’ that ya have ta spend time with her, or even like her, but ya need to make yer peace with her.”
Pinkamena sat for a while, pondering her words. Eventually, she turned to Applejack. “Perhaps.... Could.... Would you help me?”
Applejack smiled. “Of course.”