Massive clouds of dust and smoke hang in the sky, blocking out much of the sun's light from reaching the desolate landscape below. Queen Sweetie Belle raises her hoof, signaling for silence from atop a large black hill rising above this otherwise featureless wasteland. The crowd beneath her immediately quiets, all eyes locked on her raised limb. A small, satisfied smile graces her lips as she regards her loyal subjects. Then, with one fluid motion she lowers her hoof, stamping it into the ground.
"LET THERE BE SWEETS!!!" she proclaims to the masses. Cheers go up as the earth shakes and rumbles ominously, the ground buckling beneath her hooves to leave her floating midair despite her lack of wings – cracks likewise shooting out from her position to spread beneath the celebrating ponies. Their revelry is short lived however as again the earth shakes violently, causing many to stumble and some to fall. Liquid caramel hisses angrily as it seeps out of the fractured ground surrounding the newly silent ponies, their faces now adorned with fear rather than joy. They attempt to back away, but the cracks have spread far and surrounded them all. There's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. A grin spreads across Queen Sweetie's face as she watches her subjects with anticipation. Her horn glows and the ground heaves once more, forcing the trickling caramel to surge forward. Several ponies scream in agony… and then suddenly cease their noisemaking. Nopony moves. Nopony breathes. A hush has fallen over the world.
"Hey, it doesn't burn!" somepony shouts, said daring pony rolling onto their back to begin making a caramel angel in the viscous liquid. A murmur goes through the crowd upon realizing that they, too, are not being cooked alive.
The Queen collapses in a fit of laughter, falling into the pit of caramel beneath her as whatever magic was holding her aloft gives out, the faint sounds of her partying ponies nevertheless managing to make their way through the mass of sticky sugar submerging her. She focuses and listens, trying to make out their words.
"Hey Sweetie Belle, wake up!"
Sweetie Belle's world rocks again before melting away, her eyelids fluttering open.
"huwit?" she mumbles, a noisy, blurry blob nudging her repeatedly. She rubs her eyes and takes another look, the indistinct yellowish blur transforming into Applebloom.
"C'mon Sweetie Belle, we're burnin' daylight! We slept for three hours!" Applebloom shouts, frantically shaking her still waking friend.
Sweetie Belle jumps up at this, banging one of her knees on the underside of the table. Pains lances through her leg and she falls back to the ground clutching her throbbing limb, all traces of sleepiness banished from her mind, "OW!"
Applebloom, unwilling to wait for Sweetie Belle to recover, jumps over her friend and begins sliding her along the floor towards the door.
"Hey!" Sweetie Belle objects, raising her head, "I can walk you know!"
Upon hearing this, Applebloom stops pushing her and runs towards the door, "Then get up and start walkin'!"
Sweetie Belle grumbles, but rises to her hooves and limps towards the door, waving to Pinkie before leaving, "Bye Pinkie, thanks for the cupcakes!"
Pinkie returns the wave from behind a small line of customers, "You're welcome! Thanks for testing!"
Several pairs of ears perk up at this.
"You made a new cupcake?"
"Can I help test too?"
Scootaloo revs her wings impatiently as soon as Sweetie Belle leaves the shop, the trio shooting off down the street the moment she takes her seat in the wagon attached to the back of Scootaloo's scooter. Sweetie Belle holds onto the sides of the wagon as they skid around a corner, her surroundings reduced to a bright, multi-colored blur.
How can she go this fast on a scooter, but can't get enough lift to fly? she wonders briefly before another sharp turn banishes the thought in favor of more survival oriented ponderings.
"Head over to the apple fields," Applebloom says, pointing once Sweet Apple Acres comes into view. "We keep the manure all the way in the back."
Scootaloo and her wagon alter course to follow Applebloom's hoof, slowing down once they reach the orchard so as to avoid the roots and trunks of the apple trees that now surround them. As the minutes pass, Scootaloo's breathing becomes labored, the exertion from her mad dash earlier catching up with her.
"Are we… getting close… yet?" she asks, stopping beneath one of the orchard's many trees to turn and look back at Applebloom hopefully.
Applebloom sniffs the air, then shakes her head, "Not quite. Believe me, when we're close, you'll know."
Scootaloo slumps over her scooter's handles at this, groaning.
Applebloom rolls her eyes, "Look, if yer tired then we can take a break, no big deal."
"But we slept… for three hours… gotta make up the time… can rest when we… get there…" Scootaloo pants from her handlebars.
Sweetie Belle's eyes widen, filled with a mixture of fear and disgust, "You want to rest right next to a barn full of manure?"
"Well it's not a barn, really," Applebloom corrects her. "More like a large shack."
Sweetie Belle jumps from the wagon and sits, planting her butt on the ground defiantly, "I don't care what it is, I am not going to lay down next to it."
"Fine… if you insist…" Scootaloo replies, attempting to sound indifferent as she collapses off her scooter onto the soft ground. Applebloom snickers before laying down between Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, the shade provided by the branches of the tree they had stopped under to a welcome respite from the glare of the sun. Eventually Scootaloo's breathing calms as they relax upon the grass, surrounded by the scent of earth, wood, and nearly ripe apples. She watches the clouds lazily drift across the sky, the wind peacefully rustling the leaves above her. Sighing contentedly, her eyelids begin to droop, mind drifting towards a new awesome dream…
Falling asleep on the job is not awesome, squirt, the voice of Rainbow Dash echoes in her head, a hint of disappointment lacing her words.
Scootaloo bolts upright, her heart hammering in her chest, I almost fell asleep again!
She frantically looks over at her friends, and to her horror she sees them snoozing next to her.
"Guys! Wake up!" Scootaloo shouts, running back to her scooter. The pair of sleepers stir at the noise and start to stretch, only to freeze as they realize what had nearly happened. Wasting not a second more, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle scramble to their hooves, quickly following Scootaloo to take their places in the wagon. As soon as their butts touch wood, Scootaloo flaps her wings, the trio continuing their trek deeper into the orchard.
Sweetie Belle sniffs the air, then scrunches her nose in disgust, "Is that what it smells like it is?"
"That is exactly what it smells like," Applebloom says as she looks around for the source of the odor, after a few seconds pointing off to her right. "Scootaloo, over there."
Scootaloo looks back and adjusts her course according to Applebloom's hoof, less than half a minute later the trio arriving in a small clearing with a foul smelling wooden shack in its center. The fillies cover their noses, breathing through their mouths in an attempt to lessen the stench, but instead simply trade the much reduced smell for a faint taste of the filth on their tongues. They hesitate, not wanting to get any closer to the repulsive building, yet at the same time unwilling to turn away and abandon their mission. Seconds turn into minutes as they slowly edge their way closer to the shack's entrance, all the while trying to breath in as little of the pungent air as possible.
After staring at the door from a few feet away for more than a minute, Scootaloo looks over at her friends, "Girls, we're only making this worse by taking it so slow. We need to just run in there, get the manure, and get out."
Applebloom nods, a resolute look on her face as she eyes the doorway that's now tantalizingly close. Sweetie Belle gulps nervously, but nods as well.
Scootaloo starts drawing in the dirt with her hoof, "Alright, here's the plan: Applebloom and I will get a running start. Sweetie Belle, you'll stay here and open the door for us with your magic."
Sweetie Belle lets out a relieved sigh, Scootaloo ignoring her and continuing with the explanation, "Once we're inside, I'll get something to scoop with, and Applebloom, you'll get a bucket. I'll put a few scoops into the bucket, and then you'll carry it out here to the wagon."
Applebloom and Sweetie Belle salute, "Yes, Sir!"
The three fillies face the shack once more, determination etched on their faces as they stare down their current obstacle. Scootaloo raises her hoof into the air, "On go. Three… Two… One… Go!"
Sweetie Belle's horn glows, focusing her magic to yank the door open. Scootaloo and Applebloom charge towards the now open doorway. Applejack stumbles as the door she was about to open suddenly glows and swings outwards all on its own. Looking up in surprise, she barely has time to widen her eyes at the sight of two filly-sized projectiles closing in.
Despite Applejack's larger size, the momentum of the two fillies carries them through the entrance as they bowl her over. The two buckets of manure Applejack had been carrying, one per side, go flying a short distance before succumbing to gravity, both miraculously landing a few feet away without spilling any of their contents.
Applejack shakes her head from her place on the floor, looking towards the two fillies lying in a daze just behind her, "What in tarnation – what're you two doin' here?" Her eyes dart around the room, "And where's Sweetie Belle?"
"I'm out here!" Sweetie Belle calls from outside. "Is everypony okay?"
"We're fine," Applejack replies after giving a recovering Applebloom and Scootaloo a quick look over, moving to pick up the two buckets and reattach them to hooks on either side of the vest she's wearing, "In which case, why are y'all all the way out here?"
Applebloom fidgets, avoiding her sister's eyes, "Uhh… well…"
"We're hunting vamponies!" Scootaloo answers enthusiastically, "Cutie Mark Crusaders: Vampony Hunters!"
"Yay!" Sweetie Belle adds, still outside.
Applejack raises an eyebrow, "And why are you huntin' fer vamponies in a shack fulla manure?"
"We're not hunting vamponies here," Scootaloo replies, rolling her eyes as though it should be obvious, "we're here getting supplies!"
Applejack's brow knits and she opens her mouth, but after a split second of hesitation merely sighs instead, Ah don't know why they think they need manure fer huntin' vamponies, but Ah don't have the time to deal with them right now either.
"Well, good luck with that, Ah guess," she says as she walks towards the door for a second time, stopping in the doorway. "But if word gets back to me that y'all've been dumpin' manure on somepony, there'll be a reckonin', ya hear?"
She looks at Applebloom and Scootaloo expectantly. They stare back at her blankly. Applejack narrows her eyes at them.
"Ah said, 'ya hear?'"
Their eyes widen and they start nodding rapidly. Applejack looks outside at Sweetie Belle who starts nodding as well. Satisfied with their responses, Applejack leaves without another word, her attention already returning to her own responsibilities around the farm.
Applebloom glances over to Scootaloo, "Huh. Ah didn't think she'd be okay with us takin' some manure for a Crusade that easily."
Scootaloo shrugs, picking up a bucket from a shelf, "Who knows. Let's just hurry up and get out of here."
Applebloom sniffs the air as she picks up a scoop, "Ah think Ah'm getting used to it now, actually. It doesn't smell quite as bad anymore."
"That just means we gotta get out of here even faster," Scootaloo jokes as they fill the bucket. "If we stay too much longer you might start to like it!"
"eww!" Sweetie Belle squeals in disgust.
Their task complete, the pair of Crusaders exit the seemingly-no-longer-quite-as-foul-smelling shack, Applebloom rolling her eyes, "Oh hush, Sweetie Belle, that'd never happen."
Returning to the wagon, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle take a seat, placing the smelly bucket behind them next to the bottle of hot sauce. Scootaloo, meanwhile, hops onto her scooter, "So, where to for the stake?"
"Just head over to the main barn, there's some left over fence posts behind it that we can use," Applebloom directs.
The Crusaders ride through the apple orchard in silence, each preoccupied with just how good the untainted air smells. Before long, the trees give way to open sky as they approach the center of Sweet Apple Acres – the Apple household deserted save for Granny Smith sleeping on the front porch, inching back and forth on her rocking chair.
"Quiet down, Scoots, we don't want to wake Granny," Applebloom whispers.
Scootaloo slows at this, the buzz of her wings fading to let each drawn out squeak of the wagon become all the more nerve wracking while they carefully pass the elder Apple. The Crusaders sigh in relief as soon as Granny Smith is a ways behind them, the ghost of a smile on Granny's lips the only indication of their complete lack of stealth.
With Granny apparently bypassed, the Crusaders eagerly approach the final stage of their preparations – the barn. Scootaloo wheels them around back, and they hop off to begin inspecting the various odds and ends left over from decades of unattended accumulation.
Sweetie Belle looks over the pile of junk critically, "I thought you said that the fence posts were behind the barn."
"They are," Applebloom replies as she starts sifting through the pile. "Lots of other stuff is here too though."
"Ugh, we don't have time for this, it's gonna start getting dark in a few hours!" Scootaloo complains.
Applebloom shrugs, "Well we're already here, so unless you'd rather waste more time goin' somewhere else-"
"Yeah, yeah, get looking, I got it…" Scootaloo mutters, beginning to poke through the debris as well.
Sweetie Belle quickly joins them, using her magic to delve into the remains of the many reconstruction projects the Apple farm had undergone in recent years. Several minutes pass while the trio searches for something stake-like, the pegasus and earth pony stymied by the prevalence of sharp edges and splinters, until a shout from Sweetie Belle signals her success.
"I found our stake!" she states proudly, magically grasping a long, thin, and very sharp wooden rod.
Applebloom and Scootaloo stop their search, looking over to examine Sweetie Belle's find.
Applebloom nods, satisfied, "Nice stake."
"Yeah," Scootaloo agrees after inspecting it a few moments longer, "but enough staring at wood, let's go get our Cutie Marks!"
The three fillies share a highhoof and, not wasting a second more, immediately set off for Ponyville to begin their hunt.