The Irony of Applejack

by Mister Friendly

Chapter 4: Consequences

Chapter 4: Consequences

Vigil was furious. There were few times in his life where he’d ever admit to feeling remotely similar, and only slightly more times of actually being angry.

But in that moment, Vigil was furious. Because he was walking away, empty-hooved.


Vigil didn’t tolerate failure. It was abhorrent, it was imperfect. It was totally, irrevocably unacceptable.

And yet there he was, falling woefully short of his goals. All because of that mare…

Vigil’s jaw tightened still further, but he forced his expression to stay neutral as he walked in apparent calm down an empty dirt road, the serenity and calmness of the open county thoroughly lost on him.

This was a setback, little more. All he needed was a plan…


Vigil turned his gaze away from the dirt road in front of him – towards the looming shape of a nearby apple tree, one that very nearly hung its canopy out beyond the all-too familiar farm fence.

He turned just in time to see a bright shape detach itself from the fiery mass of leaves and vault onto the road beside him.

A lime green pegasus stallion straightened up beside him into what might be considered a loose simile of standing at attention. His eyes were too full of emotions to quite pull it off, however, and any drill sergeant would’ve had a field day with his stance. Either he was particularly new, or woefully out of practice.

“Hyacinth,” Vigil said. “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been keeping an eye on the brother, sir,” the pony responded. “Did something happen?”

Vigil turned away, his brow in imminent danger of devolving into a scowl. “We’ve run into a slight snag. The target is more… unwilling than I’d anticipated.”

Hyacinth hesitated, one leg in the air as he paused mid-step. The question on his mind was clear in his body language, but Vigil chose instead to ignore it and continue walking ever away from his target.

“Will that be an issue?” Hyacinth asked. “I understand that she is a queen, but with our numbers, we could…”

“Hyacinth, I’m beginning to suspect you’re questioning me.”

“No sir,” he said quickly. “Of course not, sir. I only wish to gain insight into your plans. My apologies if I overstepped my bounds.”

“Accepted,” Vigil stated tersely. “For now, however, we are falling back. Making such a commotion in the middle of the day without proper safety nets would put a strain on our operations, and having a witness already there would only compound things further.”

“A witness?”

“Yes,” Vigil said with a small nod. “One of her friends interrupted us, giving us the opportunity to fall back.”

Hyacinth only pursed his lips slightly at the lie, but said nothing on the matter.

“Aren’t you worried that Applejack might expose us to her friend?”

Vigil paused, but only to allow a knowing glint cross his eyes.



A cold, almost harsh wind blew through the orchard, stealing through the branches to find two mares standing amid a scattered grove of apple trees and open barrels.

Both faced one another, and just by the look on the pegasus’s face, Applejack knew she’d only traded one problem for another.



“Come on, sugarcube…”


“Ah ain't gonna ask ya again, Rainbow!”

The offending Pegasus responded by getting right in Applejack’s face, very nearly forcing her down on her rump.

“And I already told you! I’m not going anywhere until you start talking!”

Applejack responded by shoving her forehead against Rainbow’s, pushing her back, and glowering. “And Ah already said there ain't nothing to talk about!”

“Bull!” Rainbow bellowed angrily. “I saw the look on your face, AJ, and I’ve about had it with your dang excuses! Now are you gonna start talking or what?!”

Applejack couldn’t help but take a half step back, and she cursed herself internally for doing so, because she knew Rainbow would lock onto the sign of weakness like a shark.

“All of your friends have been worried sick about you, you know!” Rainbow continued shouting. “I’ve been worried sick!”


“No, you listen! The last time you kept something like this to yourself, you abandoned us!”

Applejack felt her breath catch in her throat.

“You ran away and abandoned all of us,” Rainbow went on, her voice starting to crack ever so slightly. Her wings deflated, steadily going from arched and twitching with fury to slumped and lifeless.

Applejack could see the hurt in her friend’s eyes, the barely forgiven anger and sadness in danger of bursting forth all over again.

After a moment, Rainbow forced herself to rein it in, closing her eyes and taking a deep, sharp breath. She straightened her back so much that AJ thought she might be stretching and closed her wings before fixing her friend with a hard – and to AJ, almost painful – stare.

“I won’t let you do that again, AJ. Not to any of us,” she stated with conviction.

“Especially to yourself.”

Applejack felt something crack inside her. It was almost a physical sensation, one that split her composure like a log.

“Ah-Ah can’t.” she muttered, trying as hard as she possibly could to mask her flooding panic. “Please, Rainbow, don’t make me say anythin’. I-if Ah do, there won’t be no fixin’ it…”

But to her surprise, Rainbow was unmoved. She merely cocked an eyebrow.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, AJ,” she said in a hard tone, “but you’re not exactly fixing it yourself.”

Applejack bit her lip, averting her gaze. “Please, Rainbow, Ah’m beggin’ ya… Ah promise, if it were somethin’ Ah could talk about, Ah would. Ah swear Ah would.”

Rainbow tried to hide it, but she was stunned. Never before, in her history of knowing the earth pony, had she ever heard Applejack beg.

“But this ain't that kind of problem,” Applejack went on, unaware of how still her friend had become. “Talking about it or not, it ain't gonna change nothin’ except make everythin’ a whole lot worse.”

When she spoke next, it was in an absolutely teeny tiny voice that would’ve been lost to the wind if it’d chosen to blow at that moment.

“And… Ah won’t let mahself do that to ya’ll.”

Rainbow could only stare in shock.

“So please… don’t make me say it, sugarcube…”

Applejack stared at the ground, anywhere but at the mare in front of her. She felt so twisted up inside, and seeing any kind of reaction in Rainbow felt like it’d twist a knife in her heart even further.

Being confronted by Vigil had shaken her. And before she could steady herself, here came Dash…

She hated herself. Hated that she couldn’t confide in her friend, that she couldn’t tell her the one thing that she knew she wanted to hear, but at the same time knew would end everything. Her life on the farm, her time with her friends; everything.

And that thought was so scary it was imploding her chest…

Until, for the second time that day, Rainbow did something Applejack never would’ve anticipated.

Before she rightly knew what was happening, she felt a pair of hooves wrap around her shoulders and pull her close.

She could only see a splash of reds and yellows, greens and blues, all harshly muddling the view of the trees in front of her.

“You aren’t going to lose me, Applejack,” said Rainbow’s voice in her ear, “or any of our friends. It doesn’t matter what it is – it really doesn’t. We just want our friend back.”


That was when it finally clicked. She was being hugged. Rainbow Dash was hugging her. The very concept sounded strange in her head, conflicting with what she’d learned to anticipate from her brazen daredevil friend.

But there she was; Rainbow’s weight leaned comfortingly against the farm pony’s shoulders, the feel of her toned muscles seeming almost unbreakable against Applejack’s coat.

“It’s going to be okay, AJ. Whatever you’ve gotten into your head about whatever’s going on with you being unfixable, you’re wrong. So wrong, in fact, I should really just buck you in the head for even thinking like that.”

Applejack felt what must’ve been one of Rainbow’s hairs getting into her eye. No way that stinging was anything else.

“I’ll always have your back, AJ. Don’t you ever forget that.”

The crack in Applejack’s chest grew wider, splitting so painfully she almost hissed every time it throbbed.

She couldn’t take it. It was unfair, beating her down like this. First Vigil, now her… Sooner or later, even somepony as tough as her would shatter.

“… Do ya promise?”

“I’d Pinkie Swear,” Rainbow Dash said into her Stetson, “but then I’d have to let you go, and since I kinda got you pinned here…”

Even as miserable as she felt, Applejack couldn’t help but huff in pained amusement. “That’s just playin’ dirty.”

“You’re just mad ‘cuz I won.”

Applejack felt a frown cross her brow… but she didn’t deny it. After all, she could tell no lies.

“So are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

Applejack felt her heart thud again, tugging at her eyes once more.



“Not yet, sugarcube,” Applejack went on softly. “Give me some time, alright? Ah ain't ever talked about this with nopony… and Ah still ain't convinced everythin’ll be fine afterwards.”

Then, gingerly, she raised a hoof to place across Rainbow’s shoulders. Strange… they’d never felt this strong before.

“But… yer right, RD. Ah really wish ya weren’t but… yer right. You and the rest of the gals deserve better than Ah’ve been givin’. You win… this time.”

Applejack could almost feel Rainbow’s smirk through her hat.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Don’t push yer luck.”

Dash just snickered, and upon hearing that familiar – and sometimes hated – sound, Applejack finally felt the crack in her chest closing. It was still there, but at least the throbbing could once more resemble a heartbeat.

The two sat in silence for nearly a minute, hugging it out. The chilly wind whistled through the trees, dislodging some of the first leaves from their homes and toying idly with both mares’ manes.

For Rainbow, she finally felt the frustration and tension in her body easing like a dense fog dissipating.

For Applejack, she felt trepidation on a whole other level. Some might even call it sheer, unadulterated terror, and if it were for anypony other than Rainbow, it likely would’ve been.

But for now… for the first time ever… that terror wasn’t insurmountable. It was there, yes, warning her against everything she was doing and considering doing. But there was no getting around Rainbow’s words, or the look on her face as she spoke them.

Finally, Applejack felt her nerve return. She patted Rainbow on the back, signaling to her, and the two broke apart.

“Alright… Alright,” Applejack said, somehow feeling like she had to catch her breath for a coming event. “Can ya give me some time now? Ah… got a lot ta think over.”

Rainbow smiled, the first friendly look she’d worn all day.

Yep… I’m awesome

“Sure thing, AJ. I’ll just swing by some other time, okay?”

Applejack smiled and nodded. “You take care, sugarcube. And… if it wouldn’t be all that much trouble… would ya mind keepin’ this to yerself?”

“Which part?”

Applejack wiped nonchalantly at one eye.

“All of it.”

The two shared a snicker. Before they were done, Rainbow spread her wings, and in a single motion, she was off her hooves.

Odd how her wings didn’t feel nearly as stiff as before.

“Alright, catch you later!”

And with that promise, she took off into the late afternoon sky.

Applejack watched her go, and as she did so, the smile slowly slipped from her lips.

This, she knew, was going to be a mistake. Likely the worst mistake of her life, too. But for the first time, a cast-aside memory of not so long ago twitched at the back of her mind.

Don’t ya even want to try…?

Applejack didn’t know how to answer that question anymore.

Far overhead and unbeknownst to her friend, Rainbow Dash’s expression had similarly slipped. Her smile faded entirely, instead being replaced with a hard scowl.

She may be leaving Applejack alone to her thoughts, but that didn’t mean she was going to just sit around patiently and do nothing. After all, Rainbow Danger Dash was a mare of action, not thought.

And right then, she had an ax to grind with somepony.


Rainbow made only a single detour in her journey; making a beeline for her cloud home rather than just scream across Ponyville, devil-may-care.

She only recalled just in time, and only because who her thoughts were aiming at like a rifle sight.

She was in and out of the home faster than any living creature should frankly move indoors, emerging with a Wonderbolts drawstring pouch hung around her neck. Once upon a time, it’d been used for her “Daring Do Fund”. However, now her ID had more pressing reservations, and Rainbow was not getting held up again!

Once more on track and racing across the now-clear skies of Ponyville, she remembered once more the look on Applejack’s face when she’d first spotted her – shocked, enraged unlike anything she’d ever seen before, but also totally, utterly terrified.

But most of all, Rainbow remembered the face of the other pony that’d been there – the one who’d put that look on her friend’s face in the first place – and his uncaring eyes.

And all she felt was rage.



Rainbow dropped out of the sky like a meteor, actually cratering the hard-packed dirt road slightly when she landed.

She didn’t care that she was in the middle of Ponyville, and that there were at least a dozen ponies watching her with wide, stunned eyes.

That expression was likewise stamped across the face of her target, even if to an infuriatingly subdued degree.

She’d seen Vigil from almost six-hundred feet up, just waltzing across Ponyville Square without a care in the world.

She intended to change that.

“… Can I help you, Miss Dash?”

“Yeah!” Rainbow snarled. “What the hay do you want with my friend, huh? What gives you the right to harass her like that?”

The mustard stallion paused, then plucked at the golden badge hanging against his chest. “This.”

That was not the right answer. Technically nothing was, but that was especially not the right answer.

“Well knock it off, you hear me?” She shouted in his face. “I don’t care who you answer to! Do something like that to her again and I’ll shove that horn of yours straight up your –”


Before Dash could turn to see who’d interrupted her mid-rant – it was destined to be quite the ‘doozy’, as Pinkie would put it – She found another pony imposing herself between her and her prey.

“What has gotten into you?” Twilight asked, her eyes wide with shock.

Rainbow only pointed a hoof at Vigil. “This pony has been harassing Applejack, that’s what!” she shouted. “He’s the reason why she’s been acting so weird! Isn’t that right?!”

“Rainbow, stop it!” Twilight cried, raising her tone to try to match Rainbow’s. “You can’t just go around accusing somepony, especially a royal investigator!”

“YOU DIDN’T SEE HER!” Rainbow roared, causing Twilight to flinch down in shock.

It was only when she saw her friend starting to cower in front of her that it finally hit the pegasus pony what she was doing, and more specifically, who she was shouting at.

Finally she backed down, smashing her eyes shut as she fought down her boiling blood. “I-I’m… I’m sorry, Twi’. I didn’t mean to shout at you. It’s just…”

She snapped an eye open, leveling a deadly glare right at the culprit. “That pony is freaking Applejack out, and I want to know why. I want answers.”

All three stared at each other for a few seconds – two sets focus solely on one another while the third continuously flashed nervously between the two.

Their little display hadn’t gone unnoticed, either, and now nearly every pony within eyesight had locked their gazes on the spectacle. Some were even coming out of stores to see what all the shouting was about. Rumors would undoubtedly circulate – about how Rainbow shouted at a court official for no discernible reason – but at the moment it was the furthest thing from her mind.

At the moment, she just wanted to focus on getting her breathing under control.

But it was Twilight who spoke first, looking incredibly nervous, and just a little sympathetic. Not enough for Dash, but just a little.

“Rainbow, you can’t just question an investigator about a case you’re not personally involved in, and even if you did, he’s legally required to not answer. He could lose his job and go to prison if he did.”

Rainbow’s expression soured, her eyes narrowing. “Fine. Then how about this? Stay away from Applejack, or are you legally required to ignore that, too?”

“Actually, I am,” Vigil stated, just as controlled as ever. “You may not like it, Miss Dash, but regardless, I will be looking into that friend of yours.”

“Why you…,” she snarled, but a veil of purple light kept her from advancing forward.

“Rainbow,” Twilight warned, casting a nervous eye towards Vigil.

“Perhaps,” he said in a slightly raised tone, catching both mares’ attention, “instead of trying to stop me, you should wonder why I’m interested in Applejack in the first place.”

Rainbow bared her teeth more, glaring, but said nothing.

Vigil just fixed her with an unsettling gaze, one that betrayed nothing but a pony holding all the cards. “Just what does she have to hide? What secret could she possibly have that she’d keep it from you?”

Rainbow hated it, but she had no rational answer. Good thing she didn’t favor ‘rational answers’.

“All I know is what I saw, and what I saw was some investigator and his goons backing my friend into a corner!”

Vigil froze. Well, in a manner of speaking. No pony would’ve ever noticed if he got any more motionless.

“…Excuse me?”

"I can spot a Paparazzi a mile away, pal," Rainbow growled, somehow managing to add a smug note to her angry voice. "And hiding in the trees is about as old a trick as it gets. Call me crazy, though, but I doubt those ponies were looking for a picture or two."

Vigil’s mind went blank for a second, reeling rapidly for traction.

She saw them? No… no she couldn’t have. Not really, or else she’d have brought the town guard.

Within a fraction of a second, he had his composure back, his mind already counterattacking.

“And you do not wonder why I felt the need for backup?” he asked. “Perhaps you should ask yourself that before you point your hoof based only on assumptions.”

“Yeah? And why would you need a small gang of thugs, huh?” Rainbow shot hotly.

“Rainbow,” Twilight interjected, throwing her a scolding frown. “He can’t—”

“It’s quite alright, Miss Sparkle,” Vigil cut across before redirecting his gaze to his accuser.. “Let’s speak in hypotheticals, shall we?”

“I only speak Equestrian, bub.”

“Apparently. Now listen… hypothetically speaking, what if Applejack wasn’t who she seemed to be?”

Rainbow faltered, momentarily confused, but immediately glowered. “Well, hypothetically speaking, you’re a gelding.”

“I see there’ll be no reasoning with you,” Vigil sighed. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m a very busy pony.”

With that, he turned and started to trot away. He was about to resume his planning when one last shout from the mare behind him caught his attention.

“Don’t think this is over, chump!”

“Oh, I fully expect it isn’t,” he called to her without turning around, and promptly cast her from his mind… for the most part. After all, it seemed he might now have to make a slight adjustment to his plans…


Applejack knew she ought to be working, but… her spirit just wasn’t into it. Sure, she got the filled barrels loaded into the cart, and true she hauled that sucker all the way back to the barn and back.

But there she stopped, and the will to fill those barrels again just sort of… left her.

She collapsed under a tree with a grunt. There, she started to evaluate her options.

The day was growing late. A cold crisp to the air was nipping at her and dislodging more stray leaves from the trees above. She watched them whistle away with the wind, out towards Ponyville and to lands unknown.

She liked this view – always had. Dead of winter or height of summer, it offered nothing short of the best view money couldn’t buy.

She could see all the way out to Canterlot, in fact, and if the sun was just right and the air just clear, she could occasionally see the majestic and seemingly improbable spires of Cloudsdale, far in the distance.

That day was not such a day, however, and all she saw was the lemon-tinted late afternoon sky.

She could feel the sun on her face as it made a break for the horizon once more. She could practically taste the apple-scented orchard on her tongue – an aroma that never left the place, no matter the time of year.

And if she messed this up, it would all disappear.

If she thought about it, she didn’t care so much about what happened to her. It scared her, having the threat of losing so much dangling over her head like a guillotine, but she knew she would one day be able to recover from it. She’d dust herself off, find a new home, a new place to grow apples and buck trees until her knees gave out and arthritis claimed her. That was just the kind of pony she was.

But what cut her the deepest was the consequences that would fall on her family. Granny Smith knew, yes, and so did Big Macintosh. But Apple Bloom didn’t.

There’d just never been any reason to tell her; since it was something she could keep on the sidelines, something that wouldn’t affect her on a regular basis, she’d cast it aside as unnecessary information, like making obscene noises with her armpit or some such nonsense, and moved on.

But if the news got out – that she was a changeling, and… and a queen at that…

No matter which way she spun it, no matter what twist she put on the tale, the farm would be done for.

After all, who’d want to eat produce that had anything to do with a changeling? Odds are the family would be run clean off the land by paranoid ponies out for justice.

She couldn’t do that, not to the ponies that’d raised her and taught her right from wrong. In many ways, if it weren’t for them, she’d be a frail little filly with hardly enough strength to buck an empty bucket over, let alone a full grown apple tree.

She owed her family more than any amount of words could ever describe. She’d sooner die than let that fate befall them.

So… she had to make sure Rainbow understood. She had to do everything in her power to get the message across – that she was Applejack, the very same Applejack that’d known her since she’d returned to the farm as a filly.

If she could do that, maybe – just maybe she’d have a shot in the dark.

She had no choice. She’d bet the entire future of the farm on this one gamble; on all-but throwing herself to the Timber Wolves and hoping they’d been muzzled.

Applejack didn’t know how long she’d sat there, under that tree, watching the sun go down. She never calmed completely, but her nerves steadied.

As she lay there motionlessly on her belly, slowly another facet of her situation arose to meet her, one that didn't bare a grim taint to it.

She was going to tell somepony.

After so many years, after literally living her life with having this secret ingrained as such into her mind… it was going to be passed on. The very thought made her heart flutter – both in panic and excitement.

Over and over she thought that the best course of action was still to run and never look back, but… She wasn’t going to.

It was scary – downright terrifying, in fact – but… she was going to tell somepony her deepest, darkest secret. Whatever may come, that fact right there was almost enough to make her feel lightheaded.

Applejack was so absorbed with her thoughts that she didn’t hear a set of heavy hooves approaching, nor did she catch the sight of an approaching mass of red out of the corner of her eye.

She only became aware of Big Mac’s presence when he spoke.

“Somethin’ on yer mind?”

Applejack snapped her head around, taken off guard, but quickly recovered when she saw who it was.

“Howdy Big Mac,” she greeted. “Enjoy yer day off?”

He nodded his head.

Applejack’s smile grew. “Ya know… Ah’m findin’ it hard ta believe that ya’ll were gone for just a few hours,” she mused.

“Did Ah miss somethin’?”

Applejack nodded, and turned to gaze out over the countryside again. For a moment, she considered what to tell him; about Vigil, about what he’d said about her and the threat he’d levied over her head.

But instead, she chose the most important of the bunch.

“Ah’m gonna tell ‘er, Macintosh,” she said quietly.

Big Mac stayed motionless in the corner of her eye, his reaction unreadable.

“Tell who?”

“Rainbow,” Applejack responded. She almost chuckled at how casual she sounded. She felt anything but nonchalant.

“She came ‘round while ya were in town. Didn’t take no fer an answer, that dang pony.” She chuckled to herself.

Big Macintosh was silent, motionless for a long time. Until…

“Ah’m glad.”

Applejack turned, and felt her eyes widen in surprise. The smile on Big Mac’s face was a rare one, just because it was marvelously big.

“Ah think this’ll be the right choice fer you, Applejack. It’s the best thing ta do.”

He took a step forward, looking happier than he had in years.

“Don’t ya’ll worry about us, alright?” he said.

Applejack’s expression fell then, despite herself. “But if Ah mess it up…”

“Ya ain't gonna mess it up,” he pressed. “Cuz Ah know a mare who won’t take no fer no answer no more than Rainbow.”

Applejack couldn’t help but smile once more, her heart rising. “Well gosh, Big Mac, ya didn’t have ta go and say that.”

He only let out a deep, rumbly chuckle at that. “Come on, now. Let’s get all this cleaned up and cleared out. There’s dinner to be had.”

Applejack couldn’t help but cock a smirk at her brother. “Sounds like a plan ta me.”


The sky was little more than a burgundy splash by the time the two siblings were done, their loads carted off and abandoned in the barn for the following day.

While Big Mac lingered behind to clean up and close up the barn, Applejack cantered up towards the farmhouse, still feeling light on her hooves.

With Big Mac’s support ringing in her ears, she headed into the kitchen to clean her hooves off.

All the while, she continued to think about her impending meeting with Rainbow, but now she had a decidedly less pessimistic outlook on the matter. Funny what family could do.

Just as she got done drying her hooves on a towel, Big Macintosh waltzed in through the front door, looking surprisingly tired yet satisfied.

“Hurry up, Mac,” Applejack called. “Get hustlin’ before –”

Everypony in the house heard the loud thud out on the front porch. Even Granny Smith perked up, eyes trained in the direction of the front of the house.

“What was that?” Apple Bloom inquired aloud, as if somepony present would magically know.

Applejack exchanged a look with her brother, then cautiously edged towards the origin of that sound.

As she went, a re-play of Vigil’s words went through her head again and again.

I wasn’t asking…

He wouldn’t…

She braced herself, squared her shoulders, and slammed open the front door.

And promptly smacked Rainbow clean off the porch.

“Oh ponyfeathers, are you alright?” Applejack cried, rushing over to her capsized friend.

“Did anyone catch the plate on that cart?” Dash warbled, her wall-eyed stare going this way and that.

“Oh yer fine,” Applejack huffed, straightening up.

“You weren’t the one who got punted like a soccer ball,” her friend griped. She shook her head, aligning her vision into a shocked and indignant stare leveled at her friend. “Since when could you do that?”

Applejack then turned sheepish, blushing lightly. “Uh, Ah guess Ah don’t know mah own strength sometimes.”

“I’ll say,” Rainbow replied, fighting to right herself. After some flailing of limbs and one declined helping hoof, she clambered to her hooves. She shook her head free of any lingering dizziness and focused her eyes.

From deeper in the house, a voice just reached the two friends as Rainbow straightened up properly. "Is it a Jabberwocky? Don't look in in the eye, Applejack!"

"Granny, I think that's a cockatricycle," piped up Apple Bloom's voice.

"Nonsense! Ah know a Jabberwocky when Ah hear -"

Applejack promptly shut the door the moment she reached it.

“So, er...," she said with a cough, "what brings ya around here? Ya know. 'sides fer skeet shootin’.”

“Ha ha,” Rainbow deadpanned. “I’m here because I said I’d be, remember?”


“Yeah, oh,” Rainbow said back, grinning in bemusement. “Don’t tell me you forgot?”

“’course not,” Applejack huffed indignantly. it’s only been drivin’ me up and down a wall fer the past few hours! “Ah just figured it was startin’ to get a bit late, so Ah figured you wouldn't be... showin'?”

Rainbow just stared her into silence. “I said I was going to hear you out, and I stand by it. Pinkie promise.”

Applejack stared at her for a moment, gauging her fierce – and rather bullheaded – expression.

“…Alright,” she said slowly. “But ya have ta promise one thing. Ah mean really promise me, sugarcube.”

“Sure,” Rainbow said without hesitating. “What is it?”

“Ya have ta promise ta let me finish, alright?”

She paused for a second, then nodded. “Okay, I think I can manage that.”

“Ah hope so, sugarcube,” Applejack sighed. “Just… gimme a sec to excuse mahself from the table and Ah’ll be right out.”

She quickly darted back towards the house, poking her head in through the door.

Everypony was already seated, now being quite well behaved. Each turned their head expectantly towards the sound of the door being pried open.

Only the elders held any knowing glint in their eyes, however, leaving poor Apple Bloom to stare on in confusion.

“Sorry, ya’ll, but Ah gotta step out fer a while,” Applejack told them.

“Well alright, deary,” Granny Smith said, who didn’t seem to have a knowing glint – she had a knowing glow. “Ah’ll save ya a plate. Ya better take care now, ya hear?”

“Ah will, Granny, don’t you worry,” Applejack said appreciatively. “You folks… take care while Ah’m gone, alright?”

She thought she saw Granny’s smile flinch for a second, but that could’ve just been a muscle spasm.

“Alright, we will,” she said.

Then Applejack turned her eyes towards her brother. “And… thanks again fer the advice. It’s been a big help.”

Big Mac blinked for a second, before saying a single “Eeyup.”

The moment Applejack was gone, however, he had to wonder just what advice he’d given her in the first place.


The two mares walked in silence through the orchards, one in front of the other. Night was only a short while away, the sky reflecting this nearness with the first twinkles of stars far overhead.

Shadows reigned over the shaded places under the trees, leaving most of their surroundings to their imaginations and little else.

To Applejack’s surprise, Rainbow didn’t start whining or complaining after only a few minutes of walking. She just trotted behind her quietly, eyes training on the back of her head, which she was exquisitely aware of.

“So… where are we going?” Dash asked at last, after nearly ten solid minutes of nothing but the sounds of hoof-falls between them.

“Just someplace quiet,” Applejack hedged.

The moment she heard that tone, however, Rainbow ground to a halt.

“Here’s quiet, AJ,” she said meaningfully.

Applejack paused, biting her lip. She was just stalling and she knew it.

“S-so it is,” she said nervously, then promptly tried to disguise it behind an even more nervous chuckle.

Ending with a sigh, she turned to face her friend.

In the gloom, Rainbow’s coat looked almost midnight blue, her eyes jet black. She just gave Applejack a single blink, eyes gleaming in the dark as she waited.

Applejack took a few more breaths, fidgeting. “Ah… Ah ain't ever talked ‘bout this with nopony, just so ya know,” she started. “Mah folks know, but… we don’t make a habit of talkin’ about it.”

“And what’s ‘it’,” Rainbow prompted, cocking her head to one said. “Come on, Applejack, stop holding out on me.”

“I’m tryin’ dagnabit,” she snapped. “It’s just… Ah know this is gonna be a tough pill ta swallow.”

She looked down, hiding partially behind her hat. She’d never used her Stetson as a shield before, not from eyes, and doing so now made her feel… uncomfortable.

“The truth is, Rainbow… Ah ain't what yah think Ah am.”

Rainbow blinked, confused. “You’re Applejack,” she said hesitantly. “What’s not to get?”

“Ah didn’t say who Ah am, Rainbow. Ya’ll know that perfectly, and don’t ya forget it.”

Once more, Rainbow blinked, her confusion deepening. “Okay… but I still don’t follow. What are you then?”

“Somepony special.”

Both mares froze in place, every hair on the backs of their necks standing on end.

Two things went through Applejack’s mind then.

One; she’d been looking at Rainbow’s face and failed to see her lips move at all.

Two; that wasn’t a mare’s voice.

As one, they both turned their heads to the side, towards the origin of the actual speaker.

Applejack felt her mouth get very dry all of a sudden.


“Yes,” said the invader. “Me.”

Rainbow Dash gasped in shock, and in the next instant, she moved.

True to style, she moved faster than either Applejack or Vigil could react, imposing herself between them like a barricade.

“I thought I told you to leave Applejack alone, creep!”

“And I thought,” he hissed in return, “I told you to stay out of my way.”

Rainbow snarled, baring her teeth and pawing at the ground.

Right up until the bushes in front of her split apart.

No more than ten figures crept from the darkness, figures as black as the deepest shadow. Only their featureless eyes glowed in the dark like little lanterns, giving off an icy blue light.

“Unless, of course,” Vigil added, his tone brutally flat, “I neglected to say so in the first place. It’s hard to remember with you ponies.”

Rainbow was frozen in place in shock. When she heard more rustling, she turned her eyes instinctively towards the sound to find still more changelings materializing from the growing darkness. It was as if every single shadow on every single tree had a little buzzing menace to hide.

There were well over a dozen, perhaps two dozen. They buzzed in the air, crawled on the ground, peered out from trees… no vantage point didn’t have an occupant.
Behind her, Applejack was darting her eyes this way and thought, a cold bite stealing into her chest all over again.

“V-Vigil, what’s going on,” Rainbow couldn’t help but asked, shrinking back against her friend in shock.

“I thought that was obvious,” he stated. “I told you, didn’t I? I have an interest in that friend of yours.”

Rainbow felt her breath catch in her throat.

“I suppose I could’ve just waited until she revealed herself,” he mused idly. "However, the two of you have made the mistake of irritating me.”

Just as he started to finish his words, the grove was illuminated by a bright, blinding flash of acidic green fire.

Both ponies flinched against the glare, watching through squinted eyelids in morbid fascination as Vigil’s guise disintegrated like burnt paper on the wind, vaporizing a ring of browning grass beneath him.

The investigator's badge hanging around his neck superheated from the raging changeling fire, melting like glowing wax under the magical flames.

Within only a heartbeat, the mustard stallion was gone. In his place stood a blackened creature practically identical to the monsters in the grove around him. Only the telltale dark armor gave him away as different.

A puddle of molten metal sat just beneath his neck where his liquefied badge had fallen, casting a fiery glow upon his black chitin and dark indigo armor plating. It hissed and spat against the cold ground, and within moments, the light began to fade, leaving only the changeling's cold, unforgiving eyes glowing in the dark.

Rainbows response was about all she could muster.

“…Oh… crabapples.”

Applejack felt like she was about to hyperventilate. In every direction, she saw nothing but icy blue eyes staring hungrily at her.

Vigil never turned his featureless eyes from his goal, instead raising his voice slightly.

“Take the earth pony. Dispose of the pegasus.”

Rainbow heard them coming; the telltale buzzing, the barely contained chuckles.

But she didn’t turn to meet them. She’d heard the one thing Vigil probably should not have said.

“Don’t… you… dare. Touch. MY. FRIEND!!!

She moved purely on instinct. With one mighty wing beat, she threw herself backwards, slamming into Applejack and launching them both out of the clearing.

No less than six changelings hit the ground on all fours where they’d been, and immediately changed direction.

Applejack and Rainbow hit the ground, rolled, and were up and galloping hardly a handful of seconds later, already running for their lives.


Applejack knew the farm. She knew every little nook and cranny there was to know.

But she had no idea where they were going to go.

Rainbow, too, had no idea where they were going to escape to. Every time she opened her wings and glanced up, she always find a black, sneering face leering back at her.

But flight wasn’t an option, even if the sky had been clear in the first place. She wasn’t about to leave her friend behind.

A black shape darted out of the corner of her eye, snapping her back to attention. “Oh no you don’t!” she shouted, and launched herself forward, rear leg leading the way, towards the oncoming missile.

The changeling’s eyes got huge in shock before it found out the exact sensation of having a pegasus bury their hoof into one’s jaw.

With a yelp, it went sailing away into the darkness, followed momentarily by a tree quivering.

“You know,” Rainbow snapped in aggravation as she flew back to her friends side, “you could’ve told us you had a whole changeling army after you!”

“Ah didn’t know any more than you did,” Applejack snapped back. “That Vigil talked a big game, but Ah thought he was all bark!”

“Does this seem like ‘all bark’ to you?!” Rainbow shouted, her eyes darting around for more attackers.

Without warning, the orchard on all sides of them dropped away. They emerged instead onto an open hillside – emphasis on wide-open.

On Applejack’s right was a steep drop off – a mudslide from the torrential rains earlier in the week.

And on every other side, there were changelings. Lots and lots of changelings.

They were just waiting for them, eyes narrowed. It hardly seemed far; both mares were breathing hard, and yet there their pursuers were, still as statues, just waiting for them patiently.

Both Applejack and Rainbow skidded, their legs pedaling beneath them, but before they could pull an about face, the gap they’d just run through was plugged with more monstrous silhouettes.

They were penned in, including from above, and the pen was getting smaller by the second, forcing the friends back to back.


“Ah’m thinkin’.”

Rainbow glanced towards the nearest wall of bodies, tensing for a fight.

“Think faster…”

Applejack cast her eyes this way and that, struggling to find an exit.

But she came up empty. Even as the first wave of changelings vaulted towards her, hooves reaching., she had nothing but the burning need to be anywhere but there.

All you have to do is picture it…

Applejack blinked, an idea striking her.

A stupid idea. A ludicrous idea, one that’d likely fail any number ways, if not get them both killed.

She’d had worse.

Before she gave herself time to think, she whirled around and slammed Rainbow with both her forelegs right in the chest.

She saw her friend's eyes get wide in shock as her hooves left the ground. Her wings flared open in alarm, trying to find purchase in the air as she plummeted over the edge of the mudslide drop off.

But what Rainbow saw next completely distracted her.

An emerald fireball was racing after her, a fireball that’d once been her friend.

All she saw was a single holey black hoof erupting through the roiling fire towards her. Then an amber, twin-ringed eye.

Applejack beat her horribly neglected wings as fast as she could for the first time in her life, willing herself forward with all her might.

She felt one hoof make contact, then another.

Before Rainbow could even think about batting away the strange changeling, Applejack clamped her hooves around her neck, crushing them together.

They were dropping now, head-first towards the ground.

Changelings were inches behind them, clawing at their tails and missing by centimeters.

More were coming to intercept, beating on strong, healthy wings as they rocketed towards them, racing the ground.

Just before they did it, Applejack felt that same memory pass over her mind’s eye again – a purple unicorn, talking with that look that told Applejack she was lecturing.

It’s not that hard. All a unicorn has to do is imagine where they’re going, channel, and…!

Applejack gritted her fangs and prayed.

Her blackened horn flared to life, going from sputtering sparks to a dazzling emerald torch in moments.

Fiery tongues danced through the air around them, magic crashing together in a crude, volatile mix, ripping at itself with claws of acidic green lightning and emerald flames.

The magic strengthened, wrapping the two plummeting ponies in a bright green fireball.

Applejack concentrated – concentrated with all her might, screaming in her head ANYWHERE BUT HERE!!!

The fireball crackled, popped, let out a high pitched keening of shredding reality… and popped out of existence with a deafening bang, leaving only a puff of enchanted fire in its wake.

No more than twelve changelings shrieked in alarm, suddenly finding their targets missing… and their trajectory quite unfavorable to say the least.

The sounds of twelve sickening crunches of changeling-on-rock rent the air, following by twelve cries of pain.

From the hillside overlook the mudslide, Vigil stood frozen, nonplussed.



Sparks of light danced through the air like fireflies, lighting up the well-packed and cleared ground and the looming shape of a barn with an eerie light.

Within moments, the sparks tripled in number, then quintupled. A high pitched keening sound rent the once-peaceful night air, flashes of unstable emerald light striking like lightning again and again.

And then, with a resounding bang, a fireball exploded into existence seemingly out of thin air. It lingered for less than a heartbeat nearly six feet off the ground, popping in and out of existence faster than a camera flash.

Out of those flames came two bound-together figures. They came out of the fire sailing straight down, hit the ground with a painful crash, and broke apart.

There they remained, motionless in the dirt as an acrid black plume lingered overhead.

For a long time, neither figure moved in the slightest.

With a groan, Rainbow Dash broke that trend.

She twitched, her eyes fluttering open with great effort. She took a ragged breath of air, which quickly turned to a hiss of pain.

She hurt all over. Her head hurt in a familiar way, probably from hitting the ground.

But more than that – her skin hurt in ways she hadn’t felt since the dragon migration.

Burns… but why was she burnt…?

“Ugh… Wha happen…ed?” she groaned, struggling to right herself.

Her head was clearing, but slowly. The more she clawed to consciousness, the more she tried to move. Her body didn’t appreciate it, but it complied.

still in one piece…

She groaned again, this time struggling to sit up…

“Hey! That you, Rainbow?”

Rainbow groaned again, finally managing to get right side up. She knew that voice…

“Buh… Big Mac?”

A shape was moving towards her, galloping at tremendous speeds. “Ah’m here, Rainbow,” came his urgent voice. “Are ya alright?”

“I… I think…,” she started to say.

And then everything came back to her like one massive Friendship Express-sized punch to the head.

“Changelings!” she shouted, suddenly wide awake. “They – they attacked us!”

Rainbow Dash whipped her head around, just looking for another fight… but came up empty.

That was when she noticed where they were, made easily identifiable since she'd only left it a handful of minutes ago.

Had it really only been that long...?

“How’d I get to the farmhouse?” she asked, dazed and confused.

“Ah could ask ya the same question. I came out here cuz I heard a loud noise, and find…”

Rainbow Dash turned, finally zeroing in on the mighty stallion. His form was hard to make out in the darkness, but she could make out enough. However, he wasn’t looking at her. No, he was staring at some point right behind her.


He suddenly rushed right past Rainbow, nearly knocking her over with the draft alone.


But she got no response, so instead she turned to glare in indignation after Big Mac.

What she saw, instead, stopped her anger cold.

A black creature was lying on the ground not five feet from her.

A creature with a fiery orange mane. A creature with pointed fangs and gossamer, translucent wings and an amber carapace across her back and a gnarled horn upon its head.

A creature called a changeling.

“Mac,” she shouted in alarm, “get away from that thing!”

But he was doing no such thing.


The figure didn’t move. Not in the slightest. It stayed where it lay; on its side, its back turned to Rainbow.

And that was when she saw something that dragged her eyes open wide.


The creature was smoking.

But she was distracted away from the horrible sight – and smell – when she saw Big Macintosh nosing his snout urgently beneath the downed figure.

“Mac, what are you doing?!” Rainbow shouted in alarm. “That thing’s—”


Rainbow froze, ignoring the sight of her outstretched hoof and the black patches scattered across it.

“… What?”

The burly stallion managed to get himself under the motionless changeling, and with a grunt, he flicked her form back along his neck and onto his broad back. It flopped like a rag doll, limbs going this way and that until it came to a rest.

He then turned his side towards Rainbow, and what she saw chilled her blood.

The figure was familiar. Terribly familiar. Even though her eyes were shut and lips parted, Rainbow knew that face.

The mane was right, even if it looked like it’d been chewed through by pests. It was marred, however, but a halo of smoldering ash; the outline of an annihilated Stetson.

That mane was almost the exact same color as a familiar coat. The color of the carapace clad across her back, too, evoked memories her brain was struggling with, grappling to come to terms with...

The truth is, Rainbow… Ah ain't what yah think Ah am…


Her voice couldn’t have been more than a whisper, and yet it was still choked with shock.

And as she spoke her name, the changeling’s eye twitched. The one Rainbow could see parted hardly more than a centimeter at best, revealing a hint of those striking amber eyes she’d seen before.

A single breath left her lips, one curled in a vaguely recognizable voice.

“Rainbuh… ruh… sa… yourse…”

She recognized that voice, no matter if it hummed in a buzzing, unfamiliar way.

“Applejack?” she ventured again, her heart in her throat.

But her eye glazed over once more, the lid dragging up weakly.

“H-hey… hey! Applejack!”

Rainbow was suddenly desperate, her heart thundering in her chest.

She staggered to all fours, forcing her limbs to run towards Big Mac. She ignored the crackling sensation across her limbs and coat; they didn't matter.

When she got there, she… didn’t know what to do. All she could do was stare in dawning horror.

“Applejack! Wake up!”

Nothing. She didn’t so much as twitch. Curls of black smoke continued to rise off her sides and legs, the signs of a spell gone horribly, horribly wrong.


Her voice reverberated off of the barn, echoing back at her from the house and trees.

But nothing roused her.

Rainbow didn’t jump at the sound of a door banging open. She barely heard the sound of familiar voices in the background.

All she paid attention to were the faint, rattling breaths of a friend on death’s door…


She jolted, jittering back a step, and turned a pair of wide eyes towards Big Macintosh, who was staring right at her.

“We gotta move! Them changelings ain't gonna be far behind ya!”

“B-but… Applejack…,” she breathed hoarsely.

“There’ll be time enough fer that,” Big Mac said, his voice shaking slightly, “but we gotta move! Now!

He immediately whirled his head around, and to Rainbow’s complete shock, his voice ripped out of his throat in a deafening shout.

“Granny! Keep Apple Bloom inside!”

He spoke a second too late, but also just a moment in time.


Rainbow didn’t want to turn to look. She couldn’t.

Apple Bloom’s confused and frightened voice made it to her ears every time, though.

“Is Applejack alright, Big Mac? Where is she?”

“Get inside!” he bellowed, making her cringe back in alarm.

“Come on now, deary,” Rainbow heard Granny mutter gently to her granddaughter. Age hid the quaver in her voice almost perfectly. “We’re just gettin’ in the way. Why don’t ya come help me with the packin’…”

“Why? Where're we goin'?"” Apple Bloom asked, thoroughly confused and scared, but Rainbow never heard the response she got; the bang of a wooden door cut her off.

“Big Mac…?”

He stared at the house, breathing through his nose to get his emotions back in check. “We gotta move, Rainbow.”

“But what about Granny Smith, and Apple Bloom?”

“They’ll be fine,” he stated. “They’re after Applejack, not them.”


Rainbow heard and felt her voice break. “Why are they after her? Just what the hay is going on?!”

She was starting to panic, and the sight of the smoldering changeling on the stallion’s back wasn’t helping.

“On the way,” Big Mac said quickly. “We ain't got time to just stand ‘round!”

“R-right,” Rainbow gasped out. She sniffed, clearing her eyes with a couple blinks.

“Okay. Okay, let’s go,” she said, her voice steadier.

Big Mac nodded sharply, his face bent in a fierce scowl of determination.

Together, they turned tail, and the two bolted into the cold, black night with nothing but the dark interior of the orchard waiting for them.