Sunshine Forever

by Nug TWH


Part II: Sunburned

Sunshine Forever

Part II: Sunburned

        The air shimmered with heat and the sun's light flared intensely in the noon sky. The grass was becoming brown and brittle and it softly cracked as Applejack moved through the orchard. She couldn't help hanging her tongue out of her mouth; she hadn't had a decent drink since breakfast. Today's heat had already stolen whatever moisture remained in her body. Her mouth felt like sandpaper from dehydration and the precious, rare breezes felt better than nothing.
        She looked over near the barn where even Granny Smith and Apple Bloom were trying their best to help save what they could of this season's harvest. For Apple Bloom it was a day off from school. But even in her youth, she understood the gravity of their situation. The filly put on a face of determination, perhaps more convincingly than Applejack could since she had the luxury of not being worn down by the past week of work. Apple Bloom wasn't yet big enough to buck the thicker trees but she helped her three older family members by dragging full apple buckets, dumping the fruit in nearby carts, and moving the empty buckets to new trees.
        It saddened Applejack to see Granny Smith working in these conditions, but she insisted on helping the family in this time of need. Applejack watched as the elderly pony hobbled to a tree, placed her front hooves firmly down, and kicked one leg out into thin air, throwing herself off balance.
        "Whoa-oh-oh nelly!" the staggering pony shouted helplessly as she teetered her way to what might soon be a broken hip.
        When Applejack saw what was happening, she galloped over to her grandmother as Granny Smith wheeled her other back foot wildly, trying to regain balance. In the corner of her eye, Applejack could see Big Mac running towards her too, with a face stuck somewhere between shock and concern.
        "I'm comin', Granny!" Apple Bloom shouted as she also sprang to her aid.
        Applejack stopped in the open near an apple cart when she saw that Apple Bloom was there for Granny Smith to prop herself up on.
        "Whew, thanks there little Bloomie. My legs just ain't what they used to be. Heh," Granny Smith mumbled, "I'm fine now." After regaining her stability, Granny Smith turned her head to notice Applejack looking concerned but exhausted. She squinted at her with a serious expression, slowly turned back to Apple Bloom, and spoke with concern. "Go on and help your sister, Apple Bloom. She's lookin' plum tuckered."
        Only then did Applejack realize how she must have looked, standing there breathless and with her tongue lolling out of her mouth. It made her seem worse that her tired eyes couldn't bear the intense brightness reflected on everything around her and she shirked at every glare. For a still moment, her family stared at her as if suddenly realizing her condition. Apple Bloom began to approach her with a worried face.
        "Are you okay, sis?" she asked with a pouty expression.
        Straighten yourself out, AJ. You're supposed to be the strong one, Applejack thought.
        "I'm fine," she managed to say through her parched mouth, "Granny needs your help,  can take care of myself, sugar cube."        
        Big Mac approached her. "By the looks of things, I'm surprised you didn't fall over yet," Big Mac said. Applejack looked at him grumpily in response, which made him recoil. He then paused for a moment, looked at the ground ponderously, and chose his next words carefully while nudging a loose rock with a hoof. "We're all in this thing together, AJ. Why don't you rest a spell?" He regarded his sister cautiously and almost pleaded as he said,  "We'll get along fine for an hour. Take a break."
        No, she thought. We don't have an hour to spare. We don't even have a minute; our crops are dying by the second and everyone in Equestria is counting on us, her mind rambled on. But what came out of her mouth was:
        "Ah-all right," she said, unable to control her own mouth. Big Mac sighed with relief. Powerless to control her limp body, she found shade next to the apple cart beside her and lied down without bothering to remove her hat. Big Mac looked towards his other two relatives and nodded them forward. They left Applejack to let her rest as they continued their work on another part of the farm.
        But Applejack couldn't immediately fall asleep, regardless of how much as she wanted to. She was too apprehensive for sleep and too thirsty to think about anything but the awful feeling of dryness at the back of her throat. Instead, she looked beside her where a few apples fell out of the cart and rolled onto the cracked patchy earth. She picked up a stray apple, looked at it briefly see if there were any worms, and took a generous bite to sate her thirst with juice from the fresh fruit.
        Instead, she realized that the apple was soft and dry to the core. She immediately spat it out in disgust and grumbled, "What in tarnation?" She took a closer look at the apples beside her.  
        The bottoms of the apples were dark and the skin somewhat shriveled. Stunned, she looked at a nearby tree to realize that large dark spots had become seared on those fruits as well. Her heart sank.
        Sunburned. Sunburned apples. Cookin' on the trees.
        She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, spirit too heavy to do anything but want to cry and wish that her friends were there to help. And that made her feel even more desperate.
        Twilight had already come yesterday to help, after all. She saved a good chunk of their harvest with her magic, but when she was done, she barely had enough mental power to concentrate. Rarity couldn't do much farm work besides simple stuff. Although she half-heartedly offered, Applejack knew that Rarity wasn't much of a manual laborer, even measured up to Granny Smith in her old age. She would only fuss about dirt anyhow. Fluttershy was probably busy frantically figuring out how to save all of her fish with the sun turning every pond into a kettle. And who knew what Pinkie Pie could be up to?
        She rolled onto her side feeling alone and helpless while a tear rolled down her cheek. She reached up and touched it, enjoying the coolness against her hoof and face. Apparently not entirely dried out, Applejack thought sullenly.
        Wait.
        She looked up at a massive shadowy blot directly above her in the air. In the distance, a flock of dark clouds soared across the otherwise crystal clear sky. Slowly at first, the sounds of big raindrops splashed and pattered against the arid ground around her.
        As the flock of clouds got closer, she saw that pegasi were leading the clouds directly above Sweet Apple Acres. She stood up with a grin that grew wider and wider. The farmer pony looked over where the rest of her family were working. Big Mac's mouth was agape with wonder while Apple Bloom and Granny Smith hopped up and down, dancing and cheering.
        Applejack removed her hat as the group of pegasi approached and caught what water she could with her tongue - before deciding to grab an empty bucket. She held it up to the generous sky. After gulping a few mouthfuls of the cool rain water from the quickly filling bucket, another group of pegasi arrived close above her.
        "So, glad to see us or what?!" Rainbow Dash shouted with a smirk, perched on a raincloud above her.
        Applejack looked up in amazement and didn't know how to respond. She wasn't sure if she was dreaming or not. She was also too happy to care.
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        I told you they could adapt to a new order.
        Yes, my subjects are resourceful. But it is just a matter of time. They cannot hold out forever; they're panicking. They cannot fix all of this. They are going to starve or burn. This is pointless and cruel.
        My, I never thought you'd turn out to be such a pessimist. Certainly, you should realize that not every creature will survive. The weak ones will suffer, of course. But those who adapt will pioneer a stronger generation. Weakness is yet another evil to be purged from our new order.
         You may try but you will not corrupt my mind. Release me now and I might spare you an eternity of banishment.
        Aw, you're not even giving me a chance. 
         You have been warned.
Those who cannot bend will undoubtedly break under pressure. I have a range of ways to compel you, my Princess. And if you cannot be reasoned with, then let us see how your resolution stands against power.
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        "This doesn't make any sense!" Twilight Sparkle repeated yet again as she paced back and forth in the greeting area of her library. Her uneasiness was making Spike feel anxious.
        "Maybe she's sick?" the young dragon weakly offered. "Well, I mean, that's guessing that she can get sick. Can alicorns get sick?"
        "I don't know, Spike! There isn't exactly much study on alicorn illnesses! But how could that stop her from responding to my letters?" She stopped pacing and looked at Spike with an angsty expression.  "Is she even getting them? Are you sure you're sending them right?"
        Spike answered quickly, thinking as he talked. "I think so. I mean, I don't know how to do it wrong, but how would not getting your letters stop her from changing the day?"
        Twilight groaned in frustration and stomped a hoof on the floor. She looked up over at her sleeping pet owl perched on his stand. Over the past week, the day has lasted progressively longer. Now that night only lasted two to three hours at the end of each day, her owl was barely awake at all. Twilight was concerned that its inactivity might lead to some serious health problems later if she didn't figure out how to fix this.
        But it wasn't just owls hurt by these longer days; everyone in Equestria was being hurt in some way. She recalled her visit to the Apple family yesterday, and was saddened by how helpless and troubled they seemed.  Every pony looked tired. Not to mention the terrible heat, which put every pony in an inconsiderate mood. And the worst of it was that she didn't know why this was happening; Celestia wasn't responding to any of her letters. She bowed her head in thought.
        Focus, her thoughts screamed at her. What is Celestia trying to tell us? What am I missing here? Her thoughts spun in circles and her addled mind could only raise more questions.
         Is she sick? Or hurt?
        Did I do something wrong? 
         She wouldn't abandon us - would she?  
        Spike approached the nervous unicorn and hesitantly poked her side.
        "What!?" Twilight snapped at her assistant. "Can't I have a moment to think!?"
        Spike jumped at her sudden response with a look of bewilderment. Twilight immediately regretted her sharp tone.
        "Oh, Spike, I'm --"
        "The door," Spike timidly interrupted.
        "What?" Twilight said.
        "The door, Twilight. Somepony's here."
        Only then did Twilight realize that someone had been knocking at the door for quite some time.
        "Ms. Twilight Sparkle?" A familiar voice called out her name from outside the door in a very proper but nervous manner. "Is anypony home?"
        Twilight glanced at Spike for a second, then towards the door. She shook off her daze. "I'm here. One moment," she managed to call out steadily as she approached the door to greet her visitor.
         The unicorn wasn't too surprised who it was given these circumstances.
        "Hi, Ms. Sparkle, " Mayor Mare began. Her mane was frazzled and she looked restless. "Can we talk?"
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        Please stop.
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        Despite the fact that Celestia was her mentor for most of her life, nopony was more frightened by the trip than Twilight Sparkle. The mayor approached her to join in a journey to Canterlot, along with a group of a half dozen or so other influential politicians from across Equestria. They were headed to Canterlot to discover the cause of Celestia's judgment to phase out the night. All of them had a common concern; Celestia seemed to be ignoring their correspondence, whether it be mail or messenger. The leaders of Equestria unanimously decided to settle whatever ill caused her disastrous abuse. They would make amends for whatever wrongs they might have committed to bring about Celestia's punishment, if her cause was indeed punishment. They would offer all of Equestria's resources to find her a cure, if her problem was indeed illness. But no matter the course of action, they needed Twilight - she knew Celestia better than any of them.
        Their carriages crossed higher and higher towards the towering city of Canterlot. Twilight shared her carriage with Mayor Mare and her faithful companion, Spike. They were too apprehensive to do anything but stare out of their carriage and think except for Spike, who held onto Twilight's tail to prevent bouncing around in the rickety carriage. But in the carriage in front of them, two politicians from Fillydelphia bickered loudly.
         A deep voice argued that ponies were too wasteful, and that this drought was meant to show ponies the meaning of famine to make them more appreciative of Celestia's work. The other insisted that Celestia was sick or dying from age; nobody was sure how long an alicorn lived. The deep voice retorted with a mocking laugh and stated that it was common knowledge that alicorns couldn't die of age. This was as much of their argument that Twilight heard before she groaned with unease and placed both hooves over her ears for the remainder of the trip.
        They finally arrived to the gates of Canterlot at a late hour, though the high sun betrayed that. They rode through the gate into the stables to leave their carriages and approached the elaborate entry towards Celestia's castle. The group began to climb the wide and massive set of stairs that led to the grand entrance. The two politicians from Fillydelphia had finally stopped arguing - much to Twilight's relief - but the tense silence was hardly comforting. The only sound they could hear were the sounds of their own hooves clacking on the flawless polished marble of the steps on the path.
        The student almost didn't want an answer to Celestia's behavior. She felt like fleeing. She wished that she could simply not have to think about it. But she pressed on to her ever closer destination. 
        The group silently climbed the stairs towards two royal guard pegasi, who stood in front of the main entrance fixed like statues. But even they seemed somehow less dignified while drenched in sweat and visibly uncomfortable in the intense light and heat. And their presence was unsettling. If Celestia had abandoned them, who could know what her guards would do? And if they passed the guards, how could they know if there wasn't a trap lying in wait? Although nobody among the group spoke, it was evident in their shaky eyes and shared glances that these concerns were among them all.
        Despite these concerns, Mayor Mare bravely assumed the front position of their group. She cleared her throat and began to speak in her finest diplomatic manner. But before she could finish a word, the sky flickered for a fraction of a second. And again. And again.
        And yet again.
        The typically stoic faces of the royal guards turned to alarm. They immediately abandoned their posts and sprinted into the castle. One turned so quickly that he threw off his helmet, which clattered against the ground and noisily rolled down the stairs.
        Their group looked backwards to witness the horizon that left such an impression on the guards.
        The sky flickered again, and in between every flash, it appeared as if all of the  light and heat of the sun was being funneled into a blinding white line that beamed downwards while the remainder of the sky turned into a black void. As the sky flickered like a breaking light bulb, the sporadic energy shot down and cut a massive swath against the Earth before disappearing. The ground began to glow in spots where the light struck. Then the flickering ended as quickly as it began.
        For a moment, no pony could say anything.
        "Wh-what was that?" the deep voiced politician finally asked with terror shaking his accent.
        Before long, the horizon began to become dotted with plumes of an ominous black smoke that soared upward from the towns below. From a distance, Twilight could hear the sound of a female resident of Canterlot shrieking.
        As if this were their cue, most of the politicians in their small group immediately ran back from the path they came, clambering around each other towards the flames that were rising from afar. Only a thin earth pony politician, Mayor Mare, Twilight Sparkle and her assistant remained. They stood silently, still registering the impossible events taking place.
        "It looks like Celestia really has abandoned us," the thin earth pony finally said in an apathetic voice. "It’s a shame. I was betting on an illness."
        He sighed while the others remained motionless. Then, he added: "I was hoping that it was something so innocent, really. I wonder how badly Fillydelphia is going to suffer."
        He then slowly trotted down the steps. The other escaping politicians had already made it far down the steps and were nearly out of view.
        Twilight opened her mouth to say something - she wasn't even sure what - but found that she couldn't even breathe. The world was spinning.
        "Twilight?" Spike murmured to his master as she stared blankly in the distance.
        "Twi...?"
        The last thing she could feel before blacking out was relief. Now she didn't have to ponder those terrible questions anymore.
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- To be continued -

Written by Nug TWH, published on FiMFiction.net on January 28th, 2012. Please give credit or link if you copy.