The Irony of Applejack

by Mister Friendly

Chapter 18: Rebuilding

Chapter 18: Rebuilding

Applejack fell silent at last; after what felt like hours upon hours of talking. And it could very well have been several hours, what with the late afternoon sun streaming in through the many arched windows.

Before her, three regal ponies stood in silence, absorbing the momentous tale they’d been told.

Princess Celestia, Princess Luna – who looked a little groggy and hadn’t been too pleased with being roused as such an ungodly hour – and Princess Mi Amore Cadenza stood across from Applejack, eyes fixed on the amber-maned changeling before them.

Now that Applejack had fallen silent, the main banquet hall inside City Hall had similarly hushed. All of her friends stared at her, at a loss for words. Even the guards standing at attention along the perimeter of the room exchanged a look or two, unsure what to think.

Her story told, all Applejack could do was wait in silence. She fidgeted a little, trying to get into a comfortable position where the fresh cast encasing her broken leg all the way up to her cutie mark wasn’t jabbing her.

Much like Applejack herself, all of her friends were covered in bandages ranging in size from small band-aids to pads and even a gauze wrapping or two. To look on Applejack and her friends, one might think they’d just stepped off of a brutal battlefield.

The banquet hall itself showed signs of this very warzone. Decorations and furnishings sat scattered across the edges of the room in disheveled heaps. And of course, no one could’ve missed the rather sizable hole where the second story balcony should’ve been, which let in a beam of sunlight into the center of the hall like a spotlight.

“That… is quite the tale, Applejack,” Princess Celestia said at last. “I can honestly say that this is far from anything I could’ve predicted.” Her eyes lingered for a time on the small crown Applejack wore, a strange glint crossing her eyes.

“Yes, quite the tale indeed, Miss Applejack,” Princess Luna agreed. She had perhaps the most critical look in her eye of all the royal ponies standing at the head of the room, letting not a modicum of her true judgment leak through her composure.

Princess Cadance remained silent, her expression blank and unreadable as she gazed upon Applejack – the same as she’d been doing ever since laying eyes on her after arriving in Ponyville some hours ago. Whether she didn’t trust herself to speak, her simply didn’t have the words to speak with, was anypony’s guess.

Captain Shining Armor stood close by her side, standing at attention and gazing straight ahead. His armor would need some fixing, but for the most part he appeared as proud and chivalrous as always... unless, of course, you were Twilight and Cadance, in which case they were well versed with Shining’s mannerisms enough to know when he was sulking. His insistence on not meeting anypony’s eye and responding only with simple yeses and noes was evidence enough of that.

Celestia sighed lightly, a sound that was barely audible even in the total stillness of the hall. “It’s hard to believe that so much has happened right beneath my nose for all these years… But to think that changelings have endured such hardships…”

“It certainly does help to explain the motives behind their recent transgressions,” Princess Luna agreed, frowning slightly.

“Indeed it does,” Celestia said with a nod.

“Wow,” mumbled Twilight, causing Applejack to turn to look at the unicorn behind her. “I… I had no idea…”

Applejack smiled at her downcast friend, but she didn’t have much to say that hadn’t already been said. Ah know I shoulda told you girls sooner… Ah had ta keep it to myself… It weren’t no thing…, all had been used, some more than once.

“So then, young changeling queen,” Princess Celestia began again, regaining Applejack’s attention. The alicorn was once more giving her a speculative look as she spoke. “What do you plan on doing from here on?”

When she saw the confused look on the young changeling’s face, Celestia offered a slight smile. “There is no telling how many innocent changelings are hiding in Equestria at this very moment,” she expounded. “And correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that you intend to do something to change that.”

Applejack expression twisted uncomfortably for a moment, then she nodded. “Yes, Yer Highness. Ah do.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow inquisitively while everypony looked apprehensively at Applejack. “What will you do?” she asked.

But Applejack hesitated at that. “Well… Ah don’t rightly know yet,” she admitted. “But, Ah will figure somethin’ out, and when Ah do, ya’ll be the first ta know.”

Celestia smiled, a look bordering between bemusement and appreciation. “I would appreciate it,” Celestia said back. “But in the meantime, it seems that I will have a few announcements to make.”

Though no one saw a visible change in the monarch, Celestia heaved an internal bemused sigh. So much for it being a slow day today…

“So, wait,” chimed in Rainbow Dash suddenly, refocusing the Princess of the Sun. Of all of Applejack’s friends, Rainbow had obviously come out of their ordeal the worst for wear. She was covered in bandages, especially across her burnt barrel and scuffed knees. Perhaps most evident, however, was the large, amorphous block of white plaster encasing her broken wing at her side, keeping it in a neutral position. “Is… is that it? You know… nopony’s getting banished, or thrown in a dungeon, or…”

While Luna rolled her eyes openly, Celestia chuckled. “No, not this time, I’m afraid. Not for you and your friends, anyway. However…”

Rainbow had never before gone from sighing in relief to snapping to attention so fast before in her life.

“I would very much like to talk with Applejack and the rest of the changelings in private,” Celestia went on, all traces of humor gone.

“But… why?” Rainbow asked, feeling even more nervous now.

Celestia turned to regard Applejack for a moment before glancing back to the beaten up weather pony. “Even if Applejack does not know much, any insights into the behaviors, tactics and abilities of changelings would prove invaluable in helping to safeguard against another incident in the future,” she explained. “All of you have been through so much today already, and your families are undoubtedly worried. I have used up enough of your time as it is.”

“But…,” Rainbow muttered, eyes turning between Celestia and Applejack apprehensively.

“Don’t worry,” the alicorn added, eying Rainbow with a glint in her eye, “I’ll only be taking a few more minutes of her time, and then I’ll leave her in all of your capable hooves.”

While the rest of her friends – minus one – turned to leave respectfully, Rainbow couldn’t help but frown to herself, confused, as she headed to the door.

Only a moment or two later, the door slammed shut again, leaving the room five ponies fewer. With their reassuring presences missing, Applejack glanced over her shoulder apprehensively. While they weren’t the eyes of her friends, a dozen or so featureless blue eyes looked back at her with various reassuring smiles and expressions.

The group of changelings stepped forward in order to stand with Applejack and not a few feet behind her.

Celestia turned to the guards lining the room, and after giving them a meaningful look, they bowed out as well. Now, only the royals of Equestria, the Captain of the Royal Guard and a group of changelings remained.

Shining glanced around the room, frowning still deeper. “Your Majesty, maybe we should…”

“Shiney,” Cadance said, speaking for the first time in hours, “It’s fine. You worry too much.”

Shining Armor huffed, but remained silent – and about twice as sullen as before.

Celestia watched Shining for a moment, then turned back to the group. “Well then, I suppose first question’s first.”

She took a step forward, meeting Applejack’s questioning gaze. “I have been wondering for some time now… but what exactly was that spell you performed earlier?”

Applejack bit her lip, not sure how to respond, only to be saved when one changeling stepped forward. “Um… if you’d like, Your Majesty, I could explain.”

“And may we have your name?” Princess Luna asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“U-um… all the ponies around Ponyville call me Roseluck, Your Majesty,” the changeling said nervously.

Applejack couldn’t help but turn to look at the changeling in surprise. She knew that name; she often times saw the florist and her sisters when she took her cart to market. She’d never talked much with them, but to say they’d never met – especially in a town as small as Ponyville – would be very inaccurate.

Roseluck smiled sheepishly at Applejack, plenty aware of where her mind must be at the moment, before looking back towards Princess Celestia. “What would you like to know?”

Celestia smiled. “Anything you can tell me about it,” she said. “The effects are obvious enough, but if a unicorn could replicate it, we could spare a lot of ponies a repeat of what happened here today.”

Roseluck nodded. “Well… it plays off of the building blocks of changeling magic,” she said. “Do… do you know what those are?”

Celestia pursed her lips, fighting back the first thing to pop into her mind. However, Shining Armor wasn’t quite as reserved.

“It’s trickery, isn’t it?” he asked, ignoring the look Cadance gave him.

“That… would be the obvious answer,” Roseluck admitted, rubbing the back of her neck. “And if you asked most changelings, that would be their response. But… I’d like to think that’s not the case.”

She turned her gaze back to Applejack – perhaps for the sake of her nerves. “A lot of changelings think the foundation of changeling magic is lies and deceit. But, I believe it has more to do with imagination.”

Seeing the surprised look on Applejack’s face, she went on. “I… know that sounds like semantics, but please hear me out. We aren’t tricking so much as playing make believe,” Roseluck explained. “Where unicorns use their imaginations to come up with spells to fabricate their magic into a useful tool, our magic is practically incarnated directly from it. It can affect us just as much as it affects others.

“We can take on the shapes of ponies because we can imagine ourselves as looking like them. We can heal because we know that’s not how we’re supposed to be. On the flip side, that is also why we have changelings with scars, even though we should be able to heal any non-fatal injury with time; because they want to have them, not because they were given them, though that does play a part. And yes, we… influence the minds of others by imposing our own version of reality on them to make it theirs, too.”

A smile crossed Roseluck’s fanged lips then as she looked at Applejack. “You probably don’t know this… but that guise you normally wear? You created it yourself; any changeling can, and it usually becomes the most prevalent during childhood. Children are very creative, you know. The way I look normally, too – I invented myself. After all, we’re not taking anything from a pony to look the way they do; we just use their appearance as a blueprint to mimic in order to simplify matters. So why can’t we envision our own? It’s… handy for blending in with the masses. A changeling only mimics other ponies for convenience or in order to… acquire their love.”

Roseluck turned back to Celestia then, her smile slipping away. “So, to answer your question, Your Majesty, what we did was the opposite of imagination. We countered make-believe with its antithesis; truth.”

Everypony’s eyes grew wide with surprise. “Truth?” Celestia repeated.

Roseluck smiled and nodded. “That was why Applejack could perform the spell; because she’s… well… honest. By focusing on all the ponies she loves – honestly, not imaginatively – she wasn’t focusing on the things that she wishes were real, but the things that were real. She could never trick herself into believing anything but reality was, um, real. So… until the spell passes, we’re all playing by her vision of reality.”

Applejack’s eyes widened even further in surprise. “What’s that supposed ta mean?”

Roseluck turned towards Applejack again, smiling slightly. “You didn’t wonder why none of us changed? We… can’t. Not for a while, anyway. We… can’t lie, at least, not magically. Our magic is there… we just can’t utilize it.”

“And… Ah did that?” Applejack asked, astonished.

“With some help,” Roseluck chuckled. “Don’t you worry, Your – Applejack. We knew what we were getting ourselves into.”

“And it’s for the best, anyway, right?” one of the changelings said behind her. “No more lies, just like Applejack wanted.”

“Love undermined the other changelings’ spells,” Roseluck went on, turning back towards the intrigued princesses, “Just like it did at the Royal Wedding, and then truth nullified their – and our – magics in their entirety. Such a spell is usually an absolute last resort devised by changelings to combat opposing hives, because it takes away our very means of survival, at least temporarily.”

“So can we replicate it,” Shining asked, suddenly very interested in the conversation.

“More than likely,” Roseluck answered, her voice raising a couple octaves out of nerves, “but it’d take a huge source of magic to achieve the same coverage. It took everything the lot of us had just to cover all of Ponyville. And there are ways to beat it, but for handling everyday drones...”

“I’ll put together a research team once we get back to Canterlot,” Shining stated.

Celestia looked at him out of the corner of one eye, but just as she opened her mouth, a telltale creak echoed across the hall.

“Did somepony say research?”

Celestia couldn’t help but smile humorously at the sight of Twilight Sparkle’s head sticking out from around one of the double doors at the end of the hall, followed momentarily by four others, all wearing variously sheepish looks on their faces.

“That won’t be necessary, Captain,” she said, struggling to restrain laughter as she turned towards Shining Armor. “I have the perfect candidate in mind for the task.”

She then turned back towards the end of the hall, raising an amused eyebrow. “And I thought I asked for some privacy,” she stated with no real edge to her voice.

“Oh, um, right… sorry,” Twilight said sheepishly, and in a flash of violet, all five eavesdroppers vanished completely.

Celestia chuckled aloud, drawing a look from her sister. “Well then, now that that’s out of the way,” she said, recomposing in the flash of an eye, “Let us continue…”


A few days later…

Applejack sat alone in her room, tapping idly at the corner of her desk. She gazed down irritably at a single, clean sheet of paper that sat infuriatingly blank before her.

A flickering candle provided the only light in the room, but at this point it’d burned so low that it was hardly more than a puddle of wax in its candleholder and was starting to make a mess on Applejack’s desk.

But the apple farmer just ignored it. The light of the candle reflected in her amber eyes as she stared unseeing at the thing before her, totally lost in thought.

On the right side of the desk sat an inkwell and quill, sitting in the exact some place they’d been in for the past few hours – minus a few thousand micro adjustments that put it in the absolute perfect place possible. So, naturally, she fidgeted with it absently again.

Next to that, hanging on the corner, was her Stetson. Applejack’s eyes lingered on it for a moment, but they didn’t stay there for long.

Come on, Applejack. It’s just a couple o’ words. Nothin’ to it…

And yet, try as she might to organize her thoughts, she just couldn’t come up with anything that sounded right. All she had to do was start writing, than then –

A knock on the door snapped Applejack out of it.

“Oh good gravy…” she muttered to herself angrily, then turned towards the source of the offending noise. “Who is it?”

The door swung open, revealing the large shape of Big Macintosh filling the doorframe.

All things considered, he looked halfway decent. Aside from a glaring butterfly bandage on his eyebrow and a brace on one knee, he’d shrugged off most of his injuries like they were nothing. Applejack could still see the breaks in his fur coat from shallow cuts, and he moved with a noticeably stiff gait, but all things considered he had bounced back with surprising speed.

“Evening, Big Macintosh,” Applejack greeted. “Somethin’ the matter?”

“Eeyup,” he responded, stony as ever. “It’s mornin’.”

Applejack blinked, then blinked again. Then, she turned her head towards the window and – sure enough – witnessed the dull pastels blooming on the horizon that heralded the imminent day.

“Oh… so it is,” Applejack said slowly.


Big Mac looked his sister up and down from the doorway. He was still trying to get used to seeing her changeling form as a normal thing now, and it was taking some doing trying to unlearn his defensive habits. And he was going to have to get used to it, too; with that cast on, Applejack wouldn’t be doing any shapeshifting for some time yet.

“Still havin’ trouble writtin’?” He asked. He was less asking and more giving Applejack a chance to vent, as it was clear to anypony who looked at her that she was irritable.

Sure enough, Applejack sighed and flopped against her desk, her eyes closing wearily. “It’s silly,” she mumbled. “All Ah gotta do is start writtin’ things down… but I don’t wanna say the wrong thing. This is somethin’ that’s too important to mess up.”

Big Mac nodded in understanding. Ever since she’d been released from the hospital, Applejack had spent whatever spare time she could trying to write something – something she wouldn’t elaborate on besides it being important, though the big red stallion had a pretty good hunch that it had something to do with the changelings in town, if not all over Equestria.

“It’ll come when it’s good and ready,” he said. “But ya also need yer rest, so don’t go gettin’ yerself stressed over it.”

“Little late for that,” Applejack sighed heavily. “And if Ah don’t get it down now, Ah ain’t gonna get the chance ‘till this evenin’.”

“Then let it wait ‘till then,” Big Mac responded simply. “It ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Once again, Applejack sighed. “Ah just… don’t want ta put it off for –”

She was interrupted by a warbling voice rising up from the floor below, up the stairs and down the hall to the eldest Apple siblings. “Breakfast! Come ‘n get it!”

“Guess that’s that, then,” Applejack sighed. She’d already lost a whole night’s worth of sleep – might as well not add missing breakfast to that list.

It took her some doing and a little buzzing from her wings to extract herself from her chair – maneuvering with only the use of one of her hind legs was still a skill that eluded her. But after a few seconds, she came to a proper standing position on three legs, her cast-covered leg sticking out slightly to one side.

“Come on, Big Mac,” she said, offering a smile at the suddenly heavy expression on the big stallion’s face. “Let’s get to it ‘fore Apple Bloom eats it all.”

But even as she spoke, an uncomfortable twinge ran down into her stomach, settling as a heavy lump in her gut. Apple Bloom…


Negotiating the stairs to the ground floor of the Apple household was still a chore and a half. Applejack refused to resort to her wings, as that was practically begging for an accident, and everything had just been put back where it should’ve been after the changelings ransacked the place; no need to start rearranging things with her skull.

Big Mac pretended like he wasn’t trying to help his sister, but the fact that he slowed his own pace down to a crawl was not lost on Applejack. He knew she’d never accept anything short of a coincidental save anyway.

Still, after taking nearly twice as long as she would’ve liked, Applejack finally reached the landing all by herself. Only then did Big Mac suddenly get over his bout of lethargy and trot into the dining room.

Close on his heels, Applejack limped in after him and looked around. The table in the middle of the room was already dressed in linens and stacked with plates piled high with pancakes, eggs and toast.

Applejack could just see Granny Smith in the other room, idly fixing one last plate for the table while humming a tune only she knew the rhythm to.

And sitting at the table, idly poking at her pancakes with a fork, was Apple Bloom. She seemed lost in thought, her eyes distant and expression equally far away.

For a moment, Applejack paused in the doorway, heart thumping in her chest.

“Mornin’,” Big Mac said as he claimed a seat. “Mornin’,” Apple Bloom said back, not really paying attention.

Once again, Applejack waffled in the doorway, and likely would’ve stayed there for a while if it weren’t for Big Macintosh catching her eye and giving her a meaningful look.

Applejack gulped, then opened her mouth. “Mornin’, Apple Bloom.”

The little filly flinched, her internal musings forgotten. She looked up slowly, and for the first time noticed the changeling at the other end of the room that was giving her a hopeful smile.

Right away, a frown formed on her face. Then, without a word, Apple Bloom hopped off her chair, and a few moments later she was out the door.

Applejack sighed, deflated. Well, least she ain’t shoutin’ no more…

“Oh, don’t go takin’ it personal, honeybunch,” Granny Smith reassured, having witnessed the whole thing from the other room.

“How else am Ah supposed ta take it, then,” Applejack muttered sullenly. “It’s my fault she’s mad at me in the first place.”

Granny Smith exchanged a look with Big Macintosh. “Don’t go beatin’ yerself up over it,” the elder Apple said. “She just needs some time to herself, dear, that’s all. When she’s ready ta talk, she’ll let ya know.”

Granny Smith then moved forward to give her battered granddaughter a reassuring nuzzle. “Apple Bloom ain’t one ta hold a grudge. You’ll see.”

Applejack restrained another sigh as she eyed the patio door, which was still slightly ajar from the filly’s exit. “Ah… suppose,” she said, though in no way was her heart in her words. “Ah hope so, anyway.”


Breakfast hastily wolfed down, Applejack soon found herself hobbling down towards road to Ponyville by herself, moving perhaps a bit slower than she normally would’ve liked to as she closed the distance to the front gate – minus one barricade, of course.

Given her injured leg, she’d been excused from any chores left to do around the farm before winter. But days off were not something she fancied, and already she was aching for something to do – if only to distract herself from thoughts of her little sister. There Ah go, thinkin’ again…

“Applejack! Hey, Applejack!”

The amber-maned changeling ground to a halt and looked around, startled out of her own thoughts by the sound of her name.

To her surprise, she found her way barred by a pony leaning on the front gate to the property in order to peer at her – a distinctly purple pony.

“Mornin’, Twi’,” Applejack greeted, forcing a tired smile. “Yer up and about early.”

Like every mornin’, for the last couple o’ days…

Twilight paused, looking Applejack up and down. Even though she was still very unused to the sight of the apple farmer’s true form – and associating said appearance with something other than an enemy – she was still well versed in the symptoms of an all-nighter. “Are you alright, AJ?” she asked.

Applejack grunted, offering a noncommittal shrug. “Been better, Ah suppose. Oh, and Ah’ve been meanin’ ta thank ya for that tea ya gave me.”

Twilight brightened up a bit at that. “Oh, so it took care of your hornache? I wasn’t sure if it would, since you’re… well, you know.” She finished by laughing nervously. “My mom used to give me the same tea when I was growing up, so I thought if anything could do the trick…”

“Yep, worked like a charm,” Applejack chuckled, brushing off the studious mare’s awkwardness. Even though Twilight had accepted her, it was obviously going to take the unicorn a while before things went back to normal. “So, what can Ah help ya with today, sugarcube?”

Twilight paused for a moment as she reorganized her thoughts. “Oh, nothing. I just wanted to see how you were doing, that’s all.”

And ponies tell me Ah’m a lousy liar…

“That all?” Applejack asked, shooting her friend a knowing look.

“Well… and to maybe… talk a bit more?” she asked, equal parts sheepish and hopeful, like a child asking to bend the rules just a teensy weensy little bit.

Applejack couldn’t help but chuckle. It hadn’t taken Twilight long to latch onto the untapped source of knowledge of changelings, and now she just couldn’t help but grill Applejack for all she was worth. In many respects, she was like a kitten with a ball of yarn that she was bound and determined to get her bits’ worth out of.

“Of course, sugarcube,” Applejack said kindly, smiling. “What do ya –”


That was about all the advance warning Applejack received before suddenly finding a very wide pair of magenta eyes in front of her. All Applejack could register about their owner, however, was the rather panicked look adorning her cyan face.

“Run for your life!”

Applejack staggered back a step, eying a very terrified Rainbow Dash. She was jittery, practically jogging in place in sheer panic, eyes wide and rapidly scanning her surroundings, free wing flared in anxiety. Seeing the usually brazen and confident mare in such a state was more than enough cause for concern. “Rainbow, what’s –”

“No time!” Rainbow cried, grabbed hold of Applejack, and started running as fast as her legs could carry her.

“Um… bye?” Twilight called, waving a hoof goodbye in complete bewilderment, but already her friends had moved quite a ways from her.

“Rainbow – ow! Ah can’t run that fast!” Applejack complained, but Rainbow wasn’t slowing down. She hauled the apple farmer back the way she’d come, running full tilt for the farmyard.

“Hurry up,” Rainbow yelped, looking around quicker than a skittish lamb, “before she finds us!”

“Who, Rainbow?” Applejack asked, now starting to feel on edge herself. “And will ya please slow down?!”

“Slow down later, hide now,” Rainbow blurted fearfully. Her eyes flew around the empty yard, looking desperately for cover. The barn was obviously a no-go; only a bare timber frame stood where the new barn would soon stand. So, that left only one option to the panicking mare.

Rainbow bucked open the front door to the Apple family household, dragging Applejack the whole way.

“For Pete’s sake, Rainbow,” Applejack shouted exasperatedly, “what in the wide world of Equestria has gotten into ya?!”

“Ssh,” Rainbow hissed fearfully, just as she yanked open a closet, grabbed Applejack by the shoulders, and threw her in.

By the time Applejack righted herself with a long-suffering groan, Rainbow had snapped the door shut behind them, forcing the two of them to sit practically on top of each other in the confined space.

“So help me, Rainbow,” Applejack seethed, “If this is one of yer half-baked pranks…”

“Will you please be quiet,” Rainbow hissed, real terror in her voice. “She’s going to –”

A low, ominous creaking sound drove her to horrified silence. Somewhere beyond the closet, a door was slowly swinging open, bit by bit, producing a sour note of complaint from a hinge.

Now, even Applejack’s irritation gave pause. She froze in place beside Rainbow, eyes fixed on the door in front of her. Something was moving on the other side, slowly clip-clopping across the wooden floor beyond. One step… two steps…

“Oh Rainbow Daaash,” issued a low, sing-song murmur. “Oh Applejaaack…”

Applejack’s eyes got huge as suddenly she realized what was going on, and the true horror that was about to befall her. All she needed to hear was that voice – that horribly familiar voice – to start her own trembling.

Something metallic was opening and shutting in slow, methodical rhythms just beyond the door, opening and shutting… opening and shutting… snip… snip…

The sounds of hooves were growing closer now. Applejack and Rainbow clung together, struggling to remain quiet.

“You. Will. Be...,” sang that voice again, just on the other side of the door.

With a loud bang, the door was thrown wide, revealing the pale fiend that waited on the other side; one surrounded on all sides by an arsenal glinting trimmers, curlers and various other tools of unspeakable horror.

FABULOUS!” Rarity shrieked victoriously.

Rainbow and Applejack did the only thing that could be expected of them in such a situation; they screamed bloody murder.


Rarity hummed idly to herself, smiling contentedly. At last, all was right with the world once more. “There,” she said, taking a step back to take in her work, “doesn’t that feel so much better?”

“Rarity, you’re creepy sometimes,” Rainbow grumbled back at her, looking grumpy. “You know that right? Because you totally are.”

Rarity blushed sheepishly, nervously laughing a little to herself. “I’m sorry about that, Rainbow. Was this all a bit much?”

Rainbow’s response was to give her a very sour look. After all, she was currently strapped to a salon chair with all manner of cords and rope. “Ya think?”

Applejack, at least, had been spared the indignity of restraints, but that was only because she’d surrendered peacefully. She couldn’t say that she hadn’t been expecting something like this happening sooner or later, though Rarity’s… approach… was anything but predictable.

Rainbow, on the other hoof, had put up a valiant fight all the way into Ponyville, but their inevitable goal could not be changed. Rarity was a mare on a mission, and that mission had only one destination in mind.

The Day Spa.

So, there they were – one very reluctantly, one slightly less so – sitting in a luxurious salon with a group of ponies working over the mares, subjecting them to every treatment possible. And they were not enjoying themselves.

More than once, Rainbow yelped and attempted to jump upright. “Watch the hooves!” she’d complain, but there wasn’t much she could do.

Rarity herself just couldn’t find it in her to sit idly by, and it was only because of her friendship with the owners of the spa itself that she was allowed to pick up a pair of trimmers and a comb and pitch in.

First on her victim list was Rainbow, who looked on the verge of lashing out at the next living thing that got into biting range. Had she not been tied down, things probably would've gotten quite messy indeed.

But, despite the pegasus’ attitude, Rarity could finally take a step back and appreciate her work. At last, all of the burned hair in her mane and tail had been groomed out, even if it meant cutting both a little shorter than the pegasus particularly liked in order to even everything out. The fashionista had been having nightmares about the… state… of her friend’s mane, so for the sake of her own sanity, she’d been left with no choice but to take drastic steps.

Now, with her mane properly brushed and trimmed, Rainbow very nearly looked like a true mare and not some wild child. All of the colors in her mane were neatly ordered without one intruding on the other. The endless tangles had been worked through, and the uneven ends had been properly leveled. After a good washing, Rainbow’s mane even seemed to sparkle in the overhead lights. Truly, she was the image of a proper mare.

At least, until she shook her head like a dog.

“Ah, much better,” Rainbow sighed, her mane unkempt all over again.

Rarity sighed in defeat. Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be…

Then she set her sights onto Applejack, who was morosely enduring a hooficure from a rather courageous Lotus, who seemed both fascinated and stymied by the changeling’s holey legs.

“Rarity, is this really called for?” Applejack asked, fidgeting uncomfortably. She really didn’t care for the feel of ponies touching her chitin so much.

“I’m sorry,” Rarity said pointedly, coming back from her apologetic state, “but I can’t hear you over the sound of you compensating me for that fiasco with Vigil.”

Applejack sighed heavily in response and turned away.

“Besides,” Rarity went on, brightening up as she stepped closer, brandishing a pair of trimmers and a hairbrush with her magic, “A queen should look her absolute best!”

“Ah ain’t no queen,” Applejack deadpanned, “and Ah don’t ever want ta be one. Why would Ah?”

Rarity just gave her a blank look, like Applejack had just declared herself majordomo of the marble people. “…Yes, a queen should look her very best.”

Applejack sighed, hitting herself in the face with a hoof. “Look… Rare? Ah’m just Applejack, alright? Ah ain’t royalty.”

“Oh, but I beg to differ!” Rarity announced, taking her place behind her friend’s chair. “Now hold still; this will only take a moment. What was I saying… oh yes! But you are royalty, Applejack! Were you not the one to tell us all about your mother, Queen Carnation?”

Applejack grimaced. “That’s different, and you know it.”

“I fail to see how,” Rarity responded, surveying the damage to Applejack’s mane. Compared to the nightmare that had been Rainbow’s hair, Applejack’s had come through her ordeal relatively unscathed, save for the burned, ragged end to her tail, which would require immediate tending to. At least Applejack had brushed it at some point or another, which was more than could be said for her other friend.

“Rarity, can ya please just listen ta me,” Applejack asked, her patience fraying. “Ah ain’t no queen, alright? Ah’m just Applejack, same as always.”

Rarity pursed her lips and paused halfway through working a brush through her friend’s tail. “Yes, I suppose you are,” she said in an odd tone. “Dependable, responsible, a natural-born leader… I guess that is who Applejack is, isn’t it?”

Applejack turned around to look at her friend, raising an eyebrow. “What are ya gettin’ at?”

“Oh, nothing, darling” Rarity dismissed, going right back to work. “Just talking out loud, that’s all. Don’t mind me!”

Applejack frowned in suspicion at the fashionista, who did everything she could to pretend not to notice her friend watching her.


Freedom!” Rainbow cheered at the top of her lungs, flinging herself out of the accursed Spa and into the glorious day beyond. It was a pity she couldn’t fly, or else she’d be well on her way to the safety of the stratosphere where no hoof file would ever reach her again.

Applejack was right behind her, moving as fast as her three good legs could take her. It was only by the mercy of her bandages that she’d been spared from most of the spa’s nastier treatments. Though, if she was perfectly honest with herself, that back massage had been pure magic.

With a lazy yawn, Applejack walked after Rainbow. By then it was approaching noon, and already Applejack was feeling in desperate need of a nap.

“Remind me to never, ever, ever make Rarity mad,” Rainbow said over her shoulder. “She gets… groomy.”

“Don’t need ta tell me twice,” Applejack replied sincerely.

Together the friends walked down the cluttered street, still rather out of it from their harrowing experience.

It didn’t take Applejack long, however, to notice the sounds of hammers and saws ringing out from every direction, causing her to look around.

From one end of the street to the other, ponies wearing hardhats and strapped with tool bags worked amid dozens of organized clutters of building materials, all bound for the many damaged houses or businesses that lined the scarred street. Walls were being reframed, roofs thatched, windows replaced – even the road was being resurfaced in some places – and all on a monumental scale.

But ponies weren’t doing the bulk of the work.

The word had gotten out about Ponyville’s secret residents, it seemed. Applejack had heard about the announcement in Canterlot – virtually every pony in Equestria had by then. The groundbreaking revelation of there being changelings living among ponies filled every front page of every newspaper, magazine and tabloid after all, and the reactions had been just as varied, if not more-so.

It was still an odd sight to many, however – black figures buzzing through the air to and fro, working with a meticulousness that was almost disconcerting to witness. Despite a few inexperienced individuals, the group of changelings proved to be quick learners, and now they were at the heart of many projects – sometimes several to a drone – displaying uncanny teamwork and coordination in everything they did. They would likely be going to bed stiff and sore, but not one was complaining in the slightest.

It’d seemed like such an obvious move to make; if changelings were ever going to be trusted in Ponyville, having them pitch in with the rebuilding from the attack seemed like a no-brainer to Applejack – a sentiment quite a few ponies shared in kind, including Princess Celestia and – to Applejack’s pleasant surprise – even Mayor Mare, just to name a few.

The sight of collaborating drones and ponies brought a feeling of optimism to Applejack’s heart. Progress was being made on more than one front, and just witnessing ponies and changelings working together in any capacity made Applejack all the more hopeful.

It’d taken them a while – and even now there were a few distrustful looks thrown here and there among the ponies – but eventually, cooperation started to win out as the changelings’ good intentions slowly but surely sunk into the dumbfounded residents of Ponyville, and even those that came from abroad to see the spectacle for themselves couldn’t help but walk away with their perspectives at least called into question.

And if it were up to Applejack, she’d be right there with them, doing her part to fix the damage she herself was partially responsible for. But her broken leg – and more convincingly, the demands her doctor and even her family – put an end to that desire. So, even if it did her good seeing changelings and ponies getting along, the best she could do to contribute was offer advice and a demonstration or two on how to properly do something.

Of course, that didn’t mean she was completely cut out of the loop. That became clear when a voice called down to her from above.

“Miss Applejack! Miss Applejack!” called out a drone, who had paused in the air halfway across the street to wave a hoof.

Recognizing her voice, Applejack grinned up at the excited changeling. “Howdy, Bumblebee. How’s it goin’?”

“Great!” Bumblebee said happily. “Just got done fixing the roof on Colgate’s house. Thatching a roof is hard work, but it’s also kind of fun once you get used to it!”

Applejack chuckled. “So Ah take it nopony’s been givin’ ya trouble?”

At that, Bumblebee faltered. “Well… no, not really. Not nearly as much as I thought, anyway. Everypony’s been really nice.”

“Bumblebee!” called out an impatient voice, causing the drone to flinch in midair. “Hurry up! We still have – oh! Good day, Applejack.”

By then, the farmer had managed to locate the speaker; another drone, one on ground level this time, who was quickly trotting over bearing a smile of her own.

“Same ta you, Roseluck,” Applejack greeted with a smile. “You girls been busy?”

“A bit,” Roseluck said, exhaling. Her chitin was covered in beads of sweat, but at the same time she was smiling widely. “Last time I worked with my hooves this much, we were still building Freedom. I have to say… I didn’t realize how much I missed this.”

“Glad ta hear it,” Applejack chuckled in response. “Ya need help with anything?”

At that, Roseluck paused. “Er… I think we’ve got everything under control, Applejack. Maybe you should –”

“Hey Applejack!”

Once again, Applejack was distracted by another drone, this time one who paused midway through hammering a nail into a roof strut to wave. Other changelings were looking around by then, each calling out and waving.

“Hey, Applejack! Nice to see you!”

“Not pushing yourself to hard, I hope!”

“Happy Nightmare Night!” “…It’s November…”

When one called, another would look up, and soon changelings up and down the block were waving and shouting greetings. Perplexingly, however… Maybe it was just Applejack’s imagination, but there seemed to be quite a few more changelings than she’d remembered seeing before…

But even as Applejack’s ears were temporarily overwhelmed by the well-wishes of a dozen different changelings and even a pony or two, it didn’t take Applejack long, to start picking up on other, quieter voices all around her.

“Hey, is that…?”

“That can’t be…”

“So she’s really…”

“No way… all this time…”

Applejack did her best to ignore it, however. She kept her eyes forward and did everything she could to keep from glancing in the direction of the whispers. She’d sworn to herself early on that she wouldn’t let the muttering ponies get to her, and for the most part she could – at least, a lot more than she ever would’ve been able to before.

What bugged her, however, wasn’t the fact that they were whispering about what she was, but the fact that they were whispering about her, period. A part of her wanted to hear what they had to say about her – to confront them head-on… but mostly she didn’t think she’d have the heart for it…

The amber-maned changeling jumped when she felt something bump into her side – or rather, somepony.

“C’mon, cowgirl, enough with the long face,” Rainbow groaned, rolling her eyes. “They’re just talking. No big deal, right?”

Applejack eyed Rainbow curiously, quirking a brow. “Don’t go tellin’ me it ain’t botherin’ you, RD,” she said.

“Well duh,” Rainbow shot, catching Applejack completely off guard. “I have a reputation to keep, you know.”

She then turned slightly and jabbed one hoof against her friend’s chest, once again catching Applejack by surprise. “So as my friend, you are obligated to start being, like, five times more awesome, starting right now. And moping? Totally not awesome. So cut it out.”

Applejack blinked, looked down at the hoof pressed against her front, then back up. And to her surprise, it actually worked. Applejack snorted, cracking a rueful smile.

“Eh, better,” Rainbow shrugged, unimpressed, “We’ll have to work on it.” But as she turned back around, she was smiling, too. “And lesson one; don’t think on an empty stomach. Let’s get some lunch, then we can go over lesson two.”

Applejack couldn’t help but chuckle under her breath. Rainbow didn’t respond, but she still puffed up, a smug grin plastered on her face as she headed off.

Applejack just rolled her eyes. Good gravy…

But just as she started to fall into step beside her friend once more, something down the road caught her eye, causing her to freeze in place.

The little bow-wearing filly spotted her at the same time, too. Apple Bloom stopped mid step, eyes going wide. And then she turned and darted down a side street, disappearing from sight entirely.

“Hey!” Rainbow called, but the filly was already gone. “Geez, is she still avoiding you?”

“Yup,” Applejack sighed, good mood dissipated. “Apparently Big Macintosh and Granny Smith took her to see me while Ah was still out cold from castin’ that spell. It ain’t real hard ta tell how that went…”

Applejack avoided meeting the look Rainbow was giving her and forced herself to start walking again. “Granny reckons she just needs some space, and she come ‘round when she’s ready to.”

Rainbow remained still for a moment, watching her friend before opening her mouth. “But what do you reckon?” she asked.

Applejack paused, but then resumed walking. “Don’t you go worryin’ about that, sugarcube. Ah’ll handle it.”

Still, the cyan pegasus remained in place, and very quiet. Applejack was on the verge of turning around to snap at her friend to get a move on when Rainbow suddenly spoke up again. “You know what? You go on ahead. I just, uh, remembered something I have to do. Weather pony stuff – you wouldn’t understand.”

And before Applejack could do more than give Rainbow a very suspicious look, the brazen pegasus turned tail and darted away.

“Rainbow!” she shouted warningly, but already she’d skirted around a corner and was gone. And no amount of three legged shambling on Applejack’s part would ever close the distance. “Rainbow!”


After searching for nearly an hour, Applejack was finally forced to give up. She was tired, her temper was frayed to the breaking point, and she hadn’t seen so much as a solitary blue feather of her friend.

Giving up was not something she intended to do, but at the moment, she desperately had to cool her head. By that point, she’d wandered into the park, one of the few places she could go without several pairs of eyes tracking her every move at any given moment, which had only made things worse.

Applejack picked a patch of yellowing grass beneath a tree laden with fiery red, yellow and orange leaves and collapsed bodily onto it with a heavy thump.

Already she was feeling the limits of her endurance, which only helped to remind her how far she was from fully recovering after virtually emptying her entire magical reserves. It frustrated her, almost as much as the thought of Rainbow doing something foolish, but what could she do?

Grimacing angrily to herself, she put her head down on the prickly ground, intent on fuming in silence for a few minutes. Or, possibly getting some shut-eye, whichever came about first.

A light, cool breeze played with her mane and tail, tickling her ears. Out here, the racket of construction was distant to the point of barely being audible at all. Even the slightest rustle could drown it out in its entirety, in fact.

Each rustle, however, no matter how small, filled her mind with another sound altogether. The sound of the tree branches above shifting in the wind brought back the memory of a secretive, withering place far from where she was laying…

The sound of a twig snapping nearby brought her roughly back to reality, causing her head to jerk up.

But aside from a barely audible squeak of alarm, Applejack’s initial survey of her surroundings turned up nothing. Of course, that only narrowed down the list of possible suspects.

“Fluttershy? That you, sugarcube?” Applejack asked loudly, still glancing around for any sign of her timid friend.

A moment later, she heard still more rustling, and suddenly a yellowing bush developed the oddest pair of sapphire eyes.

“There ya are,” Applejack said with a smile. “Whatcha doin’ in a bush?”

“Um… nothing, really” the shy mare responded quietly.

“Uh-huh,” Applejack deadpanned. “That have anythin’ ta do with me?”

“Oh no, of course not,” Fluttershy said quickly. “Well… maybe a little…”

Applejack sighed and sat up with a grunt. Fluttershy hesitated, then nervously emerged from the brush and took a few tentative steps closer.

“Um,” Fluttershy started, rubbing the knees of her forelegs together nervously. “How… how are you feeling?”

Applejack noticed her friend eying her cast apprehensively, but for a reason beyond fearfulness this time. “Useless,” Applejack sighed heavily. She allowed herself to sag back down onto her belly while kicking her forelegs out in front of her for her to glare at. “Apple Bloom’s mad at me, Rainbow’s gone off ta do Celestia-knows-what, and ta top it all off, Ah ain’t got the strength to do a dang thing about it anyway! Ah wish Ah'd just hurry up and get better already, but the one time Ah wish Ah had my healin’ powers, they’re shot.”

“They’re still not working?” Fluttershy asked, taking another tentative step closer. She was warring with her urge to tend to the injured changeling, and the fact that she was… well, a changeling. Despite telling herself over and over again that this was Applejack, the sight of her alien form was still an immense hurdle for her to overcome completely – more-so than most of the things in her life. She was making progress, considering she’d only been exposed to it for a couple days now, but…

“There’s still some of that spell goin’ around, Ah reckon,” Applejack replied grumpily. “It comes and goes, but for the most part… no.”

“You poor thing,” Fluttershy said softly, sitting down next to her friend. “You really should be in bed until you feel all better.”

Applejack grumbled, her wings batting the air irritably. “Ah have ta feel better now,” she grunted.

“But you don’t,” Fluttershy pointed out. Her tone wasn’t harsh, but the lack of hesitance was just as firm. Of course, that only lasted a second or two, before she was once more shrinking into herself. “I-I mean… it seems like you should rest, and then you can handle all sorts of problems, especially the really important ones.”

Applejack glanced towards Fluttershy, who was idly double-checking a patch of gauze’s secureness to the apple farmer’s shoulder. As much as she wanted to pretend otherwise, she had to admit – no matter how grudgingly – that Fluttershy had a point. She was tired, she was irritable, and her dangerously shallow patience weren’t good factors to be trying to achieve anything with.

“Ah… guess yer right,” Applejack admitted, slumping still further on the wilted grass. “Ah wish ya weren’t but… facts are facts, Ah guess.”

Finally, with one last sigh, Applejack heaved herself up onto her hooves while Fluttershy watched carefully. “Guess Ah’ll head on home, then.”

Then she gave a big, jaw-popping yawn, exposing nearly all of her pointed teeth to the open air. Now that she was settled down, the weight of sleep deprivation was starting to get to her, making a bed seem increasingly appealing. “Golly, Ah could sure use a nap right about now…”

A gust of wind came rushing through the park, the cold air nipping at Applejack’s exposed chitin. The scents of autumn intruded on the apple farmer’s nostrils, reminding her of the orchards… the woods… and the memories of a forgotten place.

Freedom… she still wasn’t sure if she should go back. A part of her knew she should. Sooner or later, she would have to. There was bound to be more there for her, and the curiosity was proving to be a hard temptation to beat. Yet, Applejack knew almost for certain it would take an emotional toll on her. So, it was a question of what she would be willing to subject herself to.

She’d already heard whispers amongst the changelings – hopes of rebuilding their old home. At the moment, they were nothing but wishful musings, but deep in Applejack’s heart, she didn’t think they would stay as such.

But as she continued to think on the matter, the memory of someone else inevitably surfaced, making her heart clench all the tighter…

The loud bong of a bell rang out over the city, causing Applejack to jump. The clock tower was striking the hour – once, twice, three times.

Applejack turned in the direction of the clock tower, hesitating on the spot. Is it really that late already? At this rate, Ah ain’t gonna be up fer Pinkie’s “Welcome Again to Ponyville” or whatever party…

But as Applejack’s eyes roamed over the autumn-tinted skyline, a large shape caught her eye – a distant archway, sticking up like a wrought iron tiara atop a nearby hill – one separate from the hustle and bustle of Ponyville itself; close enough to be a part of the town without actually being a part of it. Just the sight of it caused a heavy lump to settle into Applejack’s gut, ridding her of what little tranquility she’d gained.

All of a sudden, a nap became the furthest thing from the young changeling’s mind. “On second thought… there’s somethin’ Ah gotta do first.”

She smiled at Fluttershy then, who was giving her a worried look. “Thanks for talkin’ ta me, ‘Shy. Ah’ll see ya around.”

Fluttershy watched as her friend walked away, her insides squirming. Applejack?


The walk out of the park and up to that distant archway was a slow, meticulous one, and not because she only had so many legs to make the trip with. Even after arriving on an immaculate lawn, Applejack kept her gaze down and her pace even. She was in no rush to get where she was going.

It’d been a while since she’d last walked that dirt path, but now… now she had a new reason to do so. One last turn, and suddenly she was faced with her destination.

Before her sloped the side of a gently rolling hill cleared of everything but a few immaculately manicured trees and hedges. That, and a countless number of white stones, jutting up in ordered rows out of the ground.

Like always, the Ponyville Cemetery was a quiet, tranquil place. Not many ponies came by, not without special cause. So, in that moment, Applejack had the entire place to herself. The gates were open, and without a single living soul in sight, Applejack silently let herself in, trudging down a path she’d long since committed to memory.

She hung an immediate right, walked two rows down along the fence, turned left, headed eight rows in, and turned left again until she came to an all-too familiar plot of land sequestered under a willow tree a short distance from the rest.

The moment she rounded that final corner, she was greeted by the sight of one large slab of snow white marble nearly as wide as Applejack was long and topped with a pair of stone apples, their conjoined stems forming a single heart; a painful sight in itself for Applejack to see.

But immediately to the side of that, occupying a small, unobtrusive spot beneath the overhanging willow tree, sat a column unlike any in the graveyard. It was made from polished granite, for one thing, with a simple bust adorning the top and a bronze plaque on its center.

Applejack’s eyes were drawn to it as she approached, her gaze first going to the small glass vase filled with fresh flowers at its foot.

Atop the headstone sat a slightly larger-than-life bust of flawless ashy grey stone. And yet, the likeness was so simplistic and threadbare as far as features go. It was as if the maker had been in a rush and only carved out enough what was absolutely necessary for the shape of the head to be distinct, but bothered with little else. At first glance, the thing would’ve been more fitting of a mannequin. It seemed to have no expression, as if the individual it was representing was simply standing at attention.

But if someone took the time to actually look, they would see that the bust wasn’t as blank as one might think.

Each eye was set with a large, peerless sapphire, causing them to look featureless, yet striking. Each eye flashed in the afternoon sun, gleaming as if they held an intelligence all their own. It was almost as if they were looking out towards the horizon, waiting for every dawn to come. The uneven scruff along the back of the bust’s neck even had thin filaments of silver streaking through it that gleamed in the sunlight.

Next, as if drawn by some irresistible force, Applejacks eyes drifted down to the plaque affixed to the headstone, which bore only a simple inscription just a few lines long, and yet it only took those few words to cause her heart to ache with a well known pain.

Hyacinth Apple
Devoted Aunt
Devoted Protector
Devoted to the Very Last

Hyacinth Apple… Even though her aunt wasn’t even a pony, the moment Granny Smith had learned about her, she’d become committed to having her placed on the Apple family’s plot, right next to Applejack’s parents. There’d been no formal induction into the family or any such nonsense. It was as if she’d been a part of it all along.

And if that wasn’t enough, Princess Celestia herself carved the bust, only saying “It was the least I could do for her, after all she’d done for us”.

Applejack sat heavily on the grass, gazing up at the bust of her aunt somberly. Seeing her here, next to her parents, always made it real for her.

She was gone. After only being in her life for a single night… she was gone.

But… if she hadn’t been there…

Applejack reached up with one hoof and unceremoniously swept the small crown from her head. Already she was finding herself forgetting she was even wearing it at times.

She set the crown down before her – between herself and the tombstone in front of her. The moment her hoof left it, emerald magic engulfed the small crown, struggled for a moment, then settled down once again in the shape of a Stetson.

“How’s it goin’, Ma… Pa… Hyacinth?” she started, speaking soft and low. “Ah hope everythin’s great on your side. What am Ah talkin’ about… of course it is.”

Applejack turned her eyes slightly, redirecting them towards the large headstone for both her parents. For a moment, she paused, licking her lips. “Ah… Ah did it. Ah… ain’t hidin’ anymore, just like the both of ya always wanted. It’s… well, it’s still pretty dang scary, Ah ain't gonna lie… but Ah’ll find a way ta pull through. Ah just…”

Applejack’s eyes drifted back towards the Hyacinth’s grave, becoming pained. “Ah… wish ya were still here, Hyacinth… Ah don’t know how Ah’m gonna do it without ya, Ah honestly don’t… And there’s still a whole heap of things Ah wanted ta ask ya. About where Ah come from... about Mama... But… Ah can’t no more.”

Applejack looked down towards her hooves, her gaze settling on her Stetson instead. “Ah know it ain’t right of me ta think it… but sometimes Ah find myself wishin’ ya hadn’t show up when ya did. Maybe then we’d get some other chance, further down the road, when we didn’t have so much ridin’ on us. Maybe then ya’d still be here…”

Her eyes became distant then, not particularly seeing anything as the few memories of her aunt she had played through her mind.

“But… if ya hadn’t showed up, things probably would’a gone a whole lot different, wouldn’t they? Would Vigil have still lost? Would that Applejack even be the same Applejack sittin’ here now?”

She raised her hooves, looking at them heavily. “No… that Applejack was a coward. She was willin’ ta run and run and never face her problems, so long as it meant keepin’ everypony else happy. Her friends, even her own family… So long as she stayed the same pony in their eyes, nothin’ else mattered ta her. She would always be strong and dependable Applejack and never have ta admit she was flawed.”

Applejack replaced her hooves back on the ground and became still for a moment or two, letting her mind drift this way and that for a moment. “That’s not who Ah am anymore. Ah can’t be, not after everythin’ ya showed me about where Ah come from. Ah… Ah ain’t gonna say Ah ain’t afraid anymore… nopony can say that. But Ah can say this for sure; Ah ain’t a coward anymore.”

She turned her eyes back up towards the bust of her aunt, meeting its inanimate gaze. “It ain’t gonna be easy, but nothin’ worth doin’ ever is, right? But Ah will find a way, or my name ain’t Applejack.”

But after a moment or two, she sagged once more, her crestfallen ears drooping. “Ah just… wish ya were here ta help me find out how…”

An errant breeze sighed through the willow tree, ruffling Applejack’s mane. It was the only response she got; everything else around her was totally silent and still.

Well… save for the soft rustle of a hoof on the grass behind her.

Applejack turned her head slightly, just as a small form took a seat in the grass beside her.

Apple Bloom didn’t look at her, or even acknowledge Applejack’s presence at first. She kept her eyes forward, an oddly solemn look on her face as she looked ahead; towards Hyacinth’s gravestone.

Applejack tensed, freezing in place out of surprise. But she didn’t speak up, or make a sound of any kind.

For nearly five solid minutes, neither of them said a word. Apple Bloom had the barest trace of a frown on her face – a ghost of the look she’d given Applejack before, but whether it was diminished or merely reined in was anypony’s guess.

Applejack just carefully observed her little sister, until at last, the filly opened her mouth.

“What was she like?” she asked.

Applejack paused, thinking on how to respond. “Hyacinth?”

To her surprise, however, Apple Bloom shook her head. “Ah don’t mean her… Ah mean Applejack,” she said. “Did ya know her much?”

It was in that moment that Applejack finally put the pieces together, but all the realization did was cause her more heartache. After all, what did ponies know about changelings? That they take the place of loved ones...

“Ah knew her real well,” Applejack responded. “Better than… most, Ah reckon.”

Apple Bloom bit her lip and fidgeted with her hooves. “What… what was she like?”

“Why don’t ya tell me,” Applejack said, catching the little filly of guard.

“Huh?” was Apple Bloom’s response – that and her head cocking to one side in confusion.

Applejack smiled slightly. “Ya know her pretty darn well yerself, sugarcube,” she said kindly.

Apple Bloom blinked once, and then abruptly turned away, her frown growing. “Well Ah know fer sure my big sis ain’t no coward,” she said with certainty, “and Ah know my big sis wouldn’t ever hide somethin’ from me. She wasn’t scared of nothin’!”

Applejack restrained a grimace, instead looking back towards the gravestone in front of her. “She’s scared of one thing, Apple Bloom,” she said quietly.

Apple Bloom turned her head sharply, as if daring the changeling beside her to contradict her.

Applejack smiled again, though this time she had to work at getting her lips to rise. “More than anything… she is scared ta death about losin’ everypony she cared for.”

Again, Apple Bloom’s eyes opened wide in surprise.

“Her friends,” Applejack continued on, eyes becoming distant, “her family… and especially her little sister. So, if that meant keepin’ somethin’ under wraps, then that’s what Ah was gonna do.”

Apple Bloom’s frown suddenly flared up again, and abruptly she was on her hooves. “Yer not the real Applejack, so stop talkin’ like ya are!” she shouted loud enough to cause Applejack's ears to ring. “Ah know Applejack, and she would never cover somethin’ up! S-she would never lie about not really bein’ my sister!”

Applejack’s heart twisted painfully in her chest, almost hard enough for her to clutch at it.

To her surprise, Apple Bloom didn’t run away again. She was shaking from head to hoof and glaring worse than Applejack had ever seen before in her life. But she was still standing her ground somehow.

Applejack was silent for a moment in order to get herself under control again before opening her mouth to speak. This might be the last chance she ever had to convince her little sister.

“Apple Bloom… did ya know that Big Macintosh goes ta bed every night with that Smarty-Pants doll of Twilight’s?” she asked.

That completely threw the furious filly off, so much so that for a moment it seemed like she forgot that she was angry. “Wait… what?” Apple Bloom said, confused. “What does –”

“Did ya know Granny Smith gets a hankerin’ fer oranges every once in a while,” Applejack continued, “Or that yer uncle Apple Split is as bald as a buzzard underneath that toupee of his?”

Apple Bloom, by now, looked thoroughly confused. “What are ya talkin’ about?” she asked. “Why are ya tellin’ me about that?”

Applejack smiled. “My point is, sugarcube, that we all got things we ain’t proud about. We don’t go fibbin’ about it, but we don’t go broadcastin’ it fer everypony ta know about. You saw it yerself when ya went and did that Gabby Gums nonsense.”

As always, Apple Bloom squirmed uncomfortably upon hearing that name.

Applejack raised a hoof and lightly patted her little sister’s head once or twice, catching her by surprise. “So, this is mine,” she finished. “It don’t change who Ah am on the inside, not one bit, but that don’t mean somepony might misunderstand if they'd found out.”

Apple Bloom bit her lip, her angry look starting to turn into a slightly constipated frown. “How do Ah know yer not just tryin’ ta trick me?”

Applejack sighed a little. Obviously, this wasn’t going to be that easy. “Alright then, try me,” Applejack said bluntly.

Yet again, Apple Bloom found herself struggling to make sense of the changeling’s words. “Try what?"

Applejack smiled a bit more. “There’s really only one way ta tell if Ah’m a liar or not, right?” she said meaningfully.

Finally, Apple Bloom caught on. “Oh yeah!” she gasped.

Applejack chuckled. “So, ya want ta make a wager?” she asked.

Apple Bloom stood up straighter at that. “Ya mean like a bet?”

“Yep,” Applejack replied.

Apple Bloom’s eyes seemed to gleam brightly at that. “Alright, yer on! And if Ah win, ya gotta show me where the real Applejack is!”

The changeling chuckled again, unable to restrain a smile. “Alrighty then, sounds fair.”

“So,” Apple Bloom asked, attempting to scrutinize the changeling’s expression, “what’re ya goin’ ta bet?”

Applejack’s smile widened still further. “If Ah win, Ah’ll introduce ya to the real Applejack,” she stated.

Apple Bloom frowned, confused; was this a trick? But then she grinned to herself. Either way, she would be getting what she wanted. Might as well play along.

“Pinkie Promise?” she asked.

“Cross my heart, hope ta fly,” Applejack resighted easily, “stick a cupcake in my eye.”

There, Apple Bloom thought to herself, now she has no choice! Alright… what ta do…

She sat down, placing a hoof to her chin while she thought. Then, she had an idea. “How about we start with some questions,” Apple Bloom asked slowly, as if gauging her opponent’s reaction carefully. “Of course, only Applejack would know the answers.”

That, of course, only made Applejack chuckle a little, but then she nodded. “Sounds fair. Alright, fire away.”

Apple Bloom grinned to herself. There was no way the changeling was going to be getting these right…


“And that’s how Ah got ya, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo unstuck and outta that rain barrel for the third time in a week,” Applejack finished on a bemused note.

Apple Bloom could only stared in slack-jawed disbelief at the amber-maned changeling. How did she get all those right?! Can she really be…

For nearly an hour now, she’d been bringing up every little obscure memory and event she could think of in an effort to trip her opponent up, and yet every time, she filled in whatever blank Apple Bloom tried to create. Twice already the changeling had even corrected her on one detail or another. It was almost like…

Then something struck Apple Bloom, and she pointed an accusing hoof at her opponent. “Yer cheating!” she declared.

“Now why would ya go and say something like that,” Applejack asked, affronted.

“You must’ve used yer weird changeling magic ta copy Applejack’s memories! Or – or…” Apple Bloom declared, struggling for answers – anything that at least seemed plausible. “Or…”

“Apple Bloom,” Applejack said calmly, “changelin’s can’t steal somepony’s memories. Don’t ya think that changeling queen would’a done a better job trickin’ everypony at that weddin’ if she could?”

“But…,” Apple Bloom floundered, grasping at straws. “Maybe she… forgot?”

Applejack had been smiling slightly ever since Apple Bloom started questioning her. But when she heard her little sister say that, something changed in her expression.

It wasn’t much, but a sad edge worked its way into the look she was giving Apple Bloom. “Sugarcube… is it really so hard ta believe that Ah’m yer sister?”

“Well of course it is!” Apple Bloom whined, flailing her forelegs. “Yer not even a pony! How can… how can ya…”

She trailed off, visibly deflating. “Ah… Ah just want my sister… But then Ah find out she wasn’t even real in the first – ow!”

Applejack had finally had enough. She’d been exercising her patience as long as she could, but after a day like the one she’d been having, she was starting to get in short supply. And that comment was the absolute last straw.

So, it was at the end of that patience that Applejack raised one hoof and sharply knocked Apple Bloom on the head. It wasn’t a hard blow to any degree, but it certainly got the filly’s attention, as was Applejack’s intention.

“Now you cut that out right now,” Applejack snapped sternly. “Haven’t ya been listenin’ ta a word Ah’ve been tellin’ ya?”

Apple Bloom, still in a state of shock, reached up with both hooves to wrap them around her head, looking completely disbelieving of what’d just happened.

Applejack sat before her, looking down on her with upset eyes. “Ah have been yer sister all along, Apple Bloom,” she stressed, leaning towards the little filly slightly. “Ah’ve always been yer sister, ya hear me? From the first day Ma and Pa brought ya home from the hospital ta this very moment right here and every moment in between, Ah ain’t been anythin’ else but yer big sis, and Ah’ve been dang proud ta be it, too!”

Apple Bloom was looking up into the changeling’s big amber eyes now, a look of shock still plastered on her face. For the first time, she could see the pain in those alien double-ringed eyes, as if they were begging her to just listen. But also… some familiar glint that defied even the strangeness of those eyes…

“Ah want my sister back, too, sugarcube,” Applejack said, her voice dropping. “And Ah want ta keep bein’ yer sister… and Ah ain’t ever gonna stop wantin’ ta be that. Not now, not ever.”

Apple Bloom was still for a moment, her body locking up. Then, she sniffed, seemingly absently, paused… and in the next instant she was bawling her eyes out. It was like a barely restrained dam had simply busted, and out came everything tucked away inside Apple Bloom’s heart.

She let loose a wail in the vague shape of words, just before flinging herself forward. She didn’t care that it wasn’t a pair of furry forelegs that caught her. She didn’t care that it wasn’t a fuzzy chest that she was pulled into. In that moment, all she cared about was the warmth of the one comforting her.

“Ah-Ah,” Apple Bloom cried into Applejack’s front, “Yer-y-yer real! Ya – hic – ya –”

“Ssh, Ah know, sugarcube,” Applejack said softly into her sister’s mane. She kept her eyes shut tight, just in case they decided to start leaking, too. “It’s alright… Ah swear – Ah swear – Ah ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

Apple Bloom’s response was to simply keep crying while clinging to her sister for dear life, as if fearing she’d fade away all over again if she let go.

No more words were said between the two. Both sisters clung together as tightly as they could, each one too afraid to let go for even the smallest reason, lest the spell be broken entirely.


The day was on the bordering on evening when Applejack and Apple Bloom walked along the extensive border fence of Sweet Apple Acres, the front gate in sight.

For the fifteen or so minutes it took to walk from the cemetery to that very spot, both sister’s had been talking almost nonstop. Or, more precisely, Apple Bloom had been almost babbling out of a mix of nerves and excitement.

There was still a note of caution in Applejack’s heart, and the atmosphere between her and her little sister wasn’t quite back to normal. That being said, it’d come a long way already. Their bond would heal in time; that much she could tell. How long it took was irrelevant – the fact that she had a chance at it was all that mattered.

“So,” Apple Bloom started again, catching Applejack’s attention, “about what ya said earlier… Does Big Mac really still have Twilight’s doll?”

Applejack chuckled, grinning. She’d been smiling for a while now, and it just wasn’t getting old for her. “Sure as sugar, but don’t go givin’ him too much grief. That big galoot’s always been a real softie.”

Apple Bloom pondered that for a while, allowing the two to walk along in silence for a time. They passed along a road flanked on either side by fields of gold and brown, with a fiery red bush or tree here and there. Nothing arose to disturb them, much to Applejack’s enjoyment. Finally, it felt like she wasn’t being pulled around by her mane every which way by everypony she knew…

She let her little sister babble on and on about things, waging a one-pony conversation at the speed only an energetic filly could. And yet, even with an excited filly bounding circles around her, she wasn’t bothered in the slightest. On the contrary, she felt better than she had all day.

On they walked – or limped, in Applejack’s case – for several minutes, and with each minute, things seemed to get just a little bit better.

As Applejack nudged the unlatched front gate to Sweet Apple Acres open with her nose, she couldn’t help but take notice of the lightness of her heart, as opposed to when she’d been there last. Suddenly, the things weighing on her mind didn’t feel quite as heavy. She found herself not looking at the monumental load of things that needed to be done, but rather how to best go about doing it.

But as the weary apple farmer trudged up the well-worn path towards her home, she noticed something odd.

Though the sun was still in the sky, it was not terribly long for this world. The heavens were just starting to turn reddish in color, and clouds were developing yellow and pink underbellies.

Yet, not a light was on in the household.

Confused, Applejack cautiously approached the front porch, glancing around. Without a soul in sight, however, her nerves hardly were put to rest.

With Apple Bloom kept slightly behind her, the changeling stepped forward and carefully nudged the door open, equal parts confused and apprehensive. The events of just a few days prior were still rather fresh in her mind, after all.

Of course, getting a blast of confetti in the face was not something she’d been preparing for.

“SURPRISE!” bellowed a whole lot more than one pony from just on the other side of the door, just as every light in the house switched on with astonishing choreography, momentarily blinding the startled pair on the doorstep.

The first thing Applejack saw was the streamers and decorations that lined all the walls and rimmed the ceiling. Very little of the ceiling was actually even visible beneath a swarm of bright, colorful balloons. Any more and the house might’ve floated away on all the helium.

But the only thing Applejack truly needed to see to get her brain working again was the banner that stretched across the fireplace on the left-hand side of the room – a flowery, twelve-foot long thing with the words “Welcome to Ponyville Again!” plastered in big bold letters from one end to the other.

And there, just on the other side of the door, were well over a dozen ponies, all standing practically shoulder to shoulder just to cram into the small living room.

But more than that; there were black shapes intermingled amid the kaleidoscope of colorful coats and manes – a very noticeable repetition to be sure.

The entirety of Applejack’s living room was packed to capacity, with more faces poking in from around doorframes and even peeking down from the upstairs landing.

At the very front of the pack was a very familiar set of widely grinning unicorns, pegasi and one very bouncy earth pony.

“And that, ladies and gentlecolts, is why I love my job!” Pinkie Pie cheered, beaming as wide as she possibly could, pumping a hoof in the air.

It took Applejack nearly five seconds to recover from the shock of the noise and light hitting her in the face. The entire time, her friends just gazed expectantly at her, waiting eagerly for her reaction.

“Wh-what,” Applejack started, regaining the use of her voice. “What’re y’all doin’ here?”

“Waiting for you,” Pinkie said happily. “It is kinda hard to throw a surprise party without surprising somepony!”

“But why in my house?” Applejack added. “Ah though ya were throwin’ the party at Sugarcube Corner.”

Pinkie only gave her a meaningful look, waggling her eyebrows before saying, “And who told you that? Huuuh?”

“Rainbow di—”, Applejack started, only to stop as her eyes got huge in dawning realization. “Rainbow…”

Seeing the look her friend was giving her, the rainbow-maned pegasus couldn’t help but chuckle nervously. “Eh-heh… gotcha?”

Applejack sighed, putting a hoof to her forehead. But there was no hiding the smile that spread across her fanged lips. There was a whole bunch of things she wanted to say, a whole slew of emotions she wanted to voice. But in that moment, it was the simplest that seemed the most meaningful.

“Thank ya, everypony,” she said truthfully. “Ah mean it… Thank ya.”

Each of her friends smiled at her, and even if there was still some awkwardness in their expressions, they were completely outmatched by the honest emotions in those smiles. “What are friends for?” Twilight said simply.

For some reason, Applejack couldn’t help but snort a little at that. “Yeah… Ain’t that the truth.”

And then, she raised her head, eyes gleaming as she shouted over the heads of everypony present. “Alright, now where’s my fiddle? Ah’m gonna show y’all how we Apples party!”


It truly was a party to remember.

It wasn’t just that Pinkie Pie had pulled out all the stops, called in a favor or two and brought in her go-to DJ all the way from Canterlot, and all within the span of a short six-hour timeframe.

It wasn’t just the choice of venue, which quickly spilled out to encompass most of the farmyard. Trees – including some lifelessly blackened stalks that used to be trees – were draped with countless strings of lights that lit up the yard and some of the surrounding orchard, giving the partiers plenty of room to get their groove on, or to simply mingle.

It wasn’t even the inclusion of so many changelings, who were equal parts nervous and thrilled at basically having a Pinkie Pie certified party thrown in their honor. All over the yard and everywhere in the house, groups of ponies and changelings stood around, talking amicably about this and that while others danced on the improvised dance floor in the middle of the yard. Of course, there were a couple nervous individuals – such as Bumblebee, who was trying really hard not to notice Cloudkicker eying her.

It was a combination of all these things – each facet incredible in its own right, all linked together to make something truly one of a kind. Even as the sun went down and gave way to star-speckled darkness, the party went on.

Laughter filled the cold air in the orchards. Not one pony or changeling seemed bothered in the slightest by the harsh nip in the air; they were too busy having fun to notice.

Applejack watched it all from a corner of the balcony, smiling contentedly to herself. She could not say she’d never been this happy before, but… it was certainly in her top five. She'd had her fun with the fiddle, finally filled her belly with all manner of baked goods, including a slice or two of fresh apple pie. She and Twilight had finally gotten a chance to talk, and while the conversation quickly proved to be way out of the changeling's league, especially when the studious unicorn started bringing up magical theorem, it was still enjoyable in its own right.

There was this knot inside of Applejack that was coming undone – a twisted up, uncomfortable spot inside her heart that she’d learned to ignore. Now it was coming undone the more she sat there and the more friendly smiles she got. And honestly, she didn’t quite know what to do with herself because of it.

She felt like whooping and hollering, like running around like a crazed mare. She felt… unburdened. Yes, that was the word, she realized. In that moment, she felt unburdened.

“What’re you grinning about?”

Applejack refocused then, just in time to notice a cyan pegasus plopping down next to her.

Rainbow flashed her a grin before turning back to look out over the party. “You know, I think Pinkie finally managed to put together a party just as awesome as me,” she remarked.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Yer just sayin’ that ‘cuz Big Mac tapped that cider barrel we had in storage.”

“You know it!” Rainbow said enthusiastically, beaming excitedly. “Best. Party. Ever!”

Applejack rolled her eyes. She’d noticed the little dollop of foam right on the tip of Rainbow’s nose almost right away. An explanation hadn’t been necessary in that regard.

“So, are ya tellin’ me ya staged all this?” Applejack asked abruptly.

When she saw Rainbow giving her a confused look – her mind still lost in memories of spiced beverage goodness – Applejack waved one of her hooves over the party.

It still took a moment for Rainbow to catch up, and then she responded by violently shaking her head. “ Uh-uh, no way. You might be my best friend and all, but there is no way I’ll put myself through… Rarity… just for your sake, bug-brain. Things just kinda worked out that way.”

Applejack rolled her eyes at that. “Ya’ll break yer wing tryin’ ta save my sorry flank, but Celestia-forbid ya gotta get a hooficure on my account,” she teased.

Rainbow winced. “Well, having to get a lift from mom or dad every night to go home isn’t exactly awesome, but if it’s between piggy-back rides and having my hooves messed with, I’ll take the piggy-back rides any day of the week.”

Applejack couldn’t help but give her a weird look. “Ya live with yer parents?”

Rainbow huffed, turning grouchy. “Why does that surprise everypony? They’re just really busy all the time, that’s all…”

“Sorry,” Applejack said sheepishly. “Ah just never thought about it, Ah guess.”

“You and half the ponies I know,” Rainbow grumbled, rolling her eyes. “And they’re mad at me enough as it is for, and I’m quoting mom here, ‘being a stupid reckless foal’. Like she has any room to talk… so, can’ we talk about something else?”

Applejack pursed her lips at that. “Alright. How about this?”

With a lightning fast flick of her wrist, she swatted Rainbow harshly on the nose, causing her to yelp. “Hey! What the hay was that for?!” she whined, furious.

That,” Applejack shot, unfazed by her friend’s indignation, “was for stickin’ that thing where it didn’t belong.”

Rainbow gave her a confused look, which the changeling met with a hard look of her own. “Ah know ya had somethin’ ta do with Apple Bloom comin’ ta talk ta me earlier,” Applejack said stiffly.

Rainbow, at least, at the sense to look sheepish. “I was just trying to help you out, you know.”

Applejack sighed irritably. “Yes, Ah know, sugarcube, but Ah also told ya that Ah’d deal with it.”

Rainbow rubbed her nose for a second – it hadn’t been all that hard of a smack, really – then spoke up. “Yeah, on top of everything else, too, I bet,” she said.

Applejack looked back at her, surprised. “What’re ya talkin’ about?”

Rainbow looked out over the party, averting her gaze, “I just figured, you have enough on your plate to deal with right now, you know? You didn’t need to be worrying about your little sister on top of everything else. Besides, Apple Bloom had to figure it out sooner or later; why not sooner? And anyway, I didn’t even tell her to do much. I didn’t even know where you were, you know.”

Applejack eyed her friend curiously. “Then what did ya tell her?”

Rainbow shrugged, still determinedly looking the other way. “Nothing really. I just told her this story I know ‘bout one of the bravest mares I know. Maybe you’ve heard of her?”

Applejack sighed, shaking her head. “What am Ah goin’ ta do with ya…”

Rainbow flashed one of her signature grins at her friend, looking at her out of the corner of her eye. “Forgive me?”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Ah didn’t buck ya through a wall, did Ah?”

Rainbow chuckled that infuriating chuckle Applejack hated so much – so much so that she couldn’t restrain a smile in response.

The two sat together in silence after that, side by side, battered and bruised and broken in a place or two, but happy nonetheless.

At last, everything was as it should be…

“Hey, Applejack!” someone called, catching both mares off guard. Neither of them had noticed the peach-colored unicorn sidle up in front of them until she called out and waved a hoof. “Great party!”

“Uh… thanks?” Applejack responded, confused by the compliment.

The mare just beamed, turned around, and walked back into the fray, disappearing almost right away.

“See?” Rainbow said, nudging her holey friend, “ponies are warming up to you already!”

“Ah suppose yer right,” Applejack mumbled, though something odd was nagging at her.

Who exactly was she?


Applejack sat at her desk, eyes locked on that accursed piece of paper once more.

She was alone in her room. The sounds of the party were dying down. Apple Bloom was already sound-asleep – in Applejack’s bed, where she’d been for several hours already.

The night was young, yet still a little noisy as the party broke up, providing plenty of unwanted distractions for the mare.

But this time was different.

Applejack smiled slightly to herself as she picked up the eagle-feather quill from the ink well and started to write.

Dear Princess Celestia…


Meanwhile, in a windowless, dank stone room far from the rural country, a single changeling lay chained every which way to a bed, though given the thick covering of gauze and bandages, he wouldn’t be moving very far on his own anyway.

Vigil stared up at the ceiling, watching a lantern sway slightly back and forth above him. He was waiting for the inevitable to come. Ever since he’d woken up, he’d been bracing for it, and the only thing he could do in preparation was wait until…

With a loud grating sound, the latch on the heavy wooden door in front of him slid open, and with a little magical shove, the bulky thing was forced open with a weary groan.

First to enter the room were two alert guards, who swept the room with a sharp look before taking their positions on either side of the door. Behind them strode a single stallion wearing a collar and tie. He was ash grey with a stormy blue, slicked mane that matched his sullen eyes and stony demeanor.

“So,” he said in a low baritone as the door slammed shut behind him, “you must be Vigil.”

The changeling eyed the stallion for a moment, his eyes narrowing. “I’m afraid you have me at… something of a disadvantage,” he said hoarsely. “Who are you?”

“You can call me Mr. Colt,” he stated, “but I’m not here to talk about me.”

“I hope not,” Vigil grunted, “I’m not in much of a listening mood.”

“Then we’ll make this quick, shall we?” Mr. Colt said tersely. “What is your goal in coming here?”

Vigil paused for a moment, his eyes drifting up towards the gently swinging lamp again. “To locate, recover and regroup any changelings misplaced after the failed attack on Canterlot,” he stated.

“And did you?” Mr. Colt asked critically, raising an eyebrow. That had been a lot easier than he’d anticipated…

“A few,” Vigil said. “Those with any sense should’ve been able to make their way to the Badlands by now…”

“So then,” Mr. Colt went on, “what was your purpose in attacking Ponyville if your mission was purely recovery?”

“The mission changed,” Vigil answered dully. “After discovering the changeling queen Applejack, her capture became our top priority.”

“For what purpose?”

“To unite the queenless changelings under her,” Vigil said, still watching the roof, “and through her ensuring Queen Chrysalis’ rule went unchallenged.”

Mr. Colt paused, his hooded eyes narrowing further. “You certainly seem to be in a cooperative mood,” he noted.

“Consider this a long overdue act of defiance,” Vigil sighed.

“And why’s that?” Mr. Colt asked.

This time, Vigil didn’t answer. He didn’t seem to realize anyone was in the room with him anymore, for all the heed he paid them.

“Mr. Vigil,” Mr. Colt said, filling the silence that’d fallen, “what is so special about Applejack to warrant such methods?”

Vigil actually snorted at that, coming dangerously close to laughing. “Hmph… you ponies have no idea what’s going to happen to her.”

“Is that a threat?” Mr. Colt asked, as cool as ever.

“Take it as you will,” Vigil said dismissively, his chains rattling as he attempted to wave a hoof. Then, he lowered his gaze to look straight at Mr. Colt, a knowing glint in his blue eyes. “But… mark my words… someday… you will wish I had taken her off your hooves. But if you want her so bad… fine then; take her. Just remember… you had your chance.”

Mr. Colt’s eyes narrowed still further. This time, he didn’t need to ask for verification. “You think your kind will resort to war to claim Ms. Applejack?”

For the first time in a long time, a smile crept onto Vigil’s face as he flopped back against his pillow. “And… I was the unimaginative one…,” he said to himself before snorting.

Mr. Colt eyed Vigil for a few moments longer. But just as he opened his mouth to speak, there came a knock on the open door behind him.

Turning, he found a guard standing at attention and giving him a salute. “Sir, the warden would like to have a word with you.”

Mr. Colt paused, then straightened up. “Very well,” he said. He then turned back to Vigil, giving him a cold look. “It seems we’ll have to continue this conversation some other time.”

Once more, however, Vigil snorted. “Hmph… I doubt that.”

Mr. Colt eyed Vigil again – this time in suspicion. But then he signaled to the guards, and walked out. “You,” Mr. Colt said to the stallion waiting on the other side of the door, “watch him. Make sure he doesn’t do anything.”

“Of course, sir,” the stallion responded.

Then, Mr. Colt and his entourage of guards turned the corner and headed off, the sounds of their hooves echoing off the narrow passageway beyond, leaving Vigil and the guard alone.

Vigil watched the stallion who was still looking after the retreating figure of the interrogator. There was a distant door slam, and then everything went deathly quiet. At least, for a moment or two.

The armored stallion let out a low, impressed whistle, his posture relaxing a modicum. The guard turned then, redirecting his electric blue eyes towards the restrained drone beyond the still-open door. “What a mess eh?” he sighed, shaking his head. “So much destruction… ay, what a waste.”

Then, the guard flashed a dauntless smile that was all parts leisurely and confident, like its owner couldn’t be any more at ease. “You certainly got carried away, didn’t you, amigo?”

Vigil kept himself composed, even if a jolt of surprise ran through him. “You… What is Aconita’s guard dog doing taking out the trash?”

The stallion sighed heavy, visibly deflating. “Ah, you had to go and ruin the mood… Now this is going to leave a bad taste in my mouth…”

He then advanced into the cell, all the while looking quite disgruntled. “I’m not here to kill you, anyway. Who am I to deprive Her Highness, eh?”

Vigil’s eyes widened in dawning realization as the ‘guard’ advanced into his cell, still grinning lazily. “But, before that… I hope you’re still in that cooperative mood of yours,” he said, just as the cell door swung shut again with a loud bang.


Ponies were drifting away from Sweet Apple Acres in droves. Now that the festivities were over, the only thought on many of their minds was a warm bed, maybe a snuggly loved one, and a good night’s sleep.

The only exception was perhaps a single peach-colored mare making her way into town, humming idly to herself, her mind alive with fresh possibilities.

So… it was that apple-obsessed baker after all… she thought to herself. How very interesting

The unicorn grinned to herself, restraining a slight chuckle. She paused in her stride for a moment in order to glance back over her shoulder, towards the distant farmhouse still distinguishable by all the lights still twinkling in the trees surrounding it.

“Hm… yes,” she hummed to herself, “This is going to be just… perfect.”