The Advent of Applejack

by Mister Friendly

Chapter 3: The Calm

Chapter 3: The Calm

The day was wearing down by the time Applejack trudged her tired hooves into Ponyville, laden with saddlebags stuffed to bursting. The golden glow of the sky heralded the coming sunset, but there were still a few hours left in the day before the sun was put to bed properly.

She passed the many cleaned stalls and carts – now only waiting for the coming day to be put to use – and took the time to appreciate the streamers, banners and various other decorations that’d come to cover her favorite little town like a layer of cake frosting.

Most of the preparations were done, by the looks of things, and now most of the ponies that were out and about were eagerly spending the last few hours in the day relaxing and enjoying the respite in the fine weather. Only a few sticklers for detail still labored away, striving to make everything absolutely, positively perfect.

Applejack even spotted a few groups of ponies, huddled around café tables, toasting each other for their hard work and eagerly wishing each other luck on the coming day. And some of those groups, Applejack noticed, even had the conspicuous charcoal profile of a changeling or two raising a glass in kind and sharing in the good tidings. Those groups in particular brought a smile to Applejack’s lips and a warm pulse in her heart.

Are ya seein’ this, Hyacinth? Mama? It’s just like ya thought it’d be...

Everypony Applejack passed looked tired, but most wore accomplished looks on their faces. Others seemed lost in daydreams and worries over the impending international holiday that, for one day, would turn Ponyville into the center of Equestria.

Applejack tried not to think about that as well when she rounded a corner and spotted the first trees of the changeling district. Thinking about what she could expect the next day only made her jittery, and it was precisely those jitters that made her secretly thankful she’d declined the offer to head up the preparations committee on the changeling side. The last thing she wanted was a repeat of the last Apple family reunion, or that Applebuck season.

So then, why did that keep bothering her? Why did she feel so much less accomplished than the ponies she passed in the street seemed to be? She was a hard worker; she pulled her weight… right?

Applejack sighed to herself, the shade of the changeling district’s floral ceiling enveloping her. No, it ain’t right to think like that. Ah’m doin’ the best Ah can with what Ah got, just like Ah always do. It’ll have ta be enough.

As the first traces of wildflowers and vibrant foliage tickled her nose, and the first pair of changelings came bounding up to meet her, Applejack couldn’t help but smile a little at the gleam in their eyes and the smiles on their faces.

It’s goin’ ta be enough.


Applejack had learned very early on that queens didn’t tend to mingle with their subjects. If something needed done, they sent someone to get it done. According to some of the long-time residents of Ponyville, not even Queen Carnation made a habit of visiting with her subjects the way Applejack did. So, considering Applejack made it a point to visit the district as much as possible, she was already very unusual – but very pleasantly so – in the eyes of the drones.

By the time Applejack reached the main square, she’d managed to accumulate quite a following of drones, all flocking to her to see what she was doing, to ask how her day had been, or just to exchange a simple hello. It seemed like such a unique experience for them, being able to mingle with a changeling queen, that they just couldn’t help themselves.

Not many seemed particularly nervous about her appearance in their midst, having already had plenty of time to acclimate over the course of her many visits, though plenty looked just as shocked by her abrupt appearance as always.

But at least the drones weren’t bowing to her anymore, unlike the first few weeks of their being in Ponyville. Even now, some of the changelings that came to walk with her did seem to be a little too well-mannered to be completely natural, but the fact that they were trying was more than enough for Applejack; she couldn’t possibly ask for more.

Coming to the changeling district had always been this way for Applejack, and she had decidedly mixed feelings about receiving so much attention. On the one hoof, it always warmed her heart to see so many happy faces eager to see her. On the other, she always felt more than a little awkward being the center of attention. It always made her feel like there was something expected of her, yet she had no idea what.

With a bunch of younglings bouncing all around her, trying to get her attention while their parents watched apprehensively in the background, Applejack’s approach to the district’s heart was hardly the stealthiest, compounded by the continued calling of her name as more and more changelings spotted her. A few kept their distance, either caught at a bad time amid some project or another, or they were still simply too nervous to approach her.

Applejack came across one such changeling right at the end of the street before the main square. It was only bad luck that caught her out in the middle of the road, halfway from one building to another, or else she likely would’ve shrunk out of sight.

Bumblebee always had been a very skittish changeling, after all.

“Good afternoon, Applejack,” Bumblebee greeted in her usual, slightly awkward voice, offering a small smile. “Uh… Been keeping busy?”

Bumblebee was one of the few changelings who preferred living like a pony, if her golden-coat and black and white striped mane and tail said anything. She also happened to be the only changeling on the block wearing a brand new crimson scarf, which she kept batting the end of in a worrying sort of way.

Her form was all her own, at least, so Applejack had no trouble identifying the socially awkward drone at a glance.

Bumblebee was just as petite as always, but it seemed like the past few months had worked to change that a little. She stood a little taller at the shoulder, though it certainly helped that she didn’t seem to be trying to collapse in on herself like she did whenever caught in her natural form.

“Well afternoon ta you, too, Bumblebee,” Applejack said back friendlily. “Sure seems like y’all have been busy ‘round here as well. Ah swear this place gets bigger every time Ah visit.”

“Well, I didn’t really have anything to do with that,” Bumblebee mumbled, averting her gaze. “I just mind the younglings…”

“Bumblebee,” someone in the crowd around Applejack called, “didn’t you build your own house by yourself? In, like, an afternoon?”

Now not only was Bumblebee looking the other way, she was also bright red, too. “A-anypony can do it, really, if you know how to do it right…”

Applejack chuckled good-naturedly. She was already well aware that the scarf-wearing pony was more responsible for passing on changeling practices than anyone else in the district.

“So, um,” Bumblebee started, finally looking back towards the apple farmer, “Are you looking for Roseluck and the others, by chance?”

“Sure am,” Applejack responded with a smile. “Any idea where Ah might find ‘em?”

Bumblebee nodded, but just as she turned to lead the way, a cry rang out over everyone’s heads.


Applejack turned her head just quick enough to spot an oncoming rainbow flash lead by a pair of magenta eyes.

How Rainbow Dash managed to halt mid-flight so fast would never be known to Applejack, but it certainly spared her a nasty face-first collision. Either she hadn’t been going near as fast as she’d appeared, or she’d had a magical helping hoof or two.

Whatever the cause, Rainbow came to a stop in mid-air so suddenly that her rear end very nearly flipped right over her front, putting her in quite an absurd, scrunched-up position for the half second it took her to fall the two feet back to earth and land on her stomach with a heavy thud.

“Landsakes! You alright, sugarcube?” Applejack asked, heart pumping with the sudden spike in adrenaline.

Rainbow could only turn her eyes up towards the apple farmer, and for some reason, she gave her a very sour look indeed. “Don’t do that, AJ!”

Applejack looked down at her, completely taken aback, first with their near high speed head butt, and now by Rainbow’s foul attitude.

“Uh… sorry, Ah guess,” Applejack said, not entirely sure what she was apologizing for. “So how’d it go?”

That seemed to be the wrong question to ask, because for a moment it looked like Rainbow was going to spit fire. “We sat around and talked for hours,” she half seethed, half whined. “How do you think it went?”

It’d only taken Rainbow Dash twenty minutes to realize that she’d made a terrible mistake. She’d been lulled into a false sense of security by Roseluck and her small preparations committee. There’d been lemonade and sweets from Sugarcube Corner; what more could Rainbow hope for?

But the moment the laughter was set aside and faces composed themselves into businesslike professionalism, she’d felt a warning bell go off inside of her.

After just under half an hour of listening to that group rattle on about itinerary this, logistics that, Rainbow was forced to conclude that she may have misjudged what she was willing to put up with. Very, very misjudged indeed.

Rainbow had initially been thrilled to see Twilight present – not that she’d miss something like scheduling and planning for the world anyway – and even the sight of Rarity gave her some hope for something mildly exciting happening. Even one mild fit would’ve livened up the drudgery.

She’d hoped poorly. Very, very… very poorly.

Rainbow managed to condense all of that into just three words. “You. Owe. Me.” she growled, glaring straight at Applejack.

Applejack gave her an apologetic smile and a nervous chuckle, but just as she opened her mouth to say something, another voice rang out, distracting her.

“Applejack! You made it!” called Twilight’s voice.

But it wasn’t just Twilight that was cantering towards them. Applejack spotted Rarity as well – looking rather weary after her long day of chasing after Pinkie Pie and rectifying whatever chaos she wrought on the town – along with Roseluck, who’d donned her more familiar tan coated, rose-maned earth pony façade, though the rose was still tucked behind one ear.

A number of changelings and – to Applejack’s pleasant surprise – ponies from City Hall moved along behind her, undoubtedly attracted by the ruckus in the square. Applejack even spotted little Agave, who was beaming as usual from Roseluck’s other side, and seemed to be trying to stifle giggles.

In a thrice, Rainbow picked herself up off the ground, just as the group came to gather around the two of them. She tried to play it off, but no one was really paying her much attention anyway.

“Sorry fer takin’ so long,” Applejack apologized sheepishly. “Me and Macintosh kinda had a fruit bat problem ta deal with. Those dang critters made themselves right at home in the east orchards. Probably gonna have ta get Fluttershy ta work her magic on ‘em.”

“Well you’re just in time,” Rainbow said bitterly, “we just got done.”

That of course earned her a sharp elbow in the side from Twilight and a wince from Applejack. “Dagnabit… Ah’m real sorry, y’all. Especially ta you, RD; Ah didn’t mean ta make ya do all my work for me.”

Rainbow huffed, but her scowl lightened somewhat. “Ugh, how am I supposed to stay mad at you when you apologize so quick…,” she grumbled to herself, then raised her voice. “Fine, fine, you’re forgiven. But don’t you ever put me through something like that again, got it? Ten more minutes and somepony was going to get it, I swear.”

Applejack raise an eyebrow at the irritated pegasus. “Rainbow, ya know ya volunteered yerself, right?”

“Yeah, and you let me go,” Rainbow pointed out in a huff. “therefore, it’s your fault.”

“Well, we appreciate you toughing it out for us, Rainbow Dash,” Roseluck said kindly, though there was a slight bite to her words. Applejack may not be the most willing leader, but she was at least attentive when she had to be, and Rainbow had spent half the planning session face down on the table.

Applejack gave Rainbow a sympathetic smile. This was precisely the kind of outcome she hated the most; forcing other ponies to do something they’d rather not do for her instead.

“How about Ah make it up to ya, sugarcube,” Applejack said kindly.

Rainbow gave her a look of reserved curiosity. “I’m listening.”

Applejack smiled, then reached back and flipped open one of her saddlebags. “Here. Thought Ah’d bring y’all somethin’ fer all the hard work ya did today.”

With that, Applejack took hold of something in her mouth, then tossed it at Rainbow, giving her no time to do anything besides catch it.

And there, sitting in her hooves, was a large bottle with only a simple, hoof-written label that said “Cider”.

“We got a couple o’ cases of preserved cider in our apple cellar,” Applejack explained casually, all the while keeping her eyes trained on Rainbow’s reaction. “We always make a batch ‘r two every cider season, you know – fer special occasions. Now we got more than we rightly know what ta do with, what with all that cider we made last season.”

Applejack reached her hoof back to her bags and pulled out another bottle, and before Rainbow quite knew what she was doing, the apple farmer lightly clinked both bottles’ necks together with a smile. “So, here’s ta all yer hard work, sugarcube. It means a lot ta me.”

Rainbow Dash stared back at Applejack as if gazing upon an angel, her eyes getting progressively bigger and bigger and bigger as she processed what was being said to her, and what she’d just been given. Applejack was starting to have trouble fighting back her laughter when Rainbow opened her mouth and said, in a stunned squeak, “Applejack, I think I love you.”

The apple farmer just rolled her eyes and laughed. “Uh-huh, Ah bet,” she chuckled.

While Rainbow continued to gaze down at her very own cider bottle, eyes almost dewy, Applejack turned her attention to the ones standing quietly behind her, her expression losing some of its humor.

She found a lot more eyes on her than she’d been expecting, and that of course made her shift uncomfortably under their scrutiny.

Perhaps the oddest look she got came from – of all ponies – Rarity, who was looking at Applejack like she’d just spontaneously done a backflip for no reason.

“Ah am real sorry fer missin’ everythin’,” Applejack said to the others honestly, doing her best to ignore the fashionista’s stare. “Y’all must be worn out. C’mon, Ah got plenty fer everypony.”


Roseluck and her team had all but taken over a small park – more of a sitting area, really – with a few picnic tables here and there, and a very large pergola made from five magically shaped aspens. It was only a stone’s throw from the main square and that conspicuous tent in the middle. It was private without being too private, thanks to a few hedges on one side, and open enough without being too open.

Everyone gathered around the tables laden with parchment and notebooks of all sizes. With a quick wave of Twilight’s horn, however, everything quickly organized itself into a number of awaiting cardboard boxes set on the ends of the tables, clearing a space after a brief maelstrom of flying paper. Work time was over; it was time to let loose a little, and while everyone knew it was a little early to do any real celebrating, no one hesitated in grabbing cups for a toast or two.

Twilight was happily conversing with Roseluck about little, unimportant things within moments; probably something changeling-related, given the avid gleam in the alicorn’s eyes and Roseluck’s look of good-natured amusement. That conversation was probably hopelessly derailed, and showed no signs of running out of talking points any time soon if Twilight had anything to say about it. At least she didn’t have anything to take notes with, or else their conversation could’ve literally gone on all night.

Rarity, on the other hoof, seemed to have completely forgotten what she was there for in favor of scrutinizing the new scarf of a skittish changeling sitting next to her, who didn’t seem to know what to do with herself under such a critical gaze.

“Bumblebee, was it? Do tell me where you got such a lovely thing!” Rarity was insisting, doing her best not to sound overly critical of the fact that it wasn’t one of her own designs. “It brings out your eyes so well!”

“Uh, thank you, Miss Rarity,” Bumblebee said uncertainly, fidgeting nervously with one end of the scarf and looking for any sort of way out.

Applejack cracked a smile, chuckling a little. Rarity didn’t make a habit of conversing with changelings, and definitely not to such a casual degree as she was now. Perhaps it was the countless, blemishing holes that covered a changeling, or their naturally feral looks, but it’d obviously been something of a challenge for the fashionista to find anything beautiful in the changelings, at least physically. Yet, give her something else to focus on, and she could do just fine.

Another example was Rainbow Dash, who hardly seemed bothered by being confined to the shade of the pergola yet again, since now she had something to distract her. Granted, at the rate she was downing cider, that wouldn’t be lasting much longer, either.

She sat next to Applejack, who seemed content with watching the scene unfold around her and resting her weary hooves. It really had been a long day…

Applejack jumped when she felt something touch her shoulder, prompting her to look around at… little Agave, who’d come to stand right next to her without her noticing.

For half a second, the smile on Agave’s face flickered with doubt, but then it returned many times over. “Would you maybe like something to drink, Y—I mean, Miss Applejack?” she asked cheerfully, barely missing a beat.

The blue-maned pegasus-changeling was holding a glass in both front hooves, using her wings to balance herself. She held the glass a little awkwardly, in that way Applejack had seen a few unicorns do, which only further proved that the young pegasus wasn’t very authentic.

Applejack could just see that the supposed beverage was a thick, dark orange color, slightly too dark to be amber but definitely brighter than brown. But it was the scent tickling her nose that really piqued her interest. It smelled tangy and sweet, like a peach and something else Applejack had no name for.

Applejack almost pointed out the cup of cider in front of her, but she caught herself. The little pegasus just seemed too sunny.

“I made it myself. Squeezed out the juice and everything,” Agave added brightly.

“Well shoot,” Applejack chuckled, “Guess Ah’ll have ta at least give it a try if ya put that much work into it.”

She reached out a hoof, and after a brief moment of hesitation, Agave handed over the glass.

Applejack looked down into the cup, the full force of that aroma hitting her nose. It really did smell intriguing… and just a touch familiar. It was strange; like something she should know, but didn’t.

“Mind if Ah ask what this is?” she asked, looking back up at Agave.

Agave only smiled. “Try it! I want to know if I’m getting better at making it.”

Now it sounded like Applejack was to be a taste-tester, now filling her with some doubt. But the hopeful look in the changeling’s eyes ultimately proved too much for her. That, and there was a strange feeling of nostalgia wriggling at the back of Applejack’s mind that wanted answers of its own.

“Well, alrighty then,” Applejack said back, a little less enthusiastic now, but willing all the same. “Don’t mind if Ah do.”

Applejack once again looked down into the strangely aromatic beverage under her nose and paused. It really did smell oddly sweet and tangy, like… oranges? No, that ain’t it… what could it be?

So, she took a deep breath, braced, and upturned the whole thing down her throat, going for broke. Immediately the taste of it hit her, and Applejack’s eyes shot open wide.

It was only once she’d finished that she noticed how quiet the room had become. The hush that fell over everyone watching the spectacle was almost palpable.

“What is this?” Applejack asked, staring down into her empty glass.

“Fruit juice,” Agave chirped, smiling, but now a little apprehensive. “Well, it’s a blend I… learned when I was little! We don’t have all of the ingredients here, but some of the older changelings showed me how to substitute them with local fruits! Um… Do you like it?”

Applejack paused again, licking her lips a bit before smacking them. The taste was really something; sweet and tangy, very much like oranges and… apples?

But more than that, something about the flavor struck Applejack as being very familiar indeed.

Where have Ah tasted this before…?

“Yeah,” Applejack responded, a little distracted from her response. “Sure do. Seems ta me like ya got a keeper.”

The look of pure glee that blossomed on Agave’s face was almost too bright to look directly at. “I-I’m glad you like it!” she cheered, sounding almost faint.

A small chuckle from Applejack’s other side broke the silence, and when she looked around, she noticed her cyan neighbor smiling at her. In fact, it seemed like some sort of tension had gone out of most of the room, like a collective breath had been let out.

Conversations started up again, but Applejack couldn’t help but notice a few relieved looks shot in Agave’s direction.

For a brief moment of curiosity, Applejack wondered if some sort of line had nearly been crossed, but then she tossed the notion out for being ridiculous before she turned back to Agave.

“So did yer mom teach ya how to make this?” She asked. It was a harmless question – and kind of an obvious one to ask, Applejack thought.

But the moment she did, Agave froze. It was almost too hard to see – it was so brief – but for one split second, Agave stopped moving. When she restarted, her smile seemed almost… forced.

“O-oh, yeah,” she said with a little laugh. “All the time!”

Applejack paused when she looked Agave over, trying not to frown. “Uh… Agave? You alright?”

For the first time in Applejack’s few memories of the young changeling – cumulated over the last few days, mostly – Agave’s smile actually faltered just a bit.

But just as Agave opened her mouth to say something, another sound arose to intercept her.

The strange thing was that it didn’t come from anywhere near the group seated at the table, and yet it was substantial enough to everyone present for them to stop what they were doing and look around curiously.

Right away Applejack pinpointed the source of the commotion, and to her surprise she found it coming from the other end of the main square. And whatever it was, it seemed to be alarming quite a few changelings, who were all calling out – and by the sounds of it… running away.

“What’s going on?” Roseluck asked, confused, craning her neck to get a better look past the length of shrubbery barring her view.

Applejack exchanged a serious look with Rainbow, who merely nodded, and together they got up and headed straight towards the source of the problem.


The first thing Applejack noticed upon stepping onto the cobblestone ringing the square was the surprising number of changelings, all scurrying towards her for some reason. Some were even backing up, hissing warningly while more terrified drones buzzed and scampered in Applejack’s direction, huddling in trees, on top of houses and terraces – even the pergola she’d just been sitting under.

It was obvious to anyone that looked that them, Applejack especially, that something had very much spooked them, but instead of running away, they were all folding around her en masse, as if hoping for protection… or maybe, Applejack realized, it was the other way around. They were attempting to protect her.

And within moments, she found out why.

Something was moving up the main thoroughfare of the district, something that clattered and clanked and stomped with the sound of dozens of hooves striking in militaristic precision.

Only one thing in Ponyville made noise like that, and immediately it had Applejack frowning, her gut clenching.

It was Rainbow who spoke her thoughts almost perfectly, reflecting the opinions of nearly everyone present at that moment. “What’s the Guard doing here?”

Applejack didn’t have an answer. Ever since that night over half a year ago, the Royal Guard and the Ponyvillian changelings had had icy relationships at best. Vigil’s manipulation of the entire division into fighting for him had seen to that.

For the most part, both parties gave each other a wide berth and did their best to pretend like neither group was there, aside from adding extra incentive to the immigrating changelings to behave, lest they be met with the full extent of the consequences, courtesy of the ever-wary Guard.

But if the Guard was actually venturing into what they might as well decree as enemy territory, it was most certainly not because they had patrol duty. For one thing, patrols did not require a full sized regiment. And it most certainly did not come fully armed.

And when Applejack saw who was leading the squad, her fears only redoubled.

“Uh… What’s Captain Steel Shod doing here?” Rainbow muttered just loud enough for those nearby to hear her. “I thought he retired or something. I haven’t seen him around in forever.”

But there was no mistaking the huge, steel-gray stallion’s frame, nor the brown and silver plated armor cladding his sturdy body.

Honestly, Applejack had shared Rainbow’s opinion. The Guard had been so inactive in Ponyville for the past few weeks that she’d assumed the vast majority of the division had been withdrawn. But it sure seemed like she may have been wrong.

“He must’ve just been reinstated here,” Twilight said grimly. “I haven’t even heard about it yet, either.”

“Why?” Rainbow asked, sounding taken aback. “He hates changelings. Why put him back here?”

Twilight just shook her head, no more answers to give. But there was definitely going to be a letter or two inbound on a certain princess by the end of the day if she had anything to say about it.

“A-are we in trouble?” Bumblebee squeaked, looking towards each approaching guard anxiously.

“No,” Rainbow, Twilight, Roseluck and Applejack all said at the same time, for they all knew it to be true. No one had done anything wrong… they hoped.

Applejack kept her eyes locked on the advancing form of the Ponyville Guard Captain, but just judging by the sour look on his broad face, he wasn’t there to exchange pleasantries. He was there for a reason, and since his gaze was fixed on her, the young changeling had a good idea it involved her, too.

“Everypony, wait here,” Applejack ordered. “Ah’ll go see what’s goin’ on.”

A ripple ran through the gathered charcoal masses – an agitated, anxious sound that spread outward like a wildfire. Suddenly, the gathered changelings stopped falling back and simply remained in place. They let Applejack step forward and away from the gathering swarm, but there were still plenty of sharply focused individuals well within range to intervene, should the need arise.

Applejack did her best to ignore the drones around her – partly because seeing how quickly they were willing to bare their fangs twisted her gut. She stepped forward, eyes locked on Captain Steel Shod’s stormy grey ones.

The two parties met in a suddenly vacated no-man’s-land that’d grown between the approaching guards and the huddling drones.

“Afternoon, y’all,” Applejack said, her voice a little too serious and blunt to pull off a proper greeting. “What brings ya ‘round these parts?”

Captain Steel Shod eyed down his blocky muzzle at the apple farmer. His gaze was hard as iron, and no matter what Applejack tried, it made her feel like she was getting smaller and smaller, little by little.

“Afternoon,” the hulking stallion grunted back, his gruff voice in no way friendly. “As per Princess Celestia’s orders, I’m here to deliver your… kinds’ residency badges.”

Applejack blinked, taken aback. “Our what? Ah ain’t heard anythin’ like that before.”

Steel Shod hardly seemed fazed. “All changeling residents in Ponyville,” he started, speaking in a dull drawl as if reciting off an official manuscript, “are required to prove that they currently reside here for the coming Summer Sun Celebration. Any changelings caught at tomorrow’s celebration without their residency badge will be promptly arrested under suspicion of infiltration. Until, of course, it can be proven otherwise. Oh, and I should probably mention that it would be ill advised to attempt replicating one’s badge. The results could be… messy.”

He spoke the last part as if only just remembering it at the last second, like it was hardly a detail at all – some better judgment barely won out long enough to pass the warning along.

The young queen frowned, but bit back her tongue for a few seconds. She could raise her voice all she wanted – it’d likely do nothing but instigate more problems.

“Fine then,” she said, and she was proud that she sounded only half as exasperated as she felt. “Ah’ll make sure everyone’s got one fer tomorrow.”

Steel Shod gave Applejack a look, which she met in kind, before he motioned over one shoulder.

At his command, several guards stepped forward. They were hauling four large carts entirely filled with cargo boxes stacked almost precariously high and held down only with a few cords of rope. It would be impressive if all the boxes had managed to make the journey.

Immediately the swarm of changelings started chattering apprehensively, eyes fixed on the boxes. Rainbow Dash – who was too far back to hear a word the two had exchanged – was looking back and forth between the back of Applejack’s head and the ominous arrival of those carts.

Applejack herself looked the carts over, then nodded. “Alright then. Ah’ll get these passed out.”

“Be sure that you do,” Steel Shod warned. “Tomorrow is a very big day for Ponyville. I wouldn’t want a few incidents to mar it.”

Applejack held her ground, shooting the guard captain a sharp look. And ponies tell me Ah’m a bad liar…

But again, she kept her tongue in check. It was a habit she’d had to hone over several months, especially when dealing with officials. Her mouth had a bad habit of getting her into trouble otherwise.

Luckily, Captain Steel Shod wasn’t in the mood for much more conversation. Without even saying or gesticulating a goodbye, he turned on his heel, and then he and the rest of his stone-faced troops marched back the way they’d come.

But just before the Guard Captain could march fully out of earshot, he stopped as if remembering something, and then turned around.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” he said, raising his gruff voice so that Applejack could hear him. With that, he reached into the inside of his armored collar, pulled out something roughly the size of a small bookmark, and flung it in Applejack’s direction.

As quick as a flash, something black shot across Applejack’s vision, and the next thing she knew, there were no less than six drones bulwarked in front of her, snarling and hissing. One of the drones had the thing Steel Shod had thrown at the young queen pinned under one bristling hoof in the dirt.

The whole mass behind Applejack buzzed in agitation again, but somehow remained in check.

Captain Steel Shod observed all of this for a moment, his expression stony, before turning around and continuing on. He left behind only the carts laden with badges and a very agitated population.

Though, if Applejack had to bet, she’d say he left the district a disappointed stallion, too.

“Are you alright, Miss Applejack?” one of the drones standing in front of her asked critically.

“Yeah, Ah’m fine,” she replied. “Don’t think he had a mind ta hurt me. He woulda brought more guards.”

One of the drones snorted just a little to herself, as if the notion was somehow amusing. Applejack ignore it, and instead kept her eyes fixed on the retreating backs of the royal guards.

Besides, Applejack thought to herself, Steel Shod ain’t stupid. He was hopin’ we’d start somethin’, not the other way ‘round.

But when Applejack looked around at the faces of the drones around her, she realized that maybe he’d come very close to succeeding.

“Alright, everypony, simmer down,” Applejack shouted, gaining everyone’s attention. “He was just tryin’ ta get a rise outta us.”

“I’ll give him a rise,” growled a voice beside her. “One hoof to the jaw. He’d never see it coming.”

Applejack spun around, intent on chewing out a drone, only to find Rainbow Dash standing beside her. When did she get there?

The pegasus was poised to strike beside her, muscles bristling and wings fluttering in pure agitation. All she needed was a reason.

“Take it easy there, sugarcube,” Applejack sighed, putting a hoof on her friend’s stiff shoulder. “Best ta just ignore him. We don’t want to start somethin’.”

“Hey, I’d say he started it, AJ,” Rainbow said. “Besides, what’d he even want, anyway? You know, besides to look like a total jerk.”

Applejack’s expression sombered, her eyes first drifting towards the carts still sitting a short distance away, and then to the thing Steel Shod had thrown at her.

Seeing where she was looking, the drone standing on the object removed his hoof and took a quick step back, as if expecting the thing to leap up at him in retaliation.

There, lying slightly indented into the dirt in a hoof print, was a rectangular, reflective silver piece of plastic with a hole at one end for a string.

Engraved upon its surface was the image of a comical little crown flanked by tattered wings. And directly beneath that were the two words that struck Applejack almost like a physical blow to the gut.

Queen Applejack


It only took an hour to get the residency badges handed out and sorted amongst the drones. Plenty were still buzzing angrily over Captain Steel Shod’s actions, but not one complained about the new restriction they’d been saddled with. In fact, some saw it as a challenge laid out for them to overcome.

On the other hoof, it seemed like the ponies were in a far worse mood over what was turning out to be a minor detail, at least in Applejack’s eyes.

“So what, they’re tagging changelings now?” Rainbow shouted, furious. “Steel Shod can’t just do that!”

“I doubt it was up to him,” Twilight responded, though she, too, was frowning.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Rainbow growled, still bristling worse than ever. “If it was up to him, he’d throw every last changeling out of Ponyville, if not Equestria!”

“I’m sure he would do a lot of things if he was in control,” Rarity huffed, “but defy the princesses? That seems rather counterintuitive to his goals, don’t you think?”

“Well, he still sucks,” Rainbow grumbled, kicking a loose pebble irritably.

“Why are ya takin’ this so hard, sugarcube,” Applejack asked, nudging the pegasus in the side. “Yer makin’ this out ta be a bigger deal than it is.”

Rainbow rounded on her, temper flaring. “How can you – he’s treating you all like animals, Applejack!”

“Ah don’t rightly care how he sees us,” Applejack stated bluntly. “So long as he stays out of my way, Ah’ll stay out of his. As long as Ah don’t let it get ta me, we’ll just keep on keepin’ on. End of story.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to write to Princess Celestia tonight,” Twilight put in firmly. “Having a pony like that in charge of the Guard here is only asking for trouble. I just can’t imagine why she’d put Captain Steel Shod here.”

That was the million-bit question, wasn’t it? Why was Steel Shod back in Ponyville? Applejack entertained the notion that maybe Princess Celestia was hoping for more reforming to take place, after her success with Discord.

But why all of a sudden? The last time she’d heard, Steel Shod had been posted at some station down by the Badlands; a spot the changelings he hated so much had pointed out as being a main thoroughfare into and out of Equestria. Surely that would’ve been the perfect place for somepony like him.

But now he was back? Why, and why now?

By the time Applejack was finished with her unexpected – and a little unwanted – chore, she still had no answer for her building questions. The aches in her limbs from a long day’s work only made it that much more frustrating.

She continued to think over the events of the day as she trudged home, fully knowing that it’d only serve to irritate her more. She took her time, plodding along at her own pace, wallowing away the time, which of course did little to alleviate her growing irritations.

And again and again, she saw the face of her own badge – now tucked into one saddlebag – flash across her mind’s eye, and every time it did, it made her frown.

Queen Applejack…

That was bothering her so much more than it should’ve, and she knew it.

Queen Applejack…

Applejack ground her teeth, stopping halfway down the road leading to home.

Whose idea had that been? Steel Shod’s? Celestia’s? Maybe Shining Armor’s? Certainly it hadn’t been Twilight’s, or else there would’ve been more advance warning.

Applejack sighed, letting her breath out slow and steady. It helped somewhat, but not enough. She turned towards the setting sun – now dying the sky bloody crimson, the red orb only a short distance from the horizon – the apple farmer looking for something, anything to cool her head.

Why does everypony keep insistin’ on… callin’ me that…?

For a brief moment, her hoof started to inch up towards her Stetson. Or rather, the thing pretending to be a Stetson.

Ah ain’t anypony special…

The sound of a sudden, low rush of wind caught Applejack’s attention, making her pause.


She turned her head around, not as surprised as she probably should’ve been, to find a familiar pegasus standing behind her.

The setting sun had turned Rainbow’s mane and tail various shades of reds, yellows and oranges and some unspeakable, darker color. Her eyes were practically rubies in the fading daylight, and they were currently fixed directly on the apple farmer.

Rainbow gave Applejack a careful look as she neatly folded her wings against her side. It seemed that she’d at least gotten over her temper, which was certainly a good thing.

“Rainbow?” Applejack said, a little confused. “What brings ya all the way out here?”

And then she realized, when she saw the look Rainbow was giving her. “Did Roseluck send ya ta make sure Ah was doing okay?”

Applejack was fairly certain she’d done a poor job masking her frayed temper, considering she’d probably all-but stormed out of the district when she got done.

Rainbow glanced around a bit, as if trying to think of something good to say. “Well… yes and no.”

Applejack crooked an eyebrow, not entirely in the mood for playing games. “Well which is it?”

Rainbow rubbed the back of her neck, grinning a little sheepishly. “Well see, it’s like this. Roseluck kinda said something like ‘I hope Applejack’s not upset’, and I sorta decided to come check to make sure you weren’t upset, so…”

She paused, looking Applejack in the eye once more. “AJ, are you upset?”

Before she could catch herself, the apple farmer frowned. She at least saved some face by turning around to hide her expression. “Don’t you be worrin’ over me, sugarcube. Ah appreciate it, but it ain’t no big deal. Ah can handle it just fine.”

Rainbow was silent for a few moments, long enough that Applejack started to think that maybe her response had been satisfactory, until…

“AJ, you’re doing it again.”

Applejack blinked, confused, before turning back around. What she was not expecting was to see Rainbow giving her such a reproachful look. “Beg pardon?”

Rainbow’s eyes narrowed a bit at that. “You’re trying to take the world on by yourself again,” she said. “You always do that whenever stuff starts bothering you. You just bury it deep down and hope it stays there. How well did that go last time?”

She took a sudden step closer, and Applejack had to fight to keep from backing up, much to her chagrin.

“So what’s bothering you, Applejack?” Rainbow asked, her voice firm in that stubborn way Applejack had grown to hate so much. “I’m all ears.”

Again, Applejack frowned. But this time, she didn’t turn away. She only dropped her gaze, so that she wouldn’t be glaring at Rainbow.

“Is it about that whole thing with Steel Shod?” Rainbow asked.

“Look, it’s… it ain’t nothin’ big,” Applejack said. And yet, the words rushed out of her like a leak in a dam, defying any attempt at restraint. “But that’s just it. It ain’t any real big problem, but Ah’m lettin’ it get ta me when it shouldn’t be botherin’ me in the first place!”

She waved her hoof irritably through the air a little as she added, “Ah shouldn’t let bein’ called a queen get under my skin. It shouldn’t get ta me by now. But it does! Every time Ah hear it, it does! Because that ain’t who Ah am! But everypony keeps makin’ me out ta be somethin’ a whole heck of a lot more special than Ah really am!”

Without warning, Applejack suddenly deflated, her shoulders sagging wearily. “Ah… ain’t that special. That’s just the way it is.”

She looked up at Rainbow then, who hardly seemed taken aback by her friend’s outburst, before dropping her gaze once more. “That’s… just the way it is.”

She turned away from Rainbow then, biting her lip. “Ah’m sorry fer makin’ ya worry over me. But this is somethin’ Ah gotta sort through myself; Ah ain’t gonna push this off onto you ta do for me, too.”

There was real bitterness in her voice when she said those last few words. Just hearing herself talk like that to Rainbow made her feel even lousier.

“Ah… sorry, sugarcube,” Applejack muttered, privately pinning her eyes shut where Rainbow couldn’t see. “Would ya mind if we just dropped it? Ah ain’t in the mood right now.”

Rainbow was silent for a bit, her expression slightly pained. She bit her lip a little, not entirely sure what to do or say. All she understood was that her friend was hurting, and apparently hurting bad, and she just didn’t know what to do…

Until something occurred to her.

“Okay, AJ,” she said, “but only if you do me a favor.”

Applejack paused, confused despite herself. She looked around, frowning worse than ever.

And that’s when she saw Rainbow hovering almost a foot off the ground, smiling down at her as she offered one hoof.

Immediately Applejack realized what she was trying to do, and the ludicrousness of it nearly made her lose her temper all over again. Did she honestly expect to try to get her to into the air now?

“Rainbow, Ah ain’t –” she started to snap, only to get cut off right away.

“Just shut up and listen,” Rainbow snapped back forcefully, her smile flickering away for a moment until she was sure Applejack was too startled to speak up again.

“Look, I’m not asking you to do a whole flight routine with me,” she pressed. “I just want you to come with me for a bit. That’s all I’m asking for, okay?”

She stretched out her hoof a little further towards Applejack, trying to smile encouragingly. “Trust me, AJ. I just want to show you something.”

Applejack frowned at Rainbow – very nearly glared, to be honest. She had half a mind to simply brush off the pegasus and get home, where she could at least get some time to herself.

But she owed Rainbow. Of all the times for the ornery pegasus to call in a debt, this had to be the absolute worst.

Yet, it was something in the look Rainbow gave her that finally caved her reluctance just enough to give in.

Applejack sighed in defeat. She undid the saddlebag on her back, tossed them to one side, and closed her eyes. In the next moment, her entire body was engulfed in emerald fire that consumed her pony features within moments in a blinding flash.

Within moments, Applejack the earth pony was gone. Applejack the amber-maned changeling stood in her place.

Rainbow waited patiently, trying to keep her eagerness composed somewhat as Applejack donned her saddlebags again. It wasn’t working.

Applejack was not quite so gleeful. “Alright, RD,” she said, “but the moment ya try to make me do some featherbrained stunt…”

To her surprise, Rainbow threw up her hooves placatingly. “I promise; no trick flying. I’m just showing you something, remember?”

Again, she offered her hooves, her eyes gleaming. “Trust me, cowgirl. You’ll like it.”

Still, Applejack was all-too hesitant about putting her neglected wings to the test. If it was anypony else asking, she’d never even be considering it.

But maybe, said a little voice in the back of her head, this could be just the thing she needed.

So, with a gut full of apprehension and an already panicking heartbeat, she hesitantly extended one hoof, then the other.

The whole time, Rainbow merely waited patiently, occasionally rolling her eyes or fighting back a smirk as Applejack worked up the courage, but not saying or doing anything to hint at any possible impatience.

Eventually, Applejack had both her hooves set on top of Rainbow’s, and she was already gripping them as hard as she could.

“Relax, AJ,” Rainbow said, grinning reassuringly, “I’m not gonna let you fall, I promise. Now… come on.”

And before Applejack had time to rightly steady herself, Rainbow started to ascend. Bit by bit, inch by inch, until the tips of her scrabbling holey hooves parted ways from the ground entirely.

Then she started to panic.

“Ah-Ah changed my mind, sugarcube,” Applejack said hastily, “Ah don’t think Ah can – P-put me down right now!”

But to her surprise, Rainbow started laughing at her. It wasn’t her usual boisterous laugh, or the mocking guffaw Applejack probably could’ve expected. Instead, it sounded almost bemused.

“What’re you saying, Applejack,” Rainbow chuckled. “You’re doing fine!”

Fine? How was Applejack doing fine?

And then she heard it. The low, furious buzzing sound in her ears, coming from almost immediately behind her head, gave her pause.

But it wasn’t until she actually turned her head to see the thrumming blurs on her back that she comprehended it. Rainbow wasn’t dragging her up into the sky. She was only helping her up.

Already her wings were complaining… but they were holding steady. She very nearly dropped out of the sky once she realized what she was doing, but she managed to keep herself airborne – even if a little desperately.

The ground was really dropping away now. Rainbow just kept tugging her up and up, higher and higher. And the only thing keeping Applejack steady was the pair of hooves under hers, and that was it.

Her legs kicked at the open air, instinctively trying to swing onto solid support. But there was none.

But every time she started to panic and look down, Applejack felt reassuring pressure on her hooves. She’d look up, and find Rainbow giving her a big smile.

“You’re doing great, AJ,” she said excitedly. “Just a little higher to go!”

Applejack had no idea what Rainbow was talking about; they were already very high up! The tallest tree was no longer anywhere near Applejack’s hooves, and with each passing second, the whole world got steadily smaller and smaller, until it seemed like the distant houses of Ponyville were miniatures of themselves.

Just as her wings started to truly ache and burn from the unfamiliar exertion, Applejack looked up, and at last spotted Rainbow’s final destination.

Directly above them, there was a wide, poofy cloud – one of the few in the entire sky. The moment Applejack saw it, her apprehension came screaming back.

“Rainbow, Ah can’t stand on clouds!” she said hastily. “Ah don’t know how!”

“Neither do I,” was Rainbow’s casual answer. “And I already told you, didn’t I? I won’t let you fall.”

Applejack was very much starting to believe that she’d just fallen victim to one of the cyan pegasus’ featherbrained plans, and was in imminent danger of feeling the consequences.

“Rainbow, Ah really don’t know about this,” she complained, but the cloud was already just a few feet above their heads.

And just a few moments later, they were on level with it. And Rainbow was tugging her closer still.

Applejack closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, expecting the worst…

But, to her surprise, the ‘worst’ ended up feeling like fluffy cotton down coming up to meet her.

“A-a-and, touchdown!” Rainbow cheered theatrically, laughing a little.

The wind whistled in Applejack’s ears, carrying with it a cool, refreshing gust that washed over her body and toyed with her mane and tail.

But the strangest feeling was that fluffy, cottony sensation under her back hooves, like the world’s largest cotton ball. And, more perplexingly, the fact that that sensation seemed to be tolerating her weight, if only just.

Finally, confusion won out, and Applejack opened her eyes.

And there she stood, balancing on her hind legs while Rainbow continued to support her front, standing in the middle of a small floating island of a cloud.

The cloud beneath her hooves felt odd and bouncy, like very spongy moss. It compressed beneath her hooves, allowing them to sink partway into the fluffy surface, yet it somehow had enough substance and support to keep Applejack from going all the way through.

Applejack’s wings slowed to a stop, rather experimentally, but she remained atop the cloud. When she finally released her death grip from Rainbow’s hooves, she was further amazed to find herself still there, standing atop what she’d always been taught would never hold her.

She glanced up at Rainbow, who was grinning in amusement and delight as she settled down in front of her. “See? This isn’t so bad, huh?”

To better illustrate her point, Rainbow tromped around the cloud a bit, walking in a little circle around the motionless changeling, all the while smiling victoriously to herself.

Applejack chanced a glance around her, and felt her heart skip a beat. They were high – very high in the air, higher than she’d ever gotten herself.

And stretched out all around her was Equestria. Not just Ponyville or just the Everfree; she could see for miles and miles in every direction, along valleys and ranges of hills she didn’t even know existed. Off in the distance, she could just make out the mighty mountain that glittered with the lights of Canterlot, its gilded spires and golden rooftops catching the last, fading rays of the setting sun.

Yet, the thing that caught Applejack’s attention the most was the sky. How big it’d become; a gigantic, crimson and gold plain more vast than the world beneath it, more clear and resplendent than the shiniest gemstone. It just seemed to go on and on, limitless in scope and beauty.

Only a few clouds dared to intrude upon its splendor, and they caught the light of the ending day like golden wires and facets, shining in the sunset.

“Whoa nelly,” Applejack breathed to herself, turning around and around in awe.

Rainbow stifled a few giggles, contenting instead to savor every little reaction her friend was giving her.

After a few minutes of watching the amber-maned changeling reel, Rainbow stepped forward and took a seat, intentionally putting herself right next to Applejack.

This, of course, refocused the changeling, and after thinking about it for a second, she, too, carefully sat down on the fluffy, cottony surface of the cloud.

“I’ve always liked it up here,” Rainbow commented, watching the setting sun. “I mean, there’s all this room to fly around in, and there’s plenty of space to just be by yourself when you want.”

She then glanced to one side, meeting Applejack’s eye and flashing a grin. “Up here, I don’t feel so penned in. Yeah, sure, being on the ground is alright, but it’s so… small. The world just feels so small. Up here, however…!”

She suddenly sprang to her hooves, wings flaring open as she grinned fiercely at the setting sun. “Up here you can see the whole world! Whatever trouble you got into down over… there” – she jabbed a hoof down at some random spot, then again and again – “or there, or there or there, nopony’s heard of out there!”

She spread her hooves, gesturing not to one spot in particular, but rather all of them.

“And, when you’re so mad you could just scream,” she added, “well –”

Without warning, Rainbow inhaled a lung full of air, and then let it all out in a loud, furious scream on the verge of turning into some sort of war cry.

The moment she was done, she whipped around and fixed Applejack with a rather big smile, panting slightly. “And nopony cares!”

She was right, Applejack realized. Rainbow’s cry had been all-but swallowed whole by the wind blowing all around her, deafening the world bellow to her voice.

“Why don’t you try?” Rainbow suggested, then waved a hoof to the horizon. “Show me what you got, cowgirl!”

Applejack frowned at Rainbow for a moment, then turned to the skyline.

For a moment, she thought about all of the things that were bothering her; her sudden aches and pains, her place in the world… Queen Applejack…

That was all it took for the apple farmer’s temper to snap. She inhaled deeply, all the way to capacity, and then let out one of the loudest, angriest, most frustrated screams she’d ever produced in her entire life.

She let it all out; her anger at Steel Shod, her frustration at not being able to do what she should, the anxiety of all that pressure being placed on her every single day.

She emptied her lungs to the heavens, bellowing so loud and so hard that it burned in her throat. By the time she was done, she was left panting and wheezing, her limbs trembling with emotion.

Then she groaned, and let her legs slip out from under her. She flopped down onto the soft, downy cloud on her belly, suddenly feeling much more exhausted than she had a good explanation for.

For a few seconds, she just watched the setting sun with dull eyes, too worn out to contribute much more.

That was when Rainbow plopped down right beside her, nudging her side a little. “Better?”

“Yeah,” Applejack panted. “That’s… a lot better.”

“Good, cuz that’s the only trick I got,” Rainbow admitted. “Next up would’ve been me actually trying to be difficult.”

Applejack had to chuckle at that, a smile forming on her lips.

For a long time, they just sat there in companionable silence, comfortable in each other’s presence and requiring little more.

Until, of course, Rainbow opened her mouth.

“You know,” she started. “We still haven’t talked about what happened earlier today.”

Applejack paused, then sighed. Of course she’d still remember that…

“You promised we’d talk later, so guess what time it is,” Rainbow said, not quite managing to keep serious all the way through.

“Later,” Applejack sighed.


The changeling was well aware of Rainbow’s gaze resting on the side of her head, but she did her best to ignore it for a few more seconds, unwilling to give up this moment of peace.

“Come on, AJ,” Rainbow said with a hint of impatience. “The last time you looked that upset, I’d found out this is how you really looked.”

Applejack winced, but said nothing. At least… for a little while longer.

But if there was anyone she could tell, it would have be Rainbow. Who else was there? Or rather, who else was she most comfortable with confiding in?

Finally, Applejack opened her mouth, closed it again, then started – very uncomfortably, and with a small frown. “Alright… but this is gonna sound mighty strange.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes, as if to say “Whatever, like that’s new”, but kept her mouth shut.

Seeing that, Applejack bit her lip, then averted her gaze back out towards the sun. “Alright then… um… How do Ah put this… Rainbow… have ya ever molted those feathers of yers?”

Rainbow blinked, taken aback by the question. “Uh… yeah, all the time.”

Applejack’s eyes tightened, and when she spoke next, it came out with extreme reluctance. “All… all at… once?”

“Uh, no,” Rainbow admitted, now scrutinizing Applejack curiously. “AJ, what are you trying to say? Just come out and say it already.”

“Fine,” Applejack huffed, but still she avoided Rainbow’s eye. “Ya want the truth? Then here it is, but ya better listen up, cuz Ah don’t want to repeat myself.”

Rainbow nodded, waiting while Applejack paused a second longer, then said, “Ah… think Ah’m about ta shed.”

Rainbow blinked. That was her only immediate reaction; her expression stayed fixed, waiting for more information to be given before committing to some other arrangement. But no more words came out of Applejack’s mouth.

It took her nearly a minute to process what Applejack had just told her, and then it only left her with way more questions than before.

“Wait, wait… you shed?” she asked.

Applejack nodded, still averting her gaze.

“Like… everything?”

Again, Applejack nodded, only this time she added, “Every time it happened in the past, the shell on my back cracked open and… Ah just sorta… It’s like takin’ off a body-sized suit. Ya just… pull yerself out. But… well, Ah suppose that ain’t really the big deal fer me. Ah mean, it’s a pretty dang big deal, but not the biggest one.”

Rainbow blinked once more, now totally at a loss. “That’s… wow.”

“Ah know,” Applejack sighed, her ragged black ears flopping down against her head as she set it on top of the cloud. The faintest tingling of ionization tickled at her nostrils, but she was in no mood to pay it any mind.

“So then… what’s the big-big deal?” Rainbow asked, trying very hard to keep up, even though she was still hung up on the first point to begin with. Applejack sheds? Like… she sheds?

Again, Applejack sighed, spirits low. “The big deal, sugarcube, is that Ah’ve only ever shed twice in my life,” she said. “Once when I grew outta bein’ a foal, and again when Ah grew outta bein’ a filly.”

She looked up then, abruptly meeting Rainbow’s gaze almost sharply. “Do ya get what Ah’m sayin’, Rainbow? Every time Ah shed before, it was cuz Ah was growin’.”

Rainbow’s eyes widened in realization as it finally hit her. “Then that means… you’re still growing?”

Applejack gave her a wan smile, her heart not truly in it. “That’s right. You saw how big that queen was at the royal weddin’. As soon as Ah shed… that’ll be me, too.”

Rainbow’s chest clenched hard. She did remember; that changeling queen had towered over even Celestia.

Applejack’s expression became almost morose, her amber eyes turning away again. “It means… after Ah shed… Ah ain’t gonna look like a pony in this form no more,” she muttered, sounding helpless. “Ah ain’t gonna look like me no more.”

“Pff, what are you saying,” Rainbow snorted.

Her reaction completely took Applejack by surprise, so much so that she picked her head back up to give the cyan pegasus an incredulous look.

But Rainbow just gave her a look like she was being utterly and hopelessly ridiculous. “Of course you’ll look like you,” she said. “You’ll always look like you. Even if you turned into some big nasty hairless minotaur right this second, it’d still be you, right? You’d still be Applejack, and I’ll always be there for Applejack. So, all this stuff about you moping over something like that? Quit it. It’s not like you.”

Applejack gave Rainbow a curious look, raising an eyebrow inquisitively. “Ya really think that?”

“Of course I do, idiot,” Rainbow replied, raising her eyes to the sky in exasperation. “So stop trying to cover up these things, alright? No matter what you do or what you become, you’ll always be Applejack to me. So get that through your thick skull already.”

Applejack was taken aback, well and truly, but it was nothing compared to when Rainbow spoke again.

“You’ll always be somepony special to somepony, Applejack,” Rainbow said, once more watching the sunset. “You can say you’re not all you want. But you’ll never fool me.”

And that was the thing, out of everything Applejack heard that day, that stuck with her. She had no words to follow that up with.

The two just sat in silence, watching together as the day – like the weight on Applejack’s heart – faded to nothing.


Night had only just blanketed the land in its cool, peaceful embrace, speckling the sky with innumerable points of lights that seemed to dance in the otherwise lightless void.

Down at a certain farmstead, a young filly looked out a window, brow creased with worry.

“Applejack sure is late,” she mumbled anxiously. “Do ya think somethin’ happened ta her?”

“Oh don’t you be frettin’ none,” spoke up elderly Granny Smith, who was sitting in the living room, idly knitting a replacement placemat for the dinner table – the old one having turned to rags some days ago. “Applejack’s probably just out there with her friends.”

“But she missed dinner!” Apple Bloom protested, scanning the sky. “What if that scary lady goes lookin’ fer her, too?”

Granny Smith and Big Macintosh, who was still cleaning up the kitchen, paused to exchange a silent look, and then in unison, their eyes turned to the table.

Or rather, the small, melon-sized, grubby cardboard box sitting dead center on the table, it’s top covered in various ink stamps and very official looking tape. But none were as glaringly obvious as the single word that’d been stamped across the top in bold, ominously red ink.