Sweet Apple Acres
T minus thirty until Death Wave
Two months have passed since Applejack officially took over Sweet Apple Acres; two months since Granny Smith's funeral. She knew to expect it, so did Big Mac, and Applebloom. Granny Smith was one of the oldest ponies in Ponyville. That did not make it hurt any less, or the loss any more bearable.
The way she died... not quietly in her sleep but from a Timberwolf attack at night.
What was she even doing in the woods alone at night? Applejack asked herself for the umpteenth time.
Applejack was unable to simply dwell on the bad though, good things were happening too. Rarity just got hitched; Applebloom and her friends all finally got their cutie marks, not that that stopped them from being HUGE nuisances. Even Big Mac was finally going out with Cheerilee. Applejack could not help but feel pride in all that happened. Pride with a little jealousy if she was being honest, and she knew no other way. All her family and friends were moving on with their lives, and here she was doing the same thing day in, and day out. Not that she would want to do anything different, but still, it would be nice to have a special somepony too.
She dealt with her emotions the same way she did everything else, throwing herself into her work with renewed drive and determination. Her friends were all there for her, at first. Pinkie threw a ‘we are always here for you' party. Rainbow Dash took leave from the Wonderbolts for a few days, Rarity offered to put her honeymoon on hold for the time being, something that really made Rare Gem upset, but Applejack would not let her do that, she did not want to be responsible for their first fight. Even when the others had to go back to their lives Twilight and Fluttershy stayed behind, Twilight just seemed to know that she needed somepony.
Is there anything Twilight doesn’t know?
It was not until these last two days that Applejack felt truly alone. The stupid Princess Summit took Twilight's attention. Why does she keep attending those things? Only the first one was remotely interesting, the rest were just blab, blab, blab. She knew it was Twilight's ‘Royal Duty’; in which case being a princess must not be any fun.
Lately, Fluttershy seemed distraught at the notion of spending any unnecessary time away from her home. Applejack made a note to check on her later. She had been so caught up in her issues that she failed to notice something wrong with her friend.
That had to wait. As of now, she had a huge order to fill.
None other than Filthy Rich himself placed that order. Four days ago, he came to Sweet Apple Acres asking to see Applejack personally. Apparently, he was expanding his business to Manehattan and needed a huge stockpile of Sweet Apple Cider, fifty thousand barrels worth to be exact. Applejack wanted to say no, and she was about to until Filthy dropped the down payment of a hundred thousand bits in her lap. Saying that would be ten-percent of what he would pay once she completed the order.
Applejack was more than conflicted. She knew that it was impossible to make that much cider in Ponyville, even if they used every apple in the orchard, which she would not do as the town would starve. Telling Filthy as much he just smiled.
“You can have the other Apple Family Apple Orchards across Equestria help. If you split the production between your whole family it should be more than doable.”
Applejack didn’t even need to check with them, it wasn’t necessary to check with them, the Apple Family would always honor the promises of its kinfolk. The money was well worth it, without a doubt, but even with the other orchards helping, she needed help to get it all done in time. Normally she would turn to her friends; however, with everyone occupied she would have to seek outside help. That meant hiring extra ponies, and not being able to go with Twilight and RD to the Princess Summit.
AJ was running behind, the wedding was great, and she was thrilled to be one of Rarity’s bridesmaids, but it cost her several hours that she’d spend the next few days making up. She was trying to be careful about this, the last thing she wanted was a repeat of the last time she bit off more than she could chew and her friends had to bail her out. Even still, the workload was immense. So much so that she hired on her sister's friends to try to speed it up. Amazingly, they were actually helping, putting their normally limitless energy to a constructive task. Unlike some other ponies Applejack could name right now.
Applejack could not believe how badly she misjudged the two stable hooves she hired. Sure, when they’d interviewed for the job they were hardworking, diligent, and not afraid to get dirty. As soon as she turned her back; however, they were more lazy than Rainbow Dash. She’d have fired them on the spot if there was any time at all to find somepony else. As it was, she had no option, she would have to have them supervised at all times just to make sure they were doing their job. Another delay seemed necessary; Applejack would have to go get somepony, no, some dragon to watch them for her, if she could cheer him up that is.
Spike was not a happy dragon, Stupid Twilight, stupid Rare Gem, stupid Rar— he could not finish that last one. How can I call the most beautiful pony in all of Equestria names? Ugh. This train of thought just made him feel worse. This was Twilight's fault, just because his growth spurt happened to coincide with Rarity getting married, she did not want him to go with her.
“Well I guess that does make some logical since. If it was greed induced Canterlot would be the last place I should be,” He said to no one but himself. Stupid logic. On the plus side, he was now just as big as the other ponies in town, bigger than most in fact. He knew he was nowhere near full size, but the longer he put THAT off the better for everypony. Somehow, he still couldn’t get over the nagging suspicion that Rarity was making a huge mistake. Of course, when he even mentioned this to anypony they all just dismissed it as jealousy. Are they wrong? On some level Spike was forced to admit they probably were not.
His thoughts began again, for the fourth time that day, almost as if stuck on repeat, when there was a knock at the door.
“It’s open!” Spike yelled.
Applejack came into the castle. “Applejack, you know you don’t need to knock, after all. you're basically family.”
“I know, sugarcube. But with Twilight away it didn't feel right just coming in all willy-nilly.”
“Not another word of that, you girls are like sisters to me. So what brings you by today of all days? I figured you’d be as busy as ever.”
“That’s just it, Spike. I hired on some help, don’t look at me that way I'm not the same as I was before, and I know this job's too big for one pony or even three ponies. Well, they didn't exactly turn out as I wanted so I came by to ask you a favor.”
“Anything for you, Applejack. What can I help with?”
“I need you to watch the two hooves I hired. Just make sure they keep workin’ and don’t start slacking off. Those two are some of the laziest ponies I ever met; they’d give RD a run for her bits.”
“I don’t know, Applejack. Twilight left me in charge of the castle for the week. She wouldn't be happy with me leaving it for the day.”
“C'mon, Spike. I’ll tell Twilight that I asked for your help, and if she’s mad I’ll take the blame for everything.” Spike didn't look convinced, so Applejack decided to up the ante. "I’ll tell you what, you come with me and on the way I’ll buy you a dozen of them sapphire cupcakes you like so much.”
That got Spike's attention. “Really‽ Let’s go.”
Applejack smiled as the two headed out of the castle towards Sugarcube Corner. It was then she realized that she hadn’t smiled like this since Granny passed on. Helping her friends, that was what she’d been missing all this time. She made a vow to herself now that she would use this money for the benefit of all her friends, and Ponyville.
The two arrived at Sugarcube Corner to find it unusually empty for this time of day. The reason why quickly became obvious as they entered. The entire shop was covered head to hoof with cookie dough. Applejack watched in amazement as Pinkie went about cleaning up the mess the only way she knew how: by licking every surface clean with her tongue at a speed that even Spike could not hope to match.
AJ looked at Spike and saw a hunger in his eyes, he wanted in on this.
“Go on.” Applejack whispered, ‘"Just promise me sugar that you won’t tell Twilight I let you.” The look on Spike's face was priceless; he jumped into action, putting his skills to work assisting Pinkie. Part of Applejack, deep down, knew that whatever mare Spike did end up with would be VERY happy to have someone that skilled with his tongue.
Spike was growing up fast but as she watched him work and saw the joy in his eyes, Applejack was happy that he was not growing that fast just yet. It was nice still seeing that spark of innocence in him.
Pinkie Pie and Spike left the place spotless in less than five minutes. Applejack would have been disgusted if it were not for the many, many tests Twilight ran the last time a similar event took place. Somehow, these ‘cleaning sessions’ left the place 100% germ free and spotless, Twilight even suggested marketing Pinkie's saliva as a new cleaning agent.
When all her friends laughed at the idea, she played it off as a joke, but Applejack wasn’t so sure it was.
Sighing that this was just Pinkie being Pinkie, Applejack dismissed both events with the standard hell if I know Ponyville phrase that was quickly adopted by the whole town, and the princesses if their last few visits had been any indication.
The three friends quickly fell into their chatter, and as the only ponies in the building, they weren’t worried about disturbing anypony else. Before she knew it, they were all laughing like no time at all had passed when Filthy Rich walked into the store. Applejack could tell he was not happy with her being there.
“Applejack!” Filthy shouted. “What are you doing, shouldn't you be working right now? There's no way you're finished already.”
“Filthy you hired me to fill an order, and plum reckon I’ll get it filled, however that doesn't give you the right to boss me around.”
“You can’t be serious,” He glared at her. “The amount of money I'm paying you? You should be lucky to be working for me at all.”
Spike looked on in shock at that last comment. It didn’t matter how much money he had, no pony disrespected his friends. He looked at Applejack and saw the reflection of his feelings written on her face. She was about to bite his head off for that last comment. No pony could stop it now, Spike chuckled to himself, this was going to be good.
Pinkie just grabbed some popcorn and started chowing down, even though the bakery did not sell any.
As Applejack was about to begin chewing Filthy's head off, Pinkie started vibrating hard enough to crack the floor. Three set of eyes turned to stare at her, the look of horror on her face sent chills down Applejack's spine. “Pinkie, what's going on?”"
Over the years Applejack has seen Pinkie in many moods, she did happy best—of course. Applejack has even seen her sad, quiet, angry, and even downright pissed—she’d never come that close to breaking a pinky promise again. This was the first time Pinkie’s face showed true fear. “Geeeetttttt Ooooouuuuuutttt.” Pinkie managed to say through the vibrations as Spike grabbed Applejack and took off out of the bakery.
Pinkie's vibrations soon caused an earthquake that engulfed all of Sugarcube Corner. The roof came down first, followed by the walls which covered the area in dust. Applejack just looked on in horror, only her and Spike managed to make it out of the building before it collapsed.
“Pinkie.” There was no sign of the pink pony. Filthy was another matter altogether.
Applejack and Spike looked at the poor pony with disbelief on their faces. Half of him did indeed made it out of the shop, the debris crushed the other half. Dismay clouded their faces as they realized he was still alive. “It shouldn’t have happened like this,” Filthy coughed, blood coming up from his massive internal bleeding.
“Don’t talk, Mr. Rich,” Applejack said. “We'll get you help.”
“You stupid dumb hick, what makes you think your doctors could help someone like me? Ugh, I hate being in your form, much less letting one of you touch me.”
Spike and Applejack stared on in shock as the pony they knew as Filthy Rich—one of the most powerful ponies in town—transformed into a changeling before their eyes.
“Well I guess the cat's out of the bag now,” the changeling spoke. “It doesn’t matter now; it’s too late for you to do anything about my queen's plan.” He tried to laugh, but just coughed up more blood.
“What plan is that?” Spike asked.
“Come on you dumb hillbillies, think for a second. You just happen to all be too busy to accompany your friend. The white one just happens to get married near the same time, all these coincidences just happen to occur. I know ponies are dumb but you all set a new low. I still had my fun though; dropping the old one off in the middle of a timberwolf pack at night was hilarious. She really can sleep through anything.“ He managed a small chuckle at that memory.
“Twilight...” Spike said as the realization of what the changeling said finally took hold. Between the bug's confession and Spike's tone, Applejack finally snapped back to reality, she was mad, no, she was pissed.
“I don’t care for a cotton picking minute what you bugs thought you were going to do with Twilight, but I can promise you one thing, YOU won’t be there to see it.” She reared up her back legs to buck the changeling in the face. Even in her present condition, she knew her legs would crush his skull in an instant.
The blow never landed; the Death Wave made it to Ponyville.
The shockwave hit first, knocking Applejack on her side, the pony was unbalanced from lifting her back legs for the kick, The wave blew away the loose rubble from what used to be Sugarcube Corner. The shattering glass from nearby buildings went next. All the ponies that were around quickly ran for cover, not knowing what was happening—yet again—to their beloved town.
The purple energy hit next.
The wave ended the Filthy Rich changeling in seconds, much quicker than Applejack thought he deserved, but the pain on his face did some to lessen her grief. At least he suffered for his crimes, she thought. As the wave passed over her, Applejack felt a tingling sensation around the back of her head, but chose to ignore it for now, Spike was of greater concern. He was scratching heavily at his back, desperately trying to get to a very stubborn itch that just wouldn’t go away.
Spike looked at AJ with a pleading face. “Help,” was all he managed to say.
Applejack ran over to Spike, worry crossing her face as she spun him around. “Spike, stop scratching.” He reluctantly obeyed. What she saw astounded her. Mini dragon wings were sprouting from his back. Small for sure, but they were growing, and quickly.
“Spike, you're… you're growing wings.”
Spike turned and looked at her, the itch completely forgotten as he processed what Applejack had just said. “What… but… how? Twilight told me—”
He never got to finish his sentence as the debris of Sugar Cube Corner began shaking apart. Both pairs of eyes turned and stared as the largest piece of debris seemed to cut itself in half, revealing two halves of a pony mold. Both bisected, falling to either side as a pink pony sat in the center, her coat somehow completely untouched by even a speck of the dust and dirt around her. If you ignored everything else, she looked like she did on any other day, minus three things: Her smile was missing, her mane and tail were both flat, and she was crying.
They both ran to their stricken friend. Somehow, Applejack knew Pinkie would be fine, that pony could do anything even if she didn’t know how she did it. Seeing Pinkie's face and the tears she now shed, Applejack could not help but worry that she had been mistaken.
As they approached, Pinkie looked at the two, her face normally one that brought joy to all who saw it, it broke Applejack's heart to look at it, but Applejack could not bring herself to look anywhere else.
“Pinkie, are… are you alright?”
Pinkie only managed to speak between sobs of heartbreak, it took a while for her message to come out, a message that would change everything. “Raa... Raiiinn... Raiiinboooowww, she’s... she’s deeeeaaaad!”
Applejack and Spike stopped dead in their tracks, they both heard the message, and they both knew there was no way Pinkie could possibly know that. Yet they both knew without any doubt that Pinkie was right. When it came to her pinkie sense, Pinkie was always right.
Applejack wanted to stop, she wanted to shut down and join Pinkie in crying her eyes out, but she wouldn’t. If something like that happened to Rainbow Dash, then Twilight would be in trouble as well, that realization hit her hard. Twilight would need them all ASAP. So grieving would have to wait for another day. “Spike, ready three letters.”
Spike only looked on dumbfounded, he could no longer think or act of his own accord. So his mind latched on to the order Applejack gave him; in times of crisis it is easy to follow someone's command.
A few minutes later they were all back at the castle. Spike looked at the letters he wrote, three identical pieces of parchment, each addressed to a different pony they loved, ponies they all considered dear friends. At that moment, these three letters were the three objects Spike hated most in the entire universe.
“Applejack,” Spike whispered. “I-I don’t want to send these.”
“I know, Spike. I don’t want to either, but it’s necessary. Send the letters, 'cause we have a train to catch.”
Spike picked up each one, one at a time, and adjusted his magic just as Twilight had taught him last year. He sent each to its appropriate receiver. They would take a little longer to get there, as it was not quite the same as when he sent them to Celestia. Twilight's theories were sound, but not quite as good as Celestia’s, not yet anyway. As each letter burned to a crisp in his claws, he wished that were the end of them. Yet he knew that each receiver: Rarity, Fluttershy, and Shining Armor would get them in the hour. Most damning of all, the news contained inside would devastate each pony.
Rainbow Dash is dead.
Twilight’s in trouble.
Get to Canterlot ASAP.