The chariot pulled by pegasuses touched down on the outskirts of the quaint little city, its multicolored roofs and wide dirt paths stretching out before Twilight Sparkle's vision. “Thank you, sirs,” Twilight said, exiting the chariot with Spike at her side.
“No trouble, princess,” said one of the charioteers, and with powerful flaps of their wings, they were airborne, wheeling away back toward Canterlot.
“I wonder how everypony here reacted to the battle?” Spike asked as they made their way into town.
“Who knows?” Twilight responded. “You already sent that letter from Princess Luna to the mayor; hopefully it explains enough that ponies don't-”
“There she is!”
The ground rumbled, and Twilight looked out with widening eyes. A huge rush of ponies was hurtling toward her, unicorns and pegasuses and earth ponies of every color and size. Twilight reared back in fright, Spike diving behind her. Before she could move the herd was overwhelming her, crushing her from every side and filling the air with speech.
“Princess Twilight, what happened?”
“What was that shaking? What were those lights?”
“What did you find out in Canterlot?”
“Err...” Twilight said, dancing from side to side. “If you'll all just settle down...”
“It felt like the world was ending!” Lyra said.
“I hovered up and saw it! It was terrible!” Cloudkicker cried.
“Oh, dearie, please tell us something!” Mrs. Cake said.
“I...” Twilight stammered, her stomach fluttering at the crush of ponies. “I...”
There was a pop of air and suddenly Twilight was shoved hard to the side. She was about to snap at whoever had pushed her, but her anger died in her throat. A white unicorn with a mane and tail of violet ringlets was standing beside her, her beautiful blue eyes sparkling. “Twilight, grab my tail! Spike, hop on!”
Twilight chomped her mouth around the white unicorn's tail, and Spike jumped onto her back. The white unicorn took a step, and all three of them vanished.
They reappeared on the outskirts of Ponyville, the dark mass of the Everfree Forest looming in the near distance. They were in the yard of a ramshackle cottage on a small hilltop, surrounded by a thin moat. All manner of fish, turtles, and waterbirds swam in the water; meanwhile, the yard had high grass and was filled with small woodland creatures, rabbits, ferrets, mice and more.
“Hooray!” a voice shouted out. With a blur, a light pink pony with a deep pink, curly mane and tail bounced in front of Twilight, where she began to hop in place. “It's so good to see you again, Twilight! Sometimes I worry that when you go away I won't see you again, but of course I won't see you while you're a way, but I mean I really worry that I won't see you ever, which is silly because you always come back again!” She stopped bouncing and wrapped her forelegs around Twilight in an embrace.
“I'm fine, Pinkie,” Twilight said. “Really, I'm okay!”
“You can forgive us for being worried, darling,” the white unicorn said.
“Yeah!” said a sky blue pegasus with a rainbow-striped mane and tail. “Did you see what just happened like an hour ago?”
“It was horrible!” said another pegasus, this one butter yellow with a long, wavy pink mane and tail. “All the animals were hiding in their dens and burrows. I think they were more afraid than me... if that's even possible, I mean.”
“Girls, girls, I'm fine!” Twilight said. “Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, everything's all right... well, mostly.”
“Mostly?” Fluttershy said.
“Something's... happened,” said Twilight.
“Oh boy oh boy oh boy, is it somepony's birthday?” Pinkie Pie cheered.
“No, Pinkie,” Twilight said, “it's not nearly as happy as a birthday.”
“Please, Twilight, tell us what's going on,” Rarity said.
“Yeah!” Rainbow Dash cried. “We wanna know.”
“I guess I could...” Twilight said. She hesitated. “I hate to do it before Applejack comes back, though. You all need to hear this.”
“Hmmm...” Rarity said. She turned her head away from the others. Her eyes grew extra wide, and her cutie mark- three diamonds in a triangle pattern- glinted. “Ah!” she said triumphantly. “We're in luck!” she turned back to her friends. “Applejack should be here within the hour!”
“Great!” Dash cried.
“How do you know for certain, Rarity?” Twilight asked.
“Er...” Rarity stammered. She and Dash exchanged a glance. “I've... I've been keeping track of her progress based on her average rate of travel, dear,” said Rarity, her face betraying her unease. “I know how long she's been gone... and, er... I know her hoof speed! Yes, yes, it's all just math when you get down to it.”
“I had no idea you were so good at time-distance equations, Rarity,” said Twilight. “Ooo, do you want to talk math sometime? I haven't had a good calculus discussion in ages.”
“Maybe at... some point, Twilight,” Rarity said with an unconvincing grin.
“So what's with waiting? Let's all go wait for Applejack! Tally hoooooooo!” Pinkie cried, bouncing off down the road.
"Wait for me!" Fluttershy cried, hurrying after her.
“I suppose I ought to go tell Mayor Mare I'm here,” Twilight said. “There are some issues she and I need to discuss.”
“What if we met on the road just outside of town?” Rarity asked. “Go and tend to your business, then we'll see you there.”
“Right,” Twilight said.
“Can I go with the others, Twilight?” Spike asked.
“Sure, Spike,” said Twilight. “I have a feeling I won't be long.”
Twilight sat on the plush office chair in the largest office of Ponyville's town hall. An old, light-brown pony was sitting at the desk across from her, her mane and tail a wavy gray. Pince-nez spectacles adorned her face, and a separate collar and necktie hung from her throat. She was staring at Twilight with a decidedly uncomfortable grimace. Twilight cleared her throat. “Mayor Mare... thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice.”
“You are royalty, Princess Twilight,” said Mare, shuffling some papers on her desk. “Technically, you can barge in to see me whenever you wish.”
There was one piece of paper she had left where it was: an unfurled scroll, upon which Twilight clearly saw the royal device of Equestria. “I take it you got Princess Luna's letter, then?”
“I did,” said Mare. “Quite a surprise to see it on my desk when I got back from lunch.”
“As I said, princess, you are royalty. I'm merely an elected official. Your authority supersedes mine. If you want to do something like open our town up to strangers, well, that's your business. I can't do anything.”
“Mayor Mare, please,” Twilight Sparkle pleaded. “These deer... their home has just been destroyed! They had to evacuate with only what they could carry on their backs! They're refugees. They need a place to stay while their ruler finds more permanent accommodations. I promise it's only temporary. I swear.”
“I understand all that, princess,” said Mare. “Princess Luna explained it all in her letter.” Her blue eyes lost some of their harshness. “Princess, don't think me cruel. I can't imagine what it must be like to have everything you've ever known ripped away from you. I sympathize with these deer, I do. But...” She sighed. “This isn't just a refugee camp, Princess Twilight. This is our home. Ponies here have their own way of doing things, are comfortable with things as they are. Throwing a whole other species into our daily life is going to be... difficult.”
“I understand, mayor,” Twilight said. “I'll take full responsibility for them and anything that happens as a result of their being here. If you'd like, I can try to have the Royal Treasury compensate Ponyville for agreeing to house these deerfolk.”
“That's all right, princess,” said Mare. “I know you're only trying to do the right thing. I just... I wish you had told me ahead of time. This is very short notice.”
“I only found out all these deer would be homeless a few hours ago,” Twilight said. “I'm sorry. I should have thought more about how the ponies of Ponyville would react.”
“Well, if they're your responsibility, you can be the one to tell our citizens about them,” said Mare. “When do you expect them to be here?”
“I would say within about three days,” said Twilight.
“So we have at least a little time,” said Mare. “I can start to clear out the fields just outside of town.”
“I actually think the lands closer to the Everfree Forest would be better,” said Twilight. “It's dangerous to us, but these deer are used to wild magic. They'd probably welcome it.”
“Aren't there deer in the Everfree?” Mayor Mare said. “Somepony keeps sending back the census forms we drop in there every year, at least.”
“I think so,” said Twilight. “I'll try to go in and find them when I have time. Maybe they can help these new deer adapt to life in Equestria.” She stood from her chair. “Now, mayor, if you don't mind, I have to get going. My friend is due back from her trip any minute now.”
“Of course, Princess Twilight,” said Mare. “Thank you for paying me the courtesy of a visit.”
“There you are!” Rainbow Dash cried as Twilight Sparkle galloped down the road toward her friends. They were bunched in the middle of the wide path, along with a rickety old green pony, a huge red pony, and a little yellow pony with a bow in her strawberry mane.
“Sorry about that, everypony,” Twilight said. “I had to go see the mayor about something.”
“The mayor?” Fluttershy repeated. “Whatever for?”
“I'll tell you as soon as Applejack gets here,” Twilight said. “It has to do with what happened to Spike and I when we were in Canterlot. I hope-”
“Shh!” Pinkie Pie said. “Listen!”
All the ponies were quiet. The wind blew through the trees, the fence posts along the roadside creaked. And then, in the stillness, they heard something. It was somepony singing.
Shady grove, my little love,
Shady grove I know,
Shady grove, my little love,
I'm bound for the shady grove.
I wish I had a piece of thread,
As fine as I could sew.
I'd sew my true love to my side
And down the road I'd go.
As the singing grew louder, their spirits lifted higher. At last, over the edge of the road, there appeared a figure cantering down it. The closer it got, the sharper its image grew. It was an earth pony, sturdy and thick, colored light orange. Her mane and tail were blond, both of them tied up in red twine at the ends of their lengths. A brown cowpony's hat was perched upon her head. She kept singing.
Cheeks as red as bloomin' rose,
Eyes of the deepest blue.
You are the great love of my life,
Strong and ever true.
I wish I had a banjo string,
Made of golden twine.
Every tune that I would play,
I'd wish that boy was mine.
Shady grove, my little love,
Shady grove, I say.
Ooh shady grove, my little love,
Don't wait for the judgment day.
“APPLEJACK!” Rainbow Dash cried, flying forward in a streak of rainbow stripes. The other ponies galloped after her, and before the orange pony's green eyes had widened to their fullest extent she was barreled over by her friends.
“Howdy, y'all!” Applejack chuckled as the ponies scooped her up in embrace after embrace. “How y'all been?”
“It's so super good to see you again!” Pinkie shouted.
“How was Gildedale, dearest?” Rarity asked.
“Oh, it was great!” Applejack said.
“What about Ashtail?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Yes, and dear Shield Maiden?” Rarity said.
“All fine, all fine,” Applejack said.
“Well they ain't starvin' ye out there,” said the rickety green pony.
“Granny Smith, y'all know I always have a good time with the Daleponies,” said Applejack. She glanced at the big red pony and the little yellow pony. “Big Macintosh, Apple Bloom, I brought y'all some presents.”
“Hooray!” Apple Bloom cheered.
“Yep,” Big Macintosh rumbled.
“But- oh! But first!” Applejack pushed away from them all, and her face lost all its merriment. “Did y'all see that light show a few hours ago? And the shakin'? I thought the Aponyclypse was happenin'!”
“Oh, definitely!” Dash cried. “Were you high enough up in the mountains to see it clearly? It was going on behind the Archbacks! It was huge and bright!”
“Twilight claims to know all about it,” Rarity said.
Applejack turned her eyes on Twilight Sparkle. “How about it, Twi?”
“Ah...” Twilight and Spike exchanged glances. Then she turned to the other members of the Apple Family. “I know Applejack just got back, but could I borrow her for a while?”
“Sure thing,” said Big Macintosh. “I reckon y'all've got important business to attend to.”
“We do, thank you,” said Twilight. “Come on, girls. Let's go to the library. I've got a lot to tell you.”