“Dang nabit!” Shouting out her mounting frustrations, the angry farm-mare curses as she chips her hoof for the seventh time that night on yet another sharp and pointy rock. “Why the hay did ah think it was a good idea to just go wanderin in the forest in tha dark? Ah should’ve brought a flashlight, or a rope at least.” Applejack muses, as she walks down the overgrown, ivy filled road.
Originally driven on by courage and optimism at the thought of finding medicine for her sister, Applejack had become bogged down by the endless winding trails that meandered through the Everfree. And worse, even though she had avoided several nasty creatures in her time wandering, her attempts at evading danger or just trusting her instinct had left her hopelessly lost. Now the mare, though still not bereft of hope, was beginning to doubt finding her way out of the labyrinth again. “……could of at least brought my rope….”
Looking over to a nearby tree, Applejack spies the same broken branch she left fifteen minutes ago as she kicks the tree in defeat. “That settles it, ah’m lost as a pig in a cornfield. Oh, why didn’t ah think this through? Now whose gonna help little Applebloom……” A roar tears through the forest, shaking the mare to the core “…. an whose gonna help me?” The mare hangs her head in defeat at her current situation.
However, just as quickly Applejack snaps her head back up slapping herself in the face with her hoof “Snap out OF it filly! Yer an Apple and Apples never quit. This ain't no time fer doubtin yerself, now focus. All you gotta do is find a blue flower with blue markings. That shouldn't be too hard in a forest now shape up!” A sudden burst of resolve courses through Applejack’s veins, as she prepares to once again resume her search.
Placing one hoof in front of the other, Applejack slips on another errant rock and with comic fashion begins a long tumble down a steep ravine in front of her. Desperate to stop herself, Applejack tries to slow her descent with her hooves, but is unable to get any traction as she continues to slide down the steep cliff. Flailing her arms about in terror, Applejack finally reaches a stop, as her tumbling fall is stopped by a dense field of shrubbery. Lying in the bottom of a ravine, Applejack once again curses her own stupidity for bringing her to the everfree at night. Cursing her clumsiness, Applejack slowly rises to her hooves, her body sporting various cuts and bruises sustained though a night of fruitless searching.
“Who was ah kiddin common here alone at night.” Applejack says. “Ah could spend mah whole life searchin this here forest and never find it! It’s just too big fer one pony ta find.” Looking up to the stars in the sky, the mare imagines the fates themselves laughing at her grand situation.
“But ah can’t just give up!” Applejack states “Not like this! Ah can’t just go home empty hooved without that blue flower. So even if I have to search this entire forest, top to bottom ah’ll find…..hunh?”
Looking around her, Applejack finds that she has tumbled down the cliff right into a large patch of blue flowers with distinct blue markings. Without even trying, the mare has found herself in a dense field of the Poison Joke Flower. Applejack blinks for a few seconds, not quite convinced this isn’t some kind of elaborate hallucination, yet after clearing her eyes, the flowers remain as real as ever. She rubs her face, convinced that the flowers will disappear the moment she looks away, yet he flowers remain, as permanent as the earth itself.
“Hunh…… Well would you look at that…….” A surprised Applejack pokes her head into the flower bed, looking at it as if it was there all along. The flower moves gently as the orange mare’s breath blows the flower back and forth.
Suddenly satisfied that she isn’t dreaming, Applejack leaps into the air with a mighty: “YEEHAW! Ah found it! Ah found it! Ah foun…..”
The far off cry of a timber wolf cuts off the orange mare’s jubilation. Putting her hooves over her mouth to silence any further noise, Applejack becomes acutely aware of the fact that she is still in a monster infested forest and her life is technically still in danger. Nearly holding her breath, the mare waits in silence, listening for the sound of any approaching predators that would seek to devour her. Minutes pass until the mare finally is convinced she is alone “…..nd it.” Applejack finishes with a snicker.
Chuckling to herself, Applejack discards her worries for the future in the joyous celebration of the present. In her giddiness in finding her sister’s salvation and avoiding an untimely death, Applejack opens her arms wide and swan dives majestically into the poison joke, making flower angels by the faint moonlight above. Laughing all the while Applejack proceeds to roll around in the flowers her Stetson and her worries falling off to the side as she temporarily forgets her woes.
Finally the foalish behavior catches up to Applejack, as she begins to realize how silly she is acting. Catching her breath from her tiring antics, Applejack reaches for her hat and places it back on her head, giggling slightly to herself all the while. “Wowee, would yawl talk about good luck. Ah still can’t believe that I just wound up findin the one flower I needed just by blindly gropin my way through the forest! Well enough horsin around, onto business.”
Emptying her saddle bags of any extraneous items, Applejack begins to hastily stuff as many of the poison joke flowers that she can manage into her bags. Needless to say, she quickly she fills the first of her saddlebags, compacting the precious product with her hoof to enable her to fit as much of it as she can. She then switches the full pouch for its empty twin on her left and mechanically repeats the process, filling both her bags to capacity
In a few moments the task is completed and her bags are stuffed to the brim full of the life saving medicine. Applejack nods to herself on a task well done, and puts the bags on her flank, impressed by the fact that they barely weigh anything at all. “Well, that’s bout all ah can make in one trip.” She says to nopony in particular. “An I doubt I’ll be able ta find this place again, on account I found it on accident.”
The farm mare looks at her packed bags a faint look of pride on her face. “….But on the bright side, this is for sure enough flowers for little Bloom to get better with. An all ah have ta do is….. Convince Twilight ta make it fer her.”
Applejack painfully remembers her previous behavior towards Twilight. “Dang nabit! Why’d ah have ta blow up on her like that!?” Finding a faint dirt road on the forest floor, Applejack begins to follow it, hoping for a way out while she thinks over her options.
“Ok calm down Jackie, Twilight is a reasonable mare, ah’m sure she won’t hold nothing against ya on account yer sister was sick. And ah’m sure that if ya give her some of the extra poison joke as payment, she’s sure ta give bloom the best of that there medicine.” Applejack nods in confirmation. “Yes sir, things are looking up for me.”
However, Applejack stops dead in her tracks, as she makes out a figure sitting directly on the path ahead, the farm mare making out a glowing yellow pair of eyes that stare through her very being. These are the eyes of a predator, a creature that will tear ponies to pieces without mercy or remorse. The creature’s slight growling makes it known to the mare that it has seen her and all of a sudden Applejack realizes that everything is not looking up for her.
Frantically Applejack looks around, hoping to find some way to hide from the approaching creature moving through the shadows towards her. However, she is gravely disappointed, as she sees the paths to the left and right of her cut off by steep cliffs impossible for a normal pony to scale, especially when pursued by a hungry beast. The creature growls louder as Applejack flees, running back down the path behind her. Her mind empty of any ideas, she runs frantically back to the clearing of poison joke, hoping beyond hope for a way to escape the hungry predator. However, yet again, destiny has conspired against her as it appears that the valley is a dead end.
As if rejecting the fact that he way behind her is the only way out, Applejack frantically runs around the clearing like a chicken with its head cut off. “Come on! Come on! This can’t be it! There’s gotta be a way out there’s gotta!”
Applejack knows in her heart that there isn’t, yet the belief that there is a way to escape is far more appealing than the fact that she is trapped. Suddenly, Applejack hears the sound of a heavy paws brushing through the foliage behind her and turns behind her to catch a glimpse of a figure from her darkest nightmares. The monster’s brown lion mane is stained with small splotches of dried blood, its teeth razors, sharper than any knife made by pony hooves. It’s bat like wings possess several small holes as they are risen in a predatory stance. The scorpion tail rises above the creature’s head, as it’s loin paws tread the ground as quietly as death itself. The creature that stands before the frightened farm mare is the same one that she fears more than any other for good reason. The creature before her is a manticore, but more terrifying is the fact that it is the worst kind of manticore, a hungry manticore.
Applejack falls to her flank, her bravery consumed by pure terror. “It’s……… It’s a m-m-m-manticore….. Just like the one that killed ma and pa!”
The monster growls with ferocity and that is enough to send the mare into a blind panic. Running with all the force that she can muster, the mare tries vainly to dash up the steep slope behind her. Yet, no matter how much she struggles, she gets no closer to the top of the gorge and only suceeds in sliding back down to the bottom of the slope. The monster roars again, ready to claim it’s prey, as the farm mare finally lays down in the dirt and surrendering to her fate.
“This can’t be happening,” Applejack tells herself, lying on the ground. “Mah mom and dad died ta this beast, and now it’s going to kill me to? It just can’t end like this, this has to be some kind of nightmare!” However, this is no bad dream, no comforting veil of sleep that she can shake off to free herself from the nightmare before her.
“An just as ah got the medicine for Applebloom! now I’m gonna…” Suddenly, like a torch being lit in the dark or the explosion of a star, Applejack’s thoughts turn in a flash towards her family. She remembers her first harvest she was allowed to help with, her fist slice of apple pie, and family dinner after a long day of work. Her thoughts turn to her friends in Ponyville, and the impact they make in her life simply by existing. But most of all, her thoughts turn to her family, her grandmother who raised her, her brother who supported her, and her little sister who needs her, now more than ever. Her thoughts turn to her parents, not their untimely deaths, but their lives filled with gratitude for the simple things: love, life and family as she wonders what they would do in her situation.
And suddenly it all becomes clear to Applejack; her fearful shivering ceases, and she rises to her hooves staring the monster in the eyes all the while “……ah’m a pony who can be depended upon, It’s just like that crazy hallucination said.”
Applejack takes a step forward. “Ah’m a pony that other ponies can depend on. Not cause ah’m strong or because ah’m special. ah’m a pony who can be depended upon cause ponies need ta depend on me.”
Her resolve steady and unwavering, Applejack takes another step towards the ravenous monster baring her way. “An right now, ah’m the only pony that can get this medicine to my sister, an ah’m the only pony that can come back alive to my family.”
Another step and Applejack is now close enough to smell the breath of the hideous monster in front of her “THAT is my resolve on which ah base my strength on.”
Nearly muzzle to muzzle with the hungry manticore, Applejack stares it in the eyes with a threatening gaze. “Ah’m getting this medicine to my sister, rain er shine. So ah guess that you are out of a meal, now anchya?”
Unwilling to be intimidated or surrender to it’s food, the manticore pounces on the orange farm mare. However, this is not the same mare that was seconds ago cowering on the ground, now the hunter faces prey that is determined to survive.
Turning around on her front legs, Applejack coils her back legs like a spring, as the monster’s pounce comes within range of her most powerful weapons, her iron hard back hooves. Just as the monster is almost upon her, Applejack converts all her power into a single well timed attack, as her legs snap out like a shotgun blast. The resulting blow pounds the monster straight in the nose, sending a crack like thunder reverberating through the clearing as the manticore falls backward in pain.
The resounding feeling of her hooves smashing into the monster’s unprotected face, causes Applejack to rejoice prematurely. “HA! Take that ya varmint, ya may be tough but ya aint apple tough! Now just stay down an let me pass, unless ya want another round of punishment from Bucks Mcgillicutty and Kicks Mcgee!”
As if responding to this taunt, the monster pulls itself shakily off the ground, leering at Applejack with its beady yellow eyes. The farm mare now realizes her mistake in celebrating too soon as small drops of blood fall from the monster’s muzzle. Now the creature in front of her isn’t just hungry, now it is angry and hungry.
The manticore sweeps forward with its claws, each tallon as sharp as a razor, slicing the air itself with every swing it throws. Keeping on her hooves, Applejack manages to barely dodge each swipe of the claws as the monster attacks in rapid succession. ‘Ah can’t win like this.’ Applejack thinks to herself as she ducks underneath another swipe. ‘Ah may be tirin this fellow out with mah dodges, but ah gota finish him off soon or one of these swipes is gonna get me.’ Suddenly, the manticore overextends its blow, tumbling on its face with a loud thud.
Seizing her one and possibly only chance, Applejack changes her dodge into a spinning back kick. With the precision and strength of a mare who can buck trees from their foundations, Applejack’s blow hits true for the second time that night landing upside the manticore’s head. As the monster skids back on the ground, Applejack is rewarded with the monster’s yelp of pain as sign that she has scored another decisive blow.
Weaving back out of the monster’s range, Applejack watches as the monster rises from the dirt yet again. “Heh, ah’ll give it to ya that yer mighty stubborn, but from where I’m standin it seems that ah’m the prime contender.”
Confident in her sudden victory, Applejack prepares to advance once again and finish the monster off only to stumble and fall to her knees in exhaustion. “What the? what’s goin…” Applejack’s eyes widen in horror, as she looks to her flank behind her, her eyes spying a large detached stinger protruding slightly above where her cutie mark is. Shifting her gaze back to the monster that is rising from the dirt, Applejack realizes she was the one who had lost their last exchange.
With a quick jerk, Applejack rips the stinger out of her flank and throws it off to the side, yet from the mare’s reeling senses and shaky posture Applejack begins to realize that it is far too late. Sensing the prey’s weakness and hungry for revenge, the manticore advances claws extended, and this time Applejack barely is able to turn off to the side as the creature’s claws rake painfully across the side of her barrel. Applejack screams in agony as she falls to the ground from the pain, pushing herself as far from possible from the advancing monster. The manticore licks its bloodied lips eager to satisfy its hunger for the first time in a week as it advances upon the prone pony with bloodlust in its eyes.
Applejack attempts to stand up against the monster, but the poison has done its lethal work, as she falls quickly back on her injured flanks. Applejack looks back on the monster in front of her, her eyes still burning in the same intensity that she possessed when she wandered into the forest. “Ah can’t die. Not here…. Not now….. mah….” Applejack hacks up a small glob of blood “…mah sister needs me….” The monster, oblivious to the mare’s suffering, spreads it’s paws apart, preparing for another pounce on the prone farm mare. Applejack mustering what remains of her willpower rises to her hooves, barely managing to stay up as she stares down the creature.
“Just….. Just one more buck…….” She cries to herself, begging her body on the verge of shutdown to give just a little more energy. “If ah can throw just one more buck….. ah can win! Just one more buck…. I can stand mah ground an send that critter flyin!”
The manticore leaps once more with a mighty roar. Its wings spread in a predatory fashion, it’s bloody claws glistening in the moonlight as it prepares to strike.
“JUST…. ONE…. MORE….BUCK!” Spinning around with all the remaining strength in her body, Applejack swings out her back legs to intercept the charging monster.
A flash of light, the blow connects, and in a single instant the six hundred and fifty pound manticore is sent flying into a tree behind it with a level of force that would be impossible for any normal pony. “What the….I can’t believe ah had that much strength left…. “ Suddenly becoming aware of another presence, Applejack’s eyes turn off to her side as her eyes catch sight of a strange creature. Stunned by the ghostly figure sudden appearance, her mind reels not from the poison but the strange appearance of the figure standing beside her.
The ghostly figure’s body, almost half as large as the mantincore and covered from hoof to toe in wooden armor, is built like a tank, it’s every limb rippling with muscle and sinew. Its wooden armor, knotted and worn with age, covers its entire body save it’s green leafy face, which is covered only by a layered helm. Surrounding its head sits a large set of deer horns that seem to circle around the Creature’s head as majestically as any crown. Bushes of the finest green leaves blossom where its tail and mane should be, giving it a majestic earthy appearance that would put any dryad to shame. Yet, despite the fey and otherworldly appearance of the creature staring at her, it’s sharp green irises locked on to her body, Applejack feels no fear of the creature that stands by her side, only awe that appropriately reflects the beauty and power of the creature that has come to her aid.
“What the…. Am ah halucinatin again?” Applejack asks herself. “What…. what are ya…”
Turning it’s empty gaze at the orange mare, the spirit speaks with a voice that seems to resonate in the core of her very being “FOUNDATION……”
“Foundation…..” the mare repeats absent mindedly. Applejack blinks once, then twice before finally shaking her head. “All right, now ah know that ah’m crazy.”
The Manticore, peeling itself off the ground growls menacingly at the farm-mare with magical powers. Though any normal creature would have run in terror at such a display of strength a manticore is the top of its food chain in the Everfree forest, not even dragons mess with one willingly. The enraged creature roars loudly as it charges swinging its razor sharp claws at the mare that has angered to the point of blind fury.
Unable to dodge the sudden blow, Applejack raises her hooves to defend against the sudden charge, her mysterious shadow moving between her and the monster almost instinctively. The claws fall upon the magical construct with a furry of blows; the manticore attacking the prone pony with enough strength to send the flowers in the field flying left and right in a fierce windstorm. After a straight minute of blind attacking, the manticore relinquishes its assault, satisfied that no creature could survive such an attack. Backing up, the monster expects to see a scene of bloody carnage, yet, as its eyes focus on the scene before it, the monster is shocked to see that not only is the orange pony still alive, but the strange plant pony has taken every single blow from its razor sharp claws without retaining a single scratch. The manticore barely has time to comprehend the scene before it, as it feels a sharp throb in its front paws. Looking down the monster sees that it’s paws are indeed covered in blood, its own blood. The mangled paws and broken claws a testament to the intense toughness of the magical plant creature that has come to the pony’s aid.
For the third time that night the monster screams in pain as Applejack looks on in awe at the sight of the fierce monster whimpering like a filly with a skinned knee. “Well alright then!” Applejack states. “Hallucination or not, this is mah only chance, an I’m gonna take it!”
Swinging her front hoof forward in a quick jab, the mare is surprised to find that the mysterious plant mimics her actions producing a fierce result, the light jab breaking even more of the monster’s sharpened teeth. The manticore screams in pain as it tries to raise its paws to swipe at the invader, however the monster is quick to find it has no defense against the plant creature’s powerful punches. Struggling as if it has been rooted to the ground itself, the manticore tries vainly to raise its paws in defense or even move out of the way as the orange mare’s barrage of quick punches hit one after the other in rapid succession.
‘Amazin’ Applejack thinks to herself ‘ah don’t know if what’s ah'm seein is real er not, but this creature seems ta follow mah lead like a shadow, an boy howdy is it a strong sucker!’ Blow after blow hits the monster as Applejack begins to wind up for a finishing attack. Shouting at the top of her lungs, Applejack feels the very earth itself lend its power to her, as her life force surges within her.
‘Mah heart, is beatin! beatin with the breath of the earth itself!’ Winding up a powerful buck Applejack succeeds in launching the half ton monster into the air as easily as a foal might toss an apple.
As the monster falls down towards her Applejack raises her hooves to intercept the monster’s fall, all her fear and doubt replaced with righteous anger. “Uuuuuuuuuuuuoooooooooooo. Take this!”
The monster falls, its body directly over the poised plant creature whose hooves are poised to strike “Raging Earth…….” With all the strength remaining in her body, the mare and her stand working side by side throw a countless number of punches on the falling form of the monster, both stand and master crying out to the heavens above
With all the grace of a falling rock, the monster is sent tumbling into the darkness of the forest beyond landing with an unceremonious thud off in the distance. Utterly defeated, the manticore cries out in pain, it's every bone broken, its tail shattered, it’s claws shredded as it barely manages to crawl whimpering back into the dark from which it came.
The mare breathes in once, twice, three times as she listens for the sound of another predator, another obstacle in her way home, only to be greeted by silence. Every inhabitant in the forest stands in awe as the victor in the struggle for survival puts her Stetson back on her head. “Whew, that was…… tough, but I did it.” The mare limps forward, her previous adrenaline all but extinguished. “Now I just got to….. get that medicine….. to Bloom……”
Her body finally calls it quits as she collapses on the forest floor, unable to endure anything more. The mare tries to move, to get back on her hooves yet she fails to accomplish anything aside from a few twitches in her legs. “Heh, I can’t believe I came all this way just to die here.” The mare comments on her current situation, not with hopelessness and fear, but with a strange sense of peace. “Oh well, I guess life’s funny like that, it’s not like cryin will make things better.”
Applejack accepted the idea of her own death quite well, no fear, no pain, no remorse “I did what I could”. That is what she tells herself as her consciousness begins to blur, the poison obscuring her vision. Face to face with absolute finality she is only offered an icy and lucid look at her own demise, to be poisoned to death in the middle of the forest.
“Ah only hope….. ah only hope that ma and pa are still proud of me.” The mare’s words stumble out. “Even if ah failed, ah hope that they don’t think any less of me for qutin before the job is done.” Applejack’s consciousness starts to falter as her vision darkens around her, a shadowy figure standing before her as her soul is prepared to embark upon the final journey.
“Heh… I never….. imagined… that the afterlife………. Was so………blue…………” Finally Applejack’s vision turns dark, as she finally succumbs to sweet unconsciousness.
“Hunh, I can even hear mom’s voice. I guess it won’t be long now.”
“Wow she sounds cross. Guess she was more angry than ah thought fer letting bloom down…..”
“Hunh, that doesn’t sound like ma’s voice.”
“Oh sweet Celestia, she’s not breathing! She’s bleeding all over! Quick Pinkie make room!”
“What’s going on, who’s moving me? Am I already dead?”
“She’s shows signs of being poisoned, too. Her injuries are too severe for normal magic, I didn’t want to use the red stones I found so far but saving her life takes precedence..….”
“That’s strange…. The voice sounds familiar…… but where have I…...’
Applejack’s internal monologue is cut off as something almost foreign courses through Applejack’s veins. Her body recoils in shock as warm nutrient rich blood begins to course freely through her veins once again. Her mind is pulled back into reality as her body becomes filled with copious amounts of energy that seems to well up from within her very being. Suddenly, her eyes comprehend the purple and pink blobs before her, as she begins to make out the figures of her friends, the exceptionally worried Twilight Sparkle and none other than the crazy party pony herself Pinkie Pie.
“Oh thank merciful Celestia!” Twilight remarks as Applejack opens her eyes “It looks like she’s going to be all right. Pinkie, great call on bringing that portable defibrillator, it was just what I needed to give her a jump start. Now you just need to tell me how you had the foresight to carry a defibrillator around.”
Pinkie breaks out into a salute. “A wild flower scout is prepared for any situation any time! Rain or snow, sleet or shine, I never fail to protect what’s mine!”
“…….uhhh, I’ll just file that away under ‘coincidence’.” Twilight turns her head back to the orange mare “Applejack, how are you feeling? Well, obviously you feel great since I used the vital energy of a red stone to rejuvenate your severely depleted life source, but I mean I the sense how are you doing mentally, because let’s face it, WHAT WERE you thinking?!”
Twilight embraces the orange farmer in a tight hug, only to break off and slap her face. “What in the world were you thinking Applejack? Running into the everfree at night?! I know that you were worried about your sister, but you could have died!” Twilight takes a deep breath as she prepares to continue yelling in Applejack’s face. “You almost did die! What were you thinking?”
“Twilight?” the orange mare manages to speak, “what are ya doing here? How did ya find me?”
“Ohh, Ohh, Ohh! Pick me pick me!” the pink mare raises her hoof enthusiastically. “I love story time! Can I tell the story please?”
Twilight sighs. “Pinkie, I really don’t think…”
“It all started on a dark stormy night! Just. like. this one, except there wasn’t a storm at all. We were prowling through the forest filled with hundreds of horrible pony eating creatures, looking for a lost mare when suddenly out of the shadows…..”
Placing her hoof over the pink pony’s mouth, Twilight breathes a sigh of relief. “What Pinkie is trying to say is, that we were worried about you, so we ran into the Everfree looking for you.” Twilight says. “I’ll admit, at first we couldn’t find one way from another and we had no idea where we were. However I saw a pony shaped figure rustling in the bushes and thought it was you, so we followed the figure to a clearing where we found you just lying there.”
Applejack stammers “Ya….. ya mean a pony of shadows? Like a ghost er somthin?”
“A pony of shadows…” Twilight muses to herself ‘could it really be her? But why would she be here of all places?’
Twilight’s sudden silence earns stares from both of the other mares. “Ummmmm, Twilight?” Pinkie asks, knocking on her head. “Earth to Twilight. Are you there? It wasn’t really a shadow pony right? Cause if it was I need to throw it a ‘thank you for helping us save Applejack party’!”
Shaking of her suspicions, Twilight returns to the present “No, Pinkie, it was probably nothing, just a trick of the light.” Twilight turns back to her patient concern etched on her face. “What is important is, we got here just in time. Another few minutes, and you would have……. Anyways, I’m just glad that you are alright, Applejack.”
Looking down at her previously injured side and flank, Applejack finds that her gruesome wounds have been completely healed. Looking at her pelt, Applejack begins to tear up as she realizes the extent which the mare in front of her risked her life. “Ya…. yawl came to help me? Even after all the horrible things ah said?”
Twilight smiles. “Applejack, you were worried about your sister, you didn’t mean any of that! And even if you did mean it, that’s no reason to let you die.”
“Yeah, Applejack!” Pinkie chimes in, “and you should have seen Twilight. I thought you were in pretty bad shape, even I was worried, but Twilight just whips out her horn and this amazing sparkly stone and whoosh! You’re all better just like that. I mean, I knew that the princess’s student was going to be really talented, but WOW, she was so awesome! Almost like a super magical version of Rainbow Dash!”
Twilight blushes at the copious amounts of praise as her modesty begins to kick in. “Like I said, it was nothing, Pinkie! You provided the manticore antivenin, all I had to do was give her body a quick jump start with the red stone that I had on me from earlier to strengthen her regenerative capabilities and amplify her depleted magical energy. Any pony could have done that, I’m nothing special, really!”
Applejack is about to launches into another barrage of praise, commending the unicorn for saving her life, when something the mare says strikes her as funny. “Hold on their shug. Just what do ya mean by these Red Stones?”
Twilight freezes “Red Stones? What do you mean? I didn’t say anything about red stones? You must have misheard me!”
Ignoring the mare, Applejack continues. “From the sound of it, this red stone thing seems to be the thing that can heal any wound er somtin.” The sudden insight jogging her memory, Applejack rises to her hooves. “so if it can heal anything, why isn’t it being used to help these there ponies in the hospital?”
Twilight freezes on the spot, unable to deny or confirm Applejack’s suspicions once again. And once again she begins to stammer on like a broken record. “wellllllllllllllllllll ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.”
Applejack narrows her gaze, ready to pursue the thread of truth that she has followed to this point when her tongue stops dead in its tracks. ‘Ah’m doin it again!’ Applejack thinks to herself ‘Gosh darn it! This is what I did last time, I dogged Twilight so much about the truth that I ended up hurtin her somtin fierce. Well, no more.’
Suddenly Applejack’s face takes on a kinder expression, surprising the purple mare’s preconceived expectations. “You know what, Twi? It aint important none. If ya say I don’t need to know, then I don’t need to know. Simple as that.”
Twilight is shocked. She had fully expected to have to fight tooth and hoof to keep the truth from Applejack, and yet she was giving up without a fight. “Hunh? Really Applejack?”
“Yep, it aint worth losin a friend over now is it? And as long as this here medicine will help my sis, then I trust ya.” Applejack nods as she slowly rises to her hooves, pointing down at the path ahead of her. “Now, let’s get home. Time’s a wastin here in the middle of nowhere. We got ponies like mah sis ta treat.” With eager steps, Applejack begins to walk down the path out of the clearing when she finds herself stopped by a familiar voice.
Applejack turns around to find her purple friend, Twilight Sparkle, her hooves rooted to the ground and a look of great internal conflict plastered on her face. “Yeah Twilight? What is it?”
The unicorn rubs her arm with as she looks at the ground in front of her “Applejack… the red stones, are what’s making the ponies here sick.”
Applejack stops dead in her tracks “WHAT?”
“Yeah Twilight! What gives?” Pinkie states while scratching her head. “I thought that red stone thing helped ponies? Why is it making them sick? That makes even less and I’m me!”
“It’s not supposed to make ponies sick!” Twilight’s outburst continues. “The reason that they are making ponies like your sister sick is, because Red stones have the power to draw out a special kind of power from a pony’s soul called a stand.”
“Stand?” Applejack asks curiously.
“Yes, Applejack, or more appropriately stand power.” Twilight nods her head. “It works by drawing out the pony’s magical essence, and causes it to take physical form outside their body and stand beside them, hence the name. But…..” Twilight states with no small amount of fear, “if a pony doesn’t have a sufficient supply of magical power or doesn’t possess the will necessary to control a stand, the stand itself slowly draws the life-force out of the pony resulting in illness.”
“But you used the stand to help Applejack right?” Pinkie says “something that makes ponies better can’t make them sick right?”
“The Red Stones don’t just draw out stand powers..….” Twilight shamefully admits, “The Red Stones amplify all magical reactions, including magic, strength and regenerative rate, meaning all I had to do was use the stone to amplify my healing spell. If you had a stand, I could have just fed it to and that would have increased your regenerative rate through the roof healing your wounds.”
Twilight lowers her head in shame. “But exposing you directly to the red stone might have caused you to succumb to the same stand illness that affected your sister. And the process of creating a stand from your own body's manna would have started to drain your own life force. It’s only because a Stand takes so much magical power to form that causes ponies with lesser wills to get sick. Otherwise, any pony would be able to call a stand after being exposed to a Red Stone.”
Twilight raises her eyes to the sky; her gaze locked on the rapidly disappearing moon on the horizon Twilight contemplates her part in the tragedy occurring in Ponyville. “You were right, Applejack. It was a magical disaster that caused your sister to get sick. We attempted to use the stone to amplify a powerful magical reaction, but it went out of control and the stone exploded, scattering it across Equestria.”
“That’s why I was really sent to Ponyville.” Twilight admits shamefully as she rubs her arm. “Not just to help ponies, but to keep this entire incident secret so we could search for the pieces of the red stone. You were right all along, Applejack; at the end of the day my job is just a self-centered excuse to look for something we lost…...”
The group is silent for a few moments, none of the ponies knowing what to say. Each one thinking of how to best break the awkward silence that has been created by Twilight’s decision to reveal the truth.
Applejack is the first to break this awkward silence “Sssoooooo…. this red stone thing, causes ponies to ‘manifest’ some kind of ghostly power or somtin?”
“Yes, Applejack, that’s correct.” Twilight confirms with a nod. “However, it normally takes years of practice and self-discipline, as well as gradual exposure to a large supply of Red stones and deep magical reservoir to be able to manifest a stand that you can control at will.”
“Ya mean like this?” Applejack raises her hoof towards Twilight and rippling out from her pelt, the strong tree like creature that appeared before, appears again. It’s leafy mane flowing in the wind, the stand touches the ground as it rises to it’s true height, standing a good head higher than the mare. With natural flourish, the creature trots forward, taking a stance beside its master as it stares down at Twilight.
Twilight’s mouth gapes open, unable to even talk as she babbles like an infant. “how did you…… when did you….. Applejack! How are you doing that? I’ve been exposed to the red stone for years and have an amazing reservoir of magical energy! How the heck did you manage to manifest a stand in one day?!”
“Huh?” A very confused Applejack asks. “Oh I just, I don’t know thought about it and poof it appeared. Guess that fighting with a manticore will really draw it out of ya like that!”
“But…. But…” Twilight stammers “You didn’t even have a red stone!”
With a deft movement, Applejack pulls a black stone out of her saddle bags. “Ya mean this? It don’t look very red ta me, but after Bloom cut herself on it she got real sick. I thought if ya had it then you might be able to help her.”
The orange farm mare lowers her head in shame, as her stand fades back into her body. “But when I got there, there were all these strange doctors and snobby canterlot types. I was surrounded by ponies that I couldn’t trust, so I kept it to mahself instead of comin clean.”
Applejack walks over to the purple mare, each trot measured and accurate. “See, ah was just scared of being lied to and deceived as ah was of tellin a lie, so ah kept things that ah should have told ya a secret.”
Applejack comes to a stop right before Twilight sparkle, and just as quickly as she grabs Twilight’s hoof and places the stone in it. “But ah can’t tell a lie, Twilight Sparkle. Ah trust you. You told me the truth when others told me lies. Ya came to help me, even after ah treated ya like dirt, and ya did what ah couldn’t. Yawl came clean, even when yawl had nothing ta gain by tellin me the truth.” Applejack smiles back at the lavender unicorn. “Out of all the ponies that I could have met in that there hospital, ah am proud to say that ah know a mare as honest and kind as you are, Twilight Sparkle. ”
Looking the purple unicorn in the eyes, Applejack beams. “Ah’m the kind of pony that others can rely upon, so instead of takin this whole mess on by yer lonesome, why don’t ya lean on yer friends instead?”
Twilight is stunned by Applejack’s sudden profession. “My..… friends?”
“Hehe, yes, silly filly! We’re your friends!” Pinkie wraps Twilight in a tight hug. “We wouldn’t charge blindly into a dangerous forest in the middle of the night for just any pony! Well, maybe if that anypony had a cake with them, then we could throw a party IN the forest! That would be amazing! Could we throw a party In the forest sometimes Twilight? Because that would be great!”
“Oh sorry, Jackie! Anyways, what I was saying is we’re your friends! We’ll always stick by you and help you out when you are in trouble, so of course we’ll help you with your super special mission for the princess!”
Twilight begins to tear up at the blatant expression of friendship from the pink mare. Never in her life would she have thought that she would have made such inseparable friends so quickly. “Really? You really mean it?”
“Course shug!” Applejack slaps Twilight’s back. “We’ll help ya gather all these Red Stone things if it helps our town and our friends out along the way! That is, if ya can promise ta do everythin in yer power to help mah sister, then ah swear ah’ll follow you to Tartarus itself.”
Twilight wipes the tears from her eyes as she savors the fact that she, a complete recluse who brushed off everypony she had ever met, has friends who she can really depend upon in her hour of need. With a solemn gesture, she extends her hoof as towards the farm mare in a solemn pledge. “Deal”
Applejack, smiling all the while, spits the biggest loogie on her hoof that physics will allow and shakes hooves with her new best friend. “It’s a deal then! I have ta say, Twilight, this is definitely not mah idea of what ah wanted or how mah life ta turn out. But all that doesn’t matter now, cause for the first time in my life, ponies other than my family are dependin on me, so I have the duty to help em out,” the farm mare claims, as they break their sacred spit shake.
Her promise bound to her very heart, Applejack pulls her Stetson down over her eyes in a smug expression. “Sides, ah need to repay ya for saving her life like ya did.”
Pinkie, ever the enthusiastic one, pulls the both of them into a fierce bear hug as she contemplates their amazing future. “This is so exciting! New friends, crazy adventures and heart stopping action! And in the next chapter, I’ll get to show all of you my stand! Could this get any better? I don’t know! But i can tell you that this is adventure is going to be EPIC!”
Twilight smiles in genuine joy at the thought that her adventure with her friends is just beginning, and tha from this point on, she’ll never truly be alone. “Yeah, Pinkie, it's’ all for one and one…… Wait A Second! Pinkie what did you say about having a……”