“Welp.” Applejack said. “She really got into somethin'.”
While Opalescence's flour coating had been shaken off for the most part, the cat still left little traces of white powder, allowing Applejack to put her tracking skills to good use as she followed the faint trail. They'd almost caught her already a few times, but every time Applejack got too close, Opalescence would sprint away as fast as she could, only to disappear between the boards of a fence, or beneath the axles of a parked cart, like some sort of tiny, fluffy ninja.
And finally, Applejack and Fluttershy found a few flour-flaked footprints leading right into the Everfree Forest.
“As much as I 'preciate the help, Fluttershy, I can't rightly ask y'all to head into that damn scary forest on my account.”
“Oh, that's alright.” Fluttershy said, “I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing this for Opalescence! She's too sweet and delicate for the Everfree Forest!”
“Uh. Right.” Applejack rubbed at a scabbed over scratch on her foreleg. “Delicate.”
“I'll fly, so we can cover a bigger area.” Fluttershy said, already taking to the air. The pet emergency had dispelled her namesake shyness. “You stay at ground level, and just yell if you see her, okay?”
“Uh, sure.” Applejack said.
“Good. I'll be close!” With speed that would've made Rainbow Dash proud (or possibly jealous), Fluttershy zipped off, just above the treeline. Fluttershy could be quite the flyer if given the right motivation.
With polite company gone, Applejack allowed herself the luxury of a few choice swear words as she stomped into one of the most dangerous stretches of geography Equestria had to offer. She'd been into the Everfree before, and she knew she'd go into the Everfree again- but never on account of something so simple and infuriating as a lost cat. It made a lot more sense to risk life and limb when the fate of Ponyville was at stake.
It was already dark by the time Applejack and Fluttershy had made it to the forest, but as soon as Applejack stepped past the treeline, the long, grasping shadows of the tall oaks nearly blotted out the moonlight. Crickets chirped, owls hooted, and somewhere far in the distance something large and predatory-sounding let out a mournful howl.
Applejack gritted her teeth, wishing she was hearing Opalescence's horrible cries instead.
Without a good look at the moon and stars above, Applejack had no way to tell how long her search was taking her. Every now and again Fluttershy would stick her head down from the canopy to check in.
Applejack had just started crafting her apology/possible break up speech when she saw the cat curled up on the branch of a gnarled oak, at the top of a small ravine. Opalescence was damp and dirty, but looked otherwise intact. That same mad, hateful look was in the cat's eyes, so Applejack assumed she was alright.
“Welp.” Applejack pushed the brim of her hat up, and glared at Opalescence. “That was a hell of a chase ya done run, but it's the end of the line, cat. Now just c'mon down n' we'll get out of here.”
“FFT,” said Opalescence.
“Don't you hiss at me, ya li'l varmint! Can't ya see I'm tryin ta help you?”
“Why you no good, prissified, tuna-munchin', ratcatcher! I oughta just leave ya here!”
“Looks like we're gonna do this the hard way.” Applejack said, with no small degree of relish. As the cliche went, it usually took a firefighter with a ladder, or a passing superhero to get a cat out of a tree. Applejack, being the self reliant pony she was, needed no such assistance.
With practiced ease, she wheeled around and bucked both her rear hooves into the old oak, hard enough to make it shake. Opalescence yowled in surprise, and clutched herself to the bark.
“One way or 'nother, you're comin outta that tree!” Applejack kicked the tree again. “Way I figure, iffin' I can apple-buck a whole dang orchard, I can knock one lousy cat outta a tree.” The bark splintered a little beneath her hooves. Opalescence held on for a few more kicks before the inevitable happened, and she indeed fell out of the tree.
Right onto Applejack's neck.
Applejack swore as she felt the entirely too familiar sensation of tiny cat claws digging into her skin. She bucked and flailed, and soon felt the weight of Opalescence slip off of her back (leaving an octet of red scratches, of course).
The cowpony spun around, trying to catch sight of Opalescence once again. In her haste, Applejack's hooves slipped on a banana-peel slick patch of leaves. For a long, terrible moment, Applejack felt her stomach turn over- along with the rest of her as she hung in midair.
“Dangit!” said Applejack.
“Good to see you again!” said Gravity. Translated to English, it came out as more of a “THUD!”
Applejack bounced off the side of the ravine with tooth-jarring force, and began an entirely undignified roll down to the bottom of the ditch. By instinct, she clapped her hooves over her hat. Applejack had her priorities, after all.
She was able to save her headgear, but in doing so, she didn't see the patch of blue flowers at the bottom of the ravine. Spotted blue petals scattered in all directions as Applejack rolled head over hooves, until her undignified descent was halted by a thoughtful tree stump.
“Stupid cat.” Applejack said, and passed out.
Consciousness returned to Applejack in little bits. There was a moment of giddy elation as she realized she was still alive after that fall.
Soon after that, Applejack began to hurt. The tumble down the side of the ravine had bruised and bloodied Applejack in a dozen places, compounding upon the multiple scratches Opalescence had given her before that. Applejack couldn't feel any individual cut or scrape; they all just came together in a pervasive, general ache.
She'd felt worse, though she couldn't remember when.
Gingerly, Applejack stretched her legs one at a time, and then craned her neck. No bones broken, at least. That was a plus. She winced as she pushed herself up to her feet, and then opened her eyes. She was surrounded by enormous, alien greenery, as if she'd somehow been transplanted to a tropical jungle. Applejack looked up the length of a green stalk the size of her leg, and swore once she saw the spotted blue flower at the top.
The curse came out as a tinny squeak- and served as the last piece of a terrible puzzle.
“Poison joke!” Applejack stomped a tiny hoof. “Just had to be poison joke.” She shook her head, and began the long journey towards higher ground. “Timberwolves, hydras, dragons, all kind a nasty critters in this damn forest, n' I run across the one thing I can't kick. Rassumfrassum.”
Frustrated, Applejack pressed on. “Dunno how I'm s'posed ta even find-” Before Applejack could finish the thought, a large shadow loomed overhead, bringing a terrible realization with it.
At this size, there was little chance she would find Opalescence.
Opalescence had found her instead.
Slowly, Applejack turned- and sure enough, there the cat was, looming up above her. Pampered and spoiled as she was, Opalescence's primal feline instincts still ran strong. The recent trauma she'd been through had only served to amplify them.
“Uh. Nice kitty?” Applejack tried. From this new perspective, Rarity's cat looked entirely different. Claws that had once been a nuisance were now big enough to tear Applejack apart in one swipe. Breath that had once been merely unpleasant was now an unpleasantly warm wind, smelling of fetid meat.
Only the spiteful look in Opalescence's eyes was the same.
“MEW.” Opalescence said. Her tail flicked languidly behind her as she padded towards Applejack. The tiny cowpony gritted her teeth, and backed up slowly. It would only take a pounce and a bite, and it'd all be over. Unless Opalescence decided to play with her food.
Opalescence crouched down upon her front paws and pushed her butt up into the air, all the better to peer at Applejack with smug, murderous superiority.
“Welp,” said Applejack, “iffin' you're gonna eat me, 'least I get to do this.”
That said, Applejack swung her back hooves around and slammed both of them right into Opalescence's nose.
“Damn that felt good.” Applejack said, and took off running. One had to find the little pleasures in even the worst of situations. Optimism. It'd make a good subject for a letter to Princess Celestia if she made it out of the Everfree Forest alive.
Opalescence shot off after Applejack. But, for all of the cat's murderous instincts, she lacked much in the way of practical experience, while Applejack had gotten used to running from horrible monsters or chaos gods every third Saturday or so.
As soon as Applejack felt the air shifting behind her, she jinked to the side, narrowly avoiding Opalescence's pounce. She'd put on an extra bit of speed to gain more ground as the cat recovered, but Opalescence's longer legs were able to cover the distance in no time at all. Applejack's lungs began to burn as she ran faster and faster. Sweat beaded on her coat, and stung the dozens of cuts covering her now-tiny body.
Applejack knew she couldn't keep the pace up forever. All it would take was one slip of the hoof, and Opalescence would be on her in a fury of claws and teeth. It wasn't the thought of dying that bothered her the most- it was how she was going to die. She didn't know if “Here lies Applejack, eaten by her girlfriend's cat” was the most embarrassing tombstone ever, but it was certainly up there.
“Hold up!” Applejack said, and skidded to a halt on her hooves. She stared at a stretch of enormous (to her, at least) minty-green plants. Applejack smiled a grim smile- if she was remembering correctly, and if she was fast enough, she just might make it out of the Everfree alive.
Applejack sprang out of the way of Opalescence's pounce, and then took off at a dead run. The cat followed, so close Applejack could feel warm feline breath wash over the very end of her tail. Applejack panted for breath, and plunged into the copse of serrated-leafed plants
Applejack forced herself to keep her eyes forward, to keep running. If she was wrong, if she faltered … Applejack forced the thought out of her her head, and pressed on. Her hooves kicked up chunks of dirt and loam as she ran. When she couldn't go any farther, Applejack let herself stop. She tensed, bracing herself for the feel of claws sinking into her flesh … a feeling that thankfully never came.
Sides heaving, Applejack turned around. Sure enough, Opalescence had abandoned the chase. She stretched out on her back and rolled from one side to the other, occasionally batting at the leaves surrounding her. Opalescence's deep purr reverberated through the ground like a localized earthquake.
“Tell ya what.” Applejack tottered closer on exhausted legs. “I won't tell Rarity ya got into the catnip iffin' you don't.”
Opalescence ignored Applejack, content to loll about in a drugged stupor.
“Heck, I won't tell Rarity 'bout any of this iffin' you don't.”
“You fell into some poison joke too?” Fluttershy said in a droll baritone.
“Eeeyp.” Applejack said from her perch on a still-intoxicated Opalescence's back. Once Opalescence had started to enjoy herself, it'd been simple enough for Applejack to construct an impromptu bit and bridle. Getting Opalescence to move, however, was considerably more difficult.
“Are you okay? Except, um, for the being tiny thing?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“That's okay. I still have some antidote potion back at my house.”
One potion-bath, one box of adhesive bandages, and a quick raid of Fluttershy's fridge later, Applejack was back to her normal size and well on her way to recovery from the previous night's mayhem. Opalescence, on the other hand, was still in a dopey haze. This was just fine by Applejack- it was a lot easier to handle a fuzzy, boneless, cat-shaped pillow than the hellacious terror was Opalescence's default setting. Between Fluttershy's expertise with animals, and Opalescence's sedation, the gentle pegasus had even been able to bathe the normally murderous feline, and comb the burrs and leaves out of her silky fur without a fuss.
This done, Fluttershy took a shower, and Applejack sprawled out on the couch for a much needed nap. The sun was just rising as they got back to Fluttershy's cottage- Applejack figured she had earned a lazy morning. All she needed was a few hours of shut-eye (and possibly a glass or two of her namesake), and she could forget the previous night's mayhem entirely.
No sooner had Applejack tilted her hat over her eyes, Rarity burst through Fluttershy's front door.
“Applejack!” Rarity gasped, breathy. “There you are!”
“Uh, yep!” Applejack said, and rolled off the couch. “Here I am.” She tried not to sound guilty.
“Over there?” Applejack nodded to the cardboard box set up on Fluttershy's windowsill, where Opalescence dozed in the morning sun.
Rarity spared a glance for the cat, nodded, and then threw herself onto Applejack in a desperate embrace. “Oh, darling!”
Applejack probably would've enjoyed the sensation if it weren't for the fact that Rarity managed to squeeze at least three of Applejack's biggest bruises in her enthusiasm. Applejack bit back a pained squeak.
“I came over as soon as I saw my boutique- it was a disaster!”
“Yeah,” Applejack scratched at the back of her neck. “'bout that-”
“It must have been horrible! Some nefarious villain kicked in the door to my shop, and then they laid waste to the entire first floor! I'm just lucky that such a brave pony was there to stop them!” Rarity ran a hoof over Applejack's much-bandaged hide. “Gasp!” she said the full word. “Look at your wounds! They didn't hurt you, did they, darling? When I saw such destruction, I had feared the worst!”
“Ain't nothin'?” Applejack said.
“Pish posh! It is certainly something, or else you wouldn't be bandaged up like this! To think, my dearest friend, my amour, would shed her very blood not just for me, but for my beloved Opal!”
“Not a word!” Rarity held a hoof to Applejack's lips. “I can only imagine living through such a terrible ordeal once was enough! I will not have you reliving such trauma a second time, relating it to me! Besides, I don't think my delicate sensibilities would hold up. You'd get to some particularly gory part of the story, and I would absolutely faint! And I haven't even brought the proper furniture!”
“Hold up, that ain't-”
“It is!” Rarity said, “and that is the end of this discussion, do you hear me? Perhaps, someday, when this trauma is far behind the both of us, you can tell me the sordid details. But you must know, darling, that I have a lady's delicate sensibilities! Why, you need only look to my dearest Opal,” Rarity abandoned Applejack, and went over to cuddle with the mostly-comatose cat.
“Mwer,” said Opalescence. She flopped against Rarity with all the ambition of a tree sloth. Everfree Forest catnip was a potent thing.
“You see? The very trauma of last night has reduced poor Opalescence to a catatonic state! No pun intended, of course.”
“Of course.” Applejack said.
“Now then,” Rarity tilted her chin up, “I absolutely shan't let some attempt at robbery or sabotage hold me back! Now that I can see you're alright, I shall return to my shop take poor, dearest Opalescence, and begin rebuilding! In the meanwhile, I fully expect you to do everything needed to ensure your full and rapid recovery. Which means no rushing off to overwork yourself or brawl with the latest horrible disaster or monster or what have you!”
“Aw heck, sugarcube. I'm fine. Y'all know I can't promise that.”
“Hmf!” Rarity hmfed. “You are entirely too correct in that matter. But, luckily for the both of us, I have a plan! You see, by my estimates, the time needed for you to properly recover is quite coincidentally the same amount of time I'll need to effect repairs and clean-up … and possibly make something new for my 'special collection,' hm?”
Applejack moved her mouth up and down a few times, but no words came out. For someone who had seen some of the choicest selections from Rarity's special collection, it was an entirely justifiable response.
“That's what I thought.” Rarity draped Opalescence around her neck like a stole, and shot Applejack a flirty smile. “Now then, as much as I'd love to stay and assist in your convalescence, I need to start reassembling my boutique. I just needed to make sure that Opal- I mean, I needed to make sure that you and Opal were both alright.” Rarity leaned in and planted a kiss on Applejack's freckled cheek. “Now please, do be careful, hm? I meant what I said about my special collection. I've been feeling … inspired.”
And with a swish of her tail and a whiff of perfume, Rarity sauntered off.
From her position around Rarity's neck, Opalescence looked up. She blinked a few times, and then, with a great deal of effort, she turned her head towards Applejack.
“Mew,” said Opalescence, smug and content. Applejack glared at the cat until Rarity delicately eased the cottage door shut with a hind hoof.
Fluttershy stuck her head out from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her head.
“Was that-” Fluttershy frowned, and coughed delicately. “Was that Rarity?”
“Oh dear. Has she been back to her shop yet?”
“Really?” Fluttershy said, “are you sure? Because it was kind of a mess when we left, and we didn't have to clean up. She wasn't mad about that?”
“Not … 'zactly?” Applejack shook her head. “To be honest, I ain't much sure just what happened myself. But I've learned that sometimes, ya just gotta shut up n' roll with it.”
“Wow.” Fluttershy said. “That sounds pretty profound. Are you going to write Princess Celestia about it?”
“Aw hay no.”