by PaulAsaran


Princess Twilight stood beside Applejack, her ears low and her heart heavy. She thought about giving her friend a hug, or offering her condolences, but somehow she knew that Applejack wasn’t interested in such things. So she just stood in the shadow of the barn, waiting to see what help she could offer. Opposite them, Apple Bloom had her head buried in Granny Smith’s shoulder, her sobs piercing every heart that remained in hearing distance. Big McIntosh stood close by the two of them, his solemn expression a perfect match to that of his eldest sister.

Between them, lying on her belly and seeming only asleep, lay Winona. Twilight had been confused when she’d first seen the canine, but up close she could see the wound in the back of the skull as clearly as the sun in the sky. Her first thought had been to go get Fluttershy, but Applejack stopped her; it was far too late for that.

Twilight looked to her friend’s face. Applejack’s hat had been lowered over her eyes, but from this angle they were clearly visible. They were moist, just barely controlling the dam that she kept inside, but there was far more to them than merely sadness. Her furrowed brow and tightly pursed, scowling lips only confirmed what her gaze already announced. It was the kind of expression that made Twilight worry for whoever was on Applejack’s mind at the moment.

At last, Applejack spoke, her tone as cold as ice. “Twilight?”

No response was necessary. Twilight turned fully to her, stoic and focused.

“Something did this, and I wanna know what. Or who.”

Twilight glanced at the body. She listened to Apple Bloom’s heart-wrenching sobs. She returned her attention to Applejack. “You want my help finding out who did it. Applejack… Are you planning revenge?”

Applejack’s lips trembled. Her eyes flicked to Twilight. Time flowed, accompanied by a filly’s cries and a grandmare’s whispered condolences. Twilight held her breath, preparing herself for the worst case scenario.

At last, her friend deflated. “No. No, I won’t do that. It won’t make things better, will it? I just… I’m so…” She stomped and snorted, blinking back the ever-threatening tears.

With a relieved sigh, Twilight released the tension she’d been holding. She set a hoof to Applejack’s shoulder. “I understand, AJ. Really, I do. I’ll see if I can find out what did this. If I can, then maybe some kind of justice can be served. At the very least we can find a way to keep this from happening to anypony else’s…” She cast a sad look at Winona. “…friend.”

Applejack’s lips worked soundlessly. She heaved a shuddering breath and tried again. “Thanks, Twi. The sooner the better. We’re gonna want to… deal with the… soon…” She swallowed and turned her face away, shoulders shaking.

“Okay. Okay, AJ.” Twilight backed away, knowing how she would want to be left alone under similar circumstances. “I’m going to get Fluttershy. Maybe one of the animals saw something. You do whatever you need to do.”

Applejack didn’t answer. Twilight cast one last look at the family. Her gaze went ignored by Apple Bloom and Granny Smith. Big Mac’s eyes met hers from beneath his furrowed brow, lost and uncertain. Even so, he gave her a small but firm nod, which she returned. The message was clear and, with no intention of disappointing him, she turned away.

She found Spike standing on the first bar of the pig pen, hanging against the fence and watching the creatures lay in the mud with a forlorn stare. “It’s time to go.”

He immediately hopped down and climbed onto her back. He hesitated before asking, “So… what’s going on? Why’s Apple Bloom crying?”

Twilight bit her lip, wondering just how much she should reveal to the young dragon. She considered offering up a white lie, but realized that it would be unfair to him. Spike was surely old enough to understand life and death, and he’d find out the truth on his own eventually. So, with a heavy heart, “It’s Winona, Spike. Something… Something got her last night.”

Spike mulled this over, then sagged. “You mean she’s dead.” When Twilight couldn’t find the words for a confirmation, he asked, “Do you know how?”

She shook her head. “But I’m going to find out. That starts with talking to Fluttershy.”

“Yeah,” he mumbled, voice so low she barely heard. “I guess that fits.”

They walked in silence, Twilight’s hoofsteps as heavy as her heart. As she left Sweet Apple Acres, she wondered about the size of the orchard. Would it feel even bigger without Winona around? Would Applejack wander the fields for a while, thinking about one of her oldest friends? Twilight had never lost a pet. Now she almost wished she had, if only so that she could understand her friend’s pain a little better.

“How’s AJ doing?” Spike asked quietly.

Twilight’s answer came with certainty, even if her volume was subdued. “She’s lost her best friend, Spike. It’s going to be a while before she’s recovered from this.”

He scooted up so he was on her shoulders. “But she’s strong, right? Applejack will get better, won’t she?”

The thought made Twilight smile. “Yeah. AJ’s strong. They’re all strong. Apples are a stubborn breed. They’ll come back from this.”

“Yeah…” Spike sighed and settled into a more comfortable position on her back, his claws resting gently just behind her shoulders. “So, we’re going to Fluttershy’s. I guess you examined the body?”

Once again, Twilight shook her head. “I didn’t need to. The cause was pretty obvious; something hit her. Hard. On the head.” She closed her eyes and pictured the crime scene, but only for a moment. The sight made her shudder. “Nothing was nearby, so we know something didn’t just fall out of the sky.”

Twilight took the road leading around Ponyville. It wouldn’t be as fast, but she wanted to give the Apple Family time to themselves. Besides, she needed to think.

She had been walking for several minutes when Spike abruptly sat up. “Wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense. There’s no wild animals around here that would hurt something by hitting it over the head. They’ve all got claws, fangs, or a petrifying stare.”

It took Twilight a moment of consideration to fully appreciate this insight. She cast a thoughtful, worried look at her assistant. “But a pony wouldn’t do this. Certainly nopony in Ponyville, at least.”

He twiddled his claws anxiously. “Well, can you think of any animals around here that attack that way?”

“We don’t know it was an attack,” she corrected. “Maybe it was an accident.”

He fidgeted, eyes still meeting hers. “Can you?”

As quickly as she could, Twilight ran through every creature she knew about in these parts. Her ears folded back as she came up blank. Scrambling for a better answer, she replied, “We don’t know everything that lurks in the Everfree Forest. It could have been some creature we’ve never seen before.”

He thought on this, then gave a weak nod. “I guess so—”

She whipped her head forward. “Right, it’s just a creature from the forest. We’ll identify it, find a way to stop it, and then I’ll send my research notes to The Society of Natural Wonders for cataloguing and recognition as the discoverer. This kind of thing won’t happen again.”

This seemed to calm the little dragon, for he had nothing to add and the conversation died. Twilight forced herself into a trot, hoping the upbeat pace would enhance the illusion of her confidence. As long as he didn’t get a look at the worry on her face. His was a pretty bad idea, wasn’t it? No pony would kill Winona, why would they? It made no sense.

Reassured by this fact, she focused her mind on her next step, which was Fluttershy and her animal friends. Breaking the news to her would be difficult, and she would have to mentally ready herself for the arduous meeting.

They travelled in silence for some time, taking in the sounds of the birds and other local wildlife. The path they’d chosen was on the edge of the forest, and thus rich in flora. The sunlight sparkled through the canopy, which extended far enough to shade the whole road. On rare days when Twilight had the free time and no commitments to her friends, she would sometimes walk down this way, but today she felt no pleasure from the sights.

She was so preoccupied that she didn’t notice the wagon until she was almost past it. When she did, she paused to examine the thing. It stood tucked amongst the trees just off the road, its roof made of a thick cloth and the base of some sturdy-looking timber. A little hideaway, ready to be moved at a moment’s notice. Twilight stared at it for a moment, her already weighty heart sinking a few more inches.

Spike shifted on her back. “Did you go to see her yesterday?”

Twilight nodded. “Trixie’s still comatose. No change at all.”

He sighed and shook his head. “What was she doing here, anyway? I mean, seriously, how long was she lying there before Fluttershy’s animals found her?”

“Not long, according to the doctor.” Twilight turned away from the old wagon with a sigh. “It looks like she was finally getting back on her hooves, too. I mean, she could afford a new wagon.”

“Well, maybe not a ‘new’ wagon, but a wagon.” Spike twisted his body to observe the wagon as they moved on. “And it’s a covered wagon. Not very good for making road shows, y’know? Pinkie said she'd inspected it when she moved it here, and it seemed real cramped inside. I just wish I knew why Trixie came back to Ponyville.”

“Maybe she was just passing through,” Twilight suggested half-heartedly. “One problem at a time, Spike. Trixie’s at the hospital, and as far as we know she’s not waking up anytime soon. We’ll help her, but first we need to help AJ.”

“Yeah, I know,” he muttered. “It just seems fishy to me, her showing up and then Winona dying in less than a week.”

Twilight thought for a moment, turning her eyes to the shimmering light of the canopy. “They can’t be related, Spike. The cases aren’t even remotely similar.”

A few seconds passed in silence. At last, Spike sat back once more.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Pinkie’s grin spread from ear to ear as she awaited the approval of the pony standing opposite the counter.

But Rarity, it seemed, hadn’t heard her properly. The mare just stared at her with a blank face. “A party.”

“Uh, yeah! A party.”

“For… Trixie.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Who is comatose in the hospital.”

Pinkie’s head nodded with all the speed her ongoing sugar rush commanded. “It’s a ‘Hope You Wake Up Soon And Get Better’ Party.”

Rarity’s expression didn’t so much as crack, even when her eyes blinked once, twice, again. “Pinkie, I don’t know. How can she enjoy it if she’s in a coma?”

“Weeelll,” Pinkie’s ear flicked to the sound of a ding behind her. “Be right back, fresh muffins coming up!”

She whipped into the kitchen and grabbed a hot pad. Moving with practiced ease, she pulled a batch of fresh raisin-and-brown-sugar muffins from the oven. No sooner were they out of the pan than she quickly began setting them on a display tray.

Your friend has a point, you know.

She flinched, almost dropping the muffin she was holding. With a fretful glance at the door, she hissed, “Not now! You promised to keep quiet while I was working.”

I just wanted to point it out. Trixie won’t enjoy it.

“You should be eager to please her,” Pinkie whispered, hurrying with the muffins as the ding of another oven indicated the second batch was ready. “You said she was your friend.”

Of course I did, and of course she is. That doesn’t change the fact.

“Then you won’t mind if I throw a party for her.”

The voice became perplexed. But if she’s unconscious, what’s the point?

Pinkie shook her head with a sigh, tossing the pan across the room. It landed neatly in the waiting sink. Already, she had the second batch in one hoof and was carefully moving the fresh muffins. Their sweet, bready aroma brought a warm smile to her face. “You’ve got a lot to learn about being friends, Mr. Voice-In-My-Head Guy. Not all acts of friendship have to make sense.”

She thought she heard a scoff. I’ve been trapped in a box for thousands of years. I haven’t had much of an opportunity for friend-making.

The tray securely on her back, Pinkie grinned and pronked for the door. “Well then, I’ll just have to help you with that! I wanna hold a party for Trixie because she’s my friend, and she could use one to cheer her up. I mean, come on, lying in bed for days on end with nothing to do? Bo~ring!”

“Well, that’s certainly noble of you, Pinkie,” Rarity declared with a kind smile, “but don’t you think she’d enjoy it more if she were awake?”

“Probably.” Pinkie shoved the tray into the display shelf beneath the counter— “But even if she’s in a coma, that doesn’t mean she can’t hear us having fun.” —then pulled out three plates— “And maybe when she realizes we’re having fun around her, she’ll want to join in!” —and deposited a muffin on each. Nabbing a fourth, she turned to Rarity and set the plates on the countertop. “Who knows? Maybe the joy of Laughter will be enough! She might realize just how much she’s missing out on and say ‘You know what? Trixie doesn’t want to sleep anymore.’ Then wow, she’s awake!” She pushed a plate across the counter. “There you go.”

“I suppose that is a possibility,” Rarity confessed, though doubt laced her tone. She eyed the two extra plates and the muffin in Pinkie’s hoof. “What are the other ones for?”

The door of the shop opened; already, the extra muffin was sailing through the air. A grey-coated, blonde mare snatched it out of the air with one hoof. “Thanks, Miss Pie!”

“Welcome, see you tomorrow!” Pinkie called over Rarity just before the door closed. Catching the unicorn’s cocked head, she added, “Every day on lunch break. Mail routes make a mare hungry.”

Rarity blinked, then shook herself and brushed the curl of her mane distractedly. “Right. And the other two?”

“Whaf fwoo?” Pinkie asked, crumbs coating her cheeks.

“Ah.” Her friend took a step back to avoid coming under fire from wayward crumbs, then looked down at the lone remaining muffin. “And that one?”

“For Rainbow Dash.”

“Oh.” Rarity looked around at the empty café. “Did she reserve it, then?”

“Nope.” Pinkie pronked in place, crumbs gone from her face. “Come on, Rares, what do you think? Trixie’s a pony with very specific taste.”

Rarity sighed, then offered her best smile and lifted her muffin from its plate. “Well, far be it for me to say ‘no’ to a friend. If you really think it’ll be worth it—”

“It’ll be so worth it!”

“—then I would be delighted to help prepare some decorations for this party. I’m sure the rest of the girls will be happy to help out.” She took a dainty bite of the muffin, not a crumb falling out of place, and her eyes lit up. “Oh my, this is absolutely delightful!”

But Pinkie’s pronking had ceased. She stared at Rarity, then bowed her head. “Well, most of them.”

“Why, whatever do you—”

The door burst open, releasing into the shop a multi-hued gale. Rainbow Dash slid to a stop beside Rarity, breathing fast. “Pinkie! And Rarity, am I glad you’re here too!” Before she could say another word, she caught the muffin that Pinkie had thrown high into the air. “Thanks, Pinkie, how’d you know I was hungry?”

Rarity averted her gaze and held a hoof across her face as Rainbow annihilated her muffin, releasing a shower of crumbs. “I say, Rainbow, whatever – ick – is the matter?”

Rainbow finished off the muffin, gave a light belch, then grimaced as Rarity dabbed her face clean with a napkin. “We need to get to Sweet Apple Acres, pronto. AJ’s gonna need some help!”

“Is she, now?” Rarity tossed the napkin into a nearby bin, watching it fall with a grimace. “And why does Applejack need our help, if you would be so kind as to explain?”

Rainbow hesitated, her ears folding back and her eyes dropping to the floor. “Winona was murdered last night.”

A weight, not quite forgotten, made itself known to Pinkie’s body. She bowed her head as images of the previous night flashed through her eyes.

“Oh, dear…” Rarity set a hoof to her chest, eyes wide. “Murdered? Are you sure? Maybe it was an accident.”

Out the corner of her eye, Pinkie watched Rainbow.

“Nuh-uh.” Rainbow shook her head slowly. “Twilight says it was no accident. Eggheaded stuff, I didn’t get it. Fluttershy asked the animals, but none of them got a good look at the culprit. They were too scared to get close enough.”

Wait, animals?

Pinkie flinched and spoke just under her breath, “Not now.”

You didn’t tell me you had a friend who could talk to animals!

“Be quiet!”

“Pinkie Pie!” Rarity tapped the countertop with a scowl. “I know this is a shock, but there’s no need to be rude.”

“S-sorry, Rarity.” Pinkie sat, tail wrapped about her flank, and pouted. “I just… don’t believe it.”

“It’s alright, Pinks.” Rainbow offered a sympathetic look. “Anyway, I came to get you guys. Applejack’s not taking it well. I figure she’s going to need the support of all of us.”

“Good thinking,” Rarity replied with a forlorn nod. “She’s had Winona since she was just a filly. I can’t imagine what the poor dear must be going through right now. And dear Apple Bloom! Why, Winona’s been with them all her life! Yes, we absolutely must bring the others. I think I’ll get Sweetie Belle to come along.”

Rainbow paused to consider this, then nodded. “Yeah, Apple Bloom could use some friends right now, too. I guess I should get Scoots.”

“You do that.” Rarity trotted for the door, muffin floating nearby. “Oh, this is such terrible news! I hope they find whatever did this, and soon.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie whispered, her gut twisting, “I hope so, too.”

Rainbow noted her downcast manner. With a single flap of her wings, she crossed over the counter and nuzzled Pinkie’s cheek. “Hey, you gonna be okay?”

Pinkie offered a frail smile. “Yeah… I guess. I’m just so surprised, is all.”

“I noticed.” Rainbow rubbed the back of her neck, uncertainty plain in her expression. “So are you coming?”

For a moment, the merest of instants, she considered saying no.


She leaned back and rubbed her hooves together anxiously. “So… we don’t know anything about what killed Winona?”

Rainbow cocked her head, appearing as though a puzzle had just been thrust in her face. “Well, according to the birds living in the rafters of AJ’s barn, it was a pony in the shadows. But that can’t be right, y’know? What pony would do something like that to an innocent dog?”

Something nasty rose up in Pinkie’s throat. She thought she tasted the faintest hint of ash. “Yeah… I’ll come. I just need to close up the shop.” She offered a wan smile. “You go on ahead. I’ll meet you there, okay? Maybe bring some fresh cupcakes. Sweets will at least make everypony feel a little better.”

“I hope so, Pinkie.” Rainbow hesitated, then gave her a hug. Pinkie almost shoved her away, but it felt so good… so she leaned into it and tried not to cry.

The embrace ended far sooner than she hoped. Rainbow flew back over the counter and trotted for the door. “I’ll see you there. Don’t worry, we’ll catch the monster that did this!”

Pinkie stared at the empty doorway for some time, the taste of ash on her tongue. She felt so heavy, like her hooves were covered in cement blocks, which would be really uncomfortable, and she knew that because she felt uncomfortable now. But she could do nothing about it, so she just stood there, letting the fire in her belly burn up her insides.

You lie with surprising ease.

Her lip trembled. She gave the faintest of sniffs.

“Please. Be quiet.”