“Alright everypony, let’s go over the plan one more time.”
Applejack looked up from her saddlebags as Twilight spoke. The train car they were in was small and cramped with the five ponies huddled in it. Although every worker on the train to and from the Frozen North was part of the rebellion, normal civilians still were known to use it from time to time. Applejack, Twilight, and the three new rebels were all tucked in a small car at the front- out of sight of the other passengers and out of the way of the crew.
“Twilight, we went over it, like, a bazillion times before we left,” Rainbow Dash groaned, causing Applejack to shoot her a look. Thankfully, Rarity elbowed the Pegasus in the side and Twilight either didn’t notice or didn’t care as she jumped right into her lecture and paced in small circles.
“The most important thing Rainbow Dash and I discovered is that once the Elements are disconnected from their bearers, they can’t be moved more than fifty feet. Assuming Celestia being sent away disconnected them to her, they have to still be somewhere in the castle.”
“If they even exist,” Applejack grumbled under her breath.
Twilight seemed to hear, however, and shook her head. “No, we found enough books on them to confirm their existence. They’re definitely real, and I think I can make a spell to move them out of the forest. The problem is that we don’t know how to use them.” She stopped pacing and turned to fully address the other ponies. “That’s why we have to take this whole plan carefully.”
Applejack sat up straighter but noticed with annoyance that Rainbow rolled her eyes as Twilight once again repeated what had been confirmed last night. “The plan is that my brother, Big Mac, and Zecora will take a group of ponies, as well as some of our dragon allies, and launch an attack on Canterlot. A small one, mind you, because while Nightmare Moon resides in the Everfree, Canterlot is still where most legal action takes place, so if it’s attacked Nightmare Moon will have to go see to it personally.”
“And while she’s gone,” Rainbow piped up, “We swoop into her castle, take the Elements, and send her back to the moon!”
“No!” Twilight said, stomping a hoof on the floor, “No rash decisions, no improvisation. This is my operation and so we’re going to do it my way, understood?”
There were murmurs of agreement, with yet another exaggerated eye roll from Dash, and Twilight relaxed back into a steady pace. “Rainbow is right about one thing, however. This team is going to sneak into the castle and take the Elements of Harmony so we can study them and decide our next move. As I’ve said, I’ve figured out a spell that should let us move them for a bit, and with Rainbow and Pinka…” She coughed into her hoof then continued on. “Pinkie’s knowledge of the inner working of the castle, the Elements should be easy to find. Yes, we have all our bases covered. Everything will work out perfectly.” She spun abruptly on the spot and looked back at the other four with a large, shaky grin. “So, any questions?”
A pink hoof rose into the air.
“How does dragon adoption work?” Pinkie Pie asked, blinking curiously up at Twilight.
Applejack raised a brow at that and Rainbow Dash smacked herself in the face. For her part, Twilight just looked at the Earth Pony with pursed lips before slowly replying. “I’m… not sure. Even with dragons helping us they’re still a private species and don’t tell ponies much about their society. I assume it would be roughly the same as it is here, though.”
Pinkie nodded, seemingly content with the answer and Twilight turned her attention back to the rest of the group. “Any other questions?”
The train stopped.
The train had been rumbling out of the Frozen North at such a steady pace that Applejack almost forgot they were moving. She was keenly made aware that they had been when the train jerked to a halt so suddenly it threw all the ponies off of their hooves.
“What the hay was that?” Applejack asked, rising back to a standing position. The question was directed at Twilight but the Unicorn didn’t seem to hear her as she rushed to the train window and peered out.
Twilight went pale and her eyes grew wide as she stared at something outside the car. “Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Not good not good.”
“Twilight, darling, what’s wrong?” Rarity asked, coming to stand beside Applejack, “Why did we stop?”
“Everypony get in the back. Go.” Twilight said, ignoring Rarity’s question and shoving the four ponies into the small, secluded area at the back of the car. It was barely more that two small walls closing off the back door, but the five ponies could squeeze behind them and be hidden from anyone in the train car.
“What’s the matter?” Rainbow echoed Rarity as she was shoved in the tight space, “Twilight, what in the hay is happening?”
Twilight poked her head around the corner before ducking back to face the others. “So… um… technically the rebellion owns this railway station, right? Most of the staff and the conductor are rebels, but we can’t have Nightmare Moon know that of course.” A smile stretched across her face and her eyes flicked back and forth nervously as the others silently gazed at her. “So occasionally Nightmare checks the trains, all the trains, for smuggled goods or, you know, fugitives.”
Slowly, the others donned looks of horror as the news set in.
“They’re searching the train for us?” Pinkie squeaked.
“And you didn’t think to have anywhere for us to hide?” Rarity hissed at Twilight.
Twilight glared back at her. “They only do these checks a few times a month and the last one was just a week ago!” She ground her teeth and looked away. “I should have accounted for them to pick it up with the stir you guys made but I didn’t, okay?”
“So we’re going to get stopped before we even get started just because you forgot to mention there were train checks?” Rainbow Dash squawked, her voice just barely a whisper.
Twilight turned to scowl at her. “Well, you’re in the Night Guard! Shouldn’t you of all ponies have known about this?”
“I was Nightmare’s personal bodyguard. I didn’t do train checks!”
“Would y'all shut up,” Applejack spat at the arguing ponies. They immediately went quiet and looked at Applejack guiltily. In the new silence, the unmistakeable sound of hoof steps and muttered voices could be heard at the other end of the car, past the closed door.
Suddenly there was the unmistakable sound of the far sliding door opening and the voices got much clearer. “Huh, doesn’t look like anyone’s in here. I was sure I heard something. Do a quick sweep, just in case, and if you find anypony suspicious report it to the commander immediately.”
“Yes sir,” Came the reply, only seconds before before the door closed and the other pony’s hoofsteps could be heard walking away.
Applejack’s heart clenched at the two words the stallion had given his officer. Applejack knew that voice. She knew that stallion. The fact that he was a soldier wasn’t too surprising, ponies did what they could to get by these days, but having him here was shocking enough to steal Applejack’s breath.
The clip-clop of the stallion’s hooves echoed in Applejack’s ears as he slowly swept the train car. The others were holding their breath in the desperate attempt to keep quiet, but Applejack knew it was hopeless. The stallion would only have to peek into their small hiding spot and then one cry would bring all the other soldiers down on them.
Applejack could knock him out before he shouted. One hit and he’d be down before he’d even seen her. Then they’d have to hide him, though… Hide him and hope no one would come to check on him, which was a foolish hope, the soldiers would just leave with one missing in action. Not to mention what they’d do with him once he woke up.
They were all dead.
If you, perhaps, drop the walls you so carefully built and actually trust somepony, trust them almost completely, you’ll find that they are so much better than they first appear.
Applejack snorted under her breath. She hadn’t fully trusted a pony that wasn’t her siblings or her Granny in years. Trust wasn’t something to be given out freely now a nights.
No, they could knock him out and then run for it. They would probably get far enough before anyone noticed. They could do it.
Applejack stepped out from behind the small half wall that was hiding her and her friends. “Uh, hey there Braeburn.”
The yellow stallion stopped short, halfway through the train car and stared at her with wide eyes. “Cousin AJ?”
Applejack could practically feel Twilight’s panic but Braeburn’s steady gazed clued her that none of the other’s had emerged.
“Hey Cuz, how… how ya been?” AJ asked with what she hoped was a friendly smile.
Braeburn frowned back and took a hesitant step forward. “Ah’ve been… fine. What are you doin’ on this here train cousin? This is comin’ from the Frozen North. What in Equestria were ya doin’ there?”
This was it. She could get out of this now. She just had to lay a lie clever enough for Braeburn to believe and then he’d walk out of here like nothing was the matter. She could do it. She’d done it before.
“Ah’m comin’ back from the Rebellion headquarters.” That was definitely the sound of a jaw hitting the floor. “Ah’m on my way ta raid Nightmare Moon’s castle.” Applejack just didn’t know if it was Twilight’s, Rainbow’s, Braeburn, or even her own.
“Wha… what?” Braeburn stuttered, blinking at her like she was the sun coming back, “Applejack… are… are you sayin’ yer a… a traitor? Ya know… ya know I should turn you in for that.”
Applejack grimaced, a little twitch that she could have hidden but chose not to, and slowly approached her cousin. “I know, and I know it’s a stupid thing ta tell ya but it’s true. I’ve been fightin’ against her for the longest time. Just tryin’ ta make some ponies’ lives better. But now,” She had reached him now and was able to gently lay a hoof on Braeburn’s shoulder. The stallion didn’t move away. He just looked at her with confused, scared eyes. “Now I have a chance ta help everyone. Right behind me is some ponies who know how to defeat Nightmare Moon once and for all and save the world. But we need somethin’ for that ta happen.”
She smiled at him. A true, and trusting smile. It was held down by nervousness but that just made it all the more genuine. “I need ya ta back us up, Cuz. We can’t take every soldier swarmin’ this here train and it’s too far from anythin’ ta run. The only way we could go stop Nightmare Moon is if you bail us out.”
He frowned at her, eyes narrowing slightly and darting to the floor. “Ah don’t know Applejack. If they ever find out that ah lied to them… That I helped ya attack Nightmare Moon...”
“They won’t,” Applejack said immediately, “None of us will ever tell we were on this here train car. But yer still scared, ah know, Braeburn trust me ah know, but we could save everyone from bein’ scared if ya just do this one thing. Please.” She put her hoof under his chin and gently lifted until they were once again eye to eye. “Please Braeburn, I’m puttin’ all my faith in ya. I’m scared of what we’re doin’ too, but I need ta do this. You need ta do this. I know we don’t see each other much anymore but please don’t make me be wrong about ya.”
Braeburn stared into her eyes for a good few seconds as Applejack stood the four ponies in the back held their breath. Finally, Braeburn broke contact and walked back across the train car. “Ah trust ya Cuz. I’m goin’ ta make yer trust in me hold out so why don’t ya make mine? Go stop Nightmare Moon or Celestia help me I’ll bring it up at every family reunion.”
Applejack chuckled, a shaky thing, an honest thing, “Don’t you worry none then. That’s a fate worse than anythin’ Nightmare can dish out.” Braeburn simply nodded, a sliver of a smile flashing on his yellow muzzle, and turned to leave the car when Applejack stopped him. “Hey, Cuz? I...Th-thank you. Thank you.”
Braeburn smiled at her. “Thanks for bein’ honest with me Cuz.” Then he was gone.