• Published 18th Oct 2013
  • 1,542 Views, 60 Comments

Wings of Friendship - DemonBrightSpirit

Rainbow Dash is seriously hurt in a competition. Now it falls to her friends to pick up the shattered pieces. Can they do the impossible and get Rainbow Dash back in the sky where she belongs?

  • ...

Spirit of the Forest

After seeing Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo off, the rest of the group gathered at the edge of the Everfree Forest—all except for Pinkie Pie, who was still frolicking around town looking for the strangest items. Twilight stood in front of the group with a large, unfurled map. "All right, with Applejack's help I was able to find the perfect material to use in place of bones. It's a legendary wood called 'Mist Teak,' and it comes from a magical tree somewhere in the Everfree Forest."

Applejack nodded before tugging a saw free from her pack. "My pa stumbled on it some time ago. We jus' need to find it again. When we do, we jus' need to take a limb off to use. Though, I wouldn't mind it if we find a seed or somethin'. I'd love to try 'n' grow one."

"We have to find it, but Applejack can't remember exactly where the tree is," Twilight continued. "With my research, Applejack's suggestions, and Zecora's advice, I've narrowed down the search area to just a few square miles."

Rarity sighed, rolling her eyes. "Great, an expedition through the mucky Everfree Forest," she groaned.

"Um, what does this tree look like?" Fluttershy asked.

"Good question," Twilight acknowledged as she pulled a book from her saddlebag. It floated in front of the group as the pages whirled through to a picture of a large tree. "It has an aura. You can't really see it, but it says earth ponies can sense it. Other than that, just look for a bigger-than-normal tree with slightly bluish leaves."

Putting the book away, she floated the map out in front of the group. "I'm hoping I can sense the aura, so Fluttershy and I will take this northern zone. It's a much larger area, but we can do a fly over and maybe spot it from the air," she explained, highlighting her intended search area with her aura. "Applejack, you and Rarity take this smaller area to the south." After showing the search area, she folded up the map and put it in Rarity's pack. "Rarity, I put an enchantment on the back of that map. If you read it, you will cast fireworks from your horn. That way if you find the tree or get into trouble, Fluttershy and I can come find you."

"Oh-kay," Rarity said, staring at her satchel. "It's not dangerous, is it?"

Twilight shook her head and smiled. "It's perfectly safe." Then she put a hoof to her chin. "Actually, there was something about the trees being guarded by terrible monsters, but that's probably just a legend."

"Well, what're we waitin' for?" Applejack asked, pointing towards the Everfree. "Let's get goin'!"

"Um, we won't be in there after dark, will we?" Fluttershy asked. "The Everfree Forest becomes much more dangerous after dark."

"Fluttershy has a good point," Twilight agreed. "Let's meet up back here before sundown."

After the two teams split up, Applejack and Rarity found themselves trudging through Froggy Bottom Bog. As much as Applejack would've liked to say that the most irritating thing was the mucky waters up to her chest or the biting mosquitoes, there was something that bothered her even more.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Applejack, but Fluttershy and Twilight—they can fly, can they not?" Rarity asked.

"Yeah," Applejack shortly replied, rolling her eyes.

"So then tell me: why aren't they the ones to go through this icky swamp!?" Rarity complained. "They could just fly right over! I swear, this could not possibly be any worse!"

"Dangit!" Applejack complained, pulling her forelegs out of the water. "I got a leech!" she used one hoof to pull the parasite from her foreleg.

"Leeches!?" Rarity panicked, splashing about in the murky waters. "Where's that map!? I need to get out of here!" She scrambled to open her pack, but, consumed in her panic, Rarity lost her balance just as she got the latch free. The resounding splash preceded the entire contents of her pack being lost to the swamp water.

Applejack quickly fished the map out of the water. The waterlogged paper fell to pieces in her hooves. "Rarity! What they hay're yah doin'!? Yah just lost the map!"

"We have to get out of here!" Rarity insisted as she shook the water from her mane. As the wet hair fell back away from her face, it revealed a black shape attached to her cheek. "I will not have icky water-worms sucking my blood!"

Groaning, Applejack pointed to a nearby bank. "We're almost through, come on," she insisted. A few moments later, she was pulling Rarity free from the water and into the muddy muck of the bank.

"Ew! Ew! Ew!" Rarity complained, trying in vain to remove the silty muck from her hooves and hair. "This is the worst! Possible! Thing!"

Unamused, Applejack reached out a hoof, touching Rarity's cheek. After rubbing her cheek, she yanked her hoof back. "Had a leech," she explained, displaying the writhing parasite.

Rarity put a foreleg to her forehead as her eyes fluttered. She started to tip over, but stopped herself. She noticed the muck she was about to fall in and regained her balance instantly. "Please! Let's just go back! You and Twilight and Fluttershy can handle this on your own!" she begged.

Unamused, Applejack threw the leech back into the water. "Well, we could keep goin' 'n' look for the tree," she suggested, pointing back where the bank led back into a forest. Then, she pointed back to the swamp and its leech-filled waters. "Or, we could go wade back through the water and go home."

Rarity looked to Applejack with big, puppy dog eyes. "Carry me?"

Applejack facehoofed. "Come on, we're gonna look for that tree. I ain't givin' up on RD that easily."

Rarity whimpered as she begrudgingly followed after Applejack. "What did I do to deserve this? Did I not already help Rainbow Dash enough with the crystalline cloth?"

"Just get the compass and tell me which way to go. Even without the map, we should be able to at least look in the right area," Applejack insisted as she checked herself over.

"Get it off!" Rarity shouted. "Get it off! Get it off!"

Applejack looked over to see Rarity fidgeting in place as she looked at her flank. A black blob accented her cutie mark. Applejack rolled her eyes. "Hold still," she urged as she reached out a hoof and pried the parasite free before tossing it away. "Now, which way?"

Rarity pulled off her soiled saddlebags. Dumping it upside down, the only thing that came out was a bit of water and a frog. She immediately cringed away from the bag as she let it drop to the ground. "Ehehehewww!"

Sighing, Applejack shook her head. "I take it that means yah lost it."

"Terribly sorry, Applejack," she apologized. "It just...the muck, and the leeches!"

"No sense cryin' over spilled milk," Applejack resigned. "Let's just...search this way," she suggested, pointing down the nearest path.

"We can't...just go home?" Rarity suggested.

Applejack started down the path. "Not if yah want me to carry yah back across Froggy Bottom Bog," she called after Rarity, not bothering to look back.

Rarity groaned and pouted as she trudged after Applejack.

"We're lost, aren't we?" Rarity asked, keeping herself a hair's breadth away from Applejack in the thick brush.

"It's-it's startin' to look that way, yeah," Applejack affirmed. "Can't find nothin' in this mess."

"What're we going to do!?" Rarity fretted. "I don't have the map, so I cannot signal Twilight to come and get us."

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Yeah, it'd be nice to have a map. Or a compass."

"I already apologized several times for that," Rarity shot back. "How many times do I have to say 'I'm sorry' for you to forgive me?"

Her ears folded back as Applejack came to an abrupt stop. "Just once, sugarcube," she said, turning to look Rarity in the eye. "Now I'm right sorry I keep bringin' it up. I'm just a little frustrated with this whole mess, yah know?"

"Have you seen my tail and mane? Trust me, I am quite past 'a little frustrated,'" Rarity bemoaned. "I just hope that I can salvage my coiffure after this!"

Applejack sighed as she trudged forward again. "I'd be more worried about havin' to spend the night out here, if I were you."

"Wait! You cannot be serious!" Rarity incredulously shouted as she chased after Applejack. "We have to find a way—Gah!"

Suddenly, Rarity found herself falling alongside Applejack down a hidden embankment. As Rarity pulled herself up off of the ground, she found dirt stains embedded deep in her hide. "Oh! I just want to go home and take a bath and forget about this whole fiasco!"

"R-Rarity, look," Applejack said, pointing. No longer were they surrounded by thick bramble. Instead, they were under the canopy of dozens of trees—each one of them at least a few centuries old. In the middle of the grove was an exceptionally magnificent tree. "I think...I think that's it. The tree."

Rarity finally pried her eyes off of herself, looking over to where Applejack was pointing. "Oh, it's magnificent!" she breathed, her eyes wide with wonder.

Before either of them could break out of their stupor, a figure appeared from behind the tree's trunk. Towering as tall as Celestia, she possessed the same general shape as a pony, but the...ingredients varied. Thick, intertwined roots extended out from her verdant coat in place of legs. Instead of hair, leafy vines formed her mane and tail. The most unsettling thing was her eyes. She had red irises, but the whites of her eyes were pitch black.

Applejack visibly gulped. "D-didn't Twilight say somethin' about the tree being guarded by a monster?"

"I thought she said it was just a legend?"

"Does that look like a legend to you?" Applejack pressed, pointing a hoof at the creature.

The creature stood defiantly in front of the tree. She spoke in a hollow, raspy voice, "Who is it that dares to trespass upon my grove?"

"Uh, well—"

"How do you get your mane to do that!?" Rarity asked, trotting towards the creature. "I just know Fluttershy would simply adore something like that."

As Applejack stared slack-jawed, the creature used its woody leg to primp her mane. "Do you like it? I don't really do anything special…"

"I'm so envious!" Rarity gushed, walking right up to the monster. "As you can see, au naturale is anything but kind to my coiffure," she lamented, motioning to her limp, ruined mane.

The creature looked between Rarity and Applejack a moment before fixating on Applejack. She glared at her as her pupils shrank. "Treachery!" she shouted as she reared up. Her forelegs unwound as the individual roots shot out at Applejack.

As the tendrils encircled her, Applejack leapt back. With more luck than skill, she escaped the groping roots. "Easy now! We don't want no trouble!" she pleaded as the roots receded.

Her forelegs reformed as the roots braided themselves. In one of her hooves was Applejack's saw. "You came here to dismember us!" she accused, holding the loathed object up.

Applejack gave a sheepish smile. "Listen, we just came here for a single limb," she tried to explain.

The creature extended a leg towards Rarity. In a flash, a root had snaked around each of her legs and one drew tight around her neck. Holding Rarity up, the monster drew out one of Rarity's hind legs. "Take one of our limbs, and I'll take one of yours," she warned, giving Rarity's leg a good tug.

The root constricting her throat preventing her from actually saying anything, Rarity just stared wide-eyed at Applejack as she whimpered.

"Easy now! Just put Rarity down 'n' we can talk about it, okay?" Applejack urged. "Not like we can do anythin' without the saw, right?"

"I do like this one," she said, looking at Rarity.

"Hi, Applejack! Hi, Rarity! Hi, Dryad!" Pinkie greeted, bouncing out of the thick brush. She pranced right through the tense group. "Oh! Just what I was looking for!" She stopped at a nearby tree trunk, grabbing a mushroom and stuffing it into her saddlebag. "Have fun you guys!" she said, bouncing back into the brush.

The whole group stared at the spot where Pinkie had disappeared for a moment before trying to resume their standoff. The mood, however, was shattered. Sighing, the dryad put Rarity down uttering a quiet "sorry" as she did so. "Leave this grove, and do not return," she ordered.

Applejack waited for Rarity to hide behind her before continuing, "I'm sorry, but we can't just leave like that," she defied. "We came here for a reason. A good one."

"Y-yes," Rarity spoke up, leaning out from behind Applejack. "We didn't come to just take something from you; we came to help our friend."

"By dismembering us? What sort of fool do you take me for?" the dryad bit back. "Do you think I have forgotten how you have driven my kind to extinction with your twisted lust for wood?"

Rarity and Applejack looked at each other before turning back to the dryad. "Well, Twilight didn't mention anythin' about that, but I can promise yah we didn't come to hurt nothin'."

"Then why bring a weapon!?" she accused, brandishing the saw.

"Listen, our friend's a pegasus, 'n' she lost her wing in a terrible accident. We can make her a new one, but to do that we need a branch—one from that tree," Applejack explained, pointing to the shimmering tree. "Just one branch. It shouldn't hurt it none."

"It would be excruciating!" the dryad retorted, tossing the saw at Applejack's hooves. "Leave."

Applejack shook her head. "No. We're not going to abandon our friend," she defied. "A tree can grow a new branch, but a pegasus can't grow a new wing. We need that branch."

The dryad raised one of her hooves at Applejack. "You test my patience."

"Applejack! What are you doing!? Don't make it mad!" Rarity hissed.

"We don't wanna fight," Applejack urged, "but we'll do whatever it takes to help our friend. You don't want us just takin' the branch, 'n' I can understand that. Maybe we could do somethin' in exchange for the branch. Name it. Anythin'."

The dryad considered it a moment before lowering her leg. "If you can promise me the moon, then deliver," she challenged. "Come." She led the wary duo a short distance away from the grove. There, the trees disappeared into a charred landscape.

"Ugh, not this again," Rarity complained, refusing to set hoof into the ashen area. "I'm glad I never had to encounter those dreadful pyreflies."

"They appear once every hundred seasons," the dryad explained, shuddering. "They incinerate us by the thousands."

"Yah want us to get rid of the pyreflies?" Applejack asked.

The dryad shook her head. "They are already gone. The forest's screams have long since quieted into sobs."

"What do yah want from us, then?" Applejack pressed.

"Return to us those that were lost," she requested.

"But that's...impossible," Rarity said, looking out over the swath of seemingly endless destruction.

Applejack shook her head. "Yah ain't gotta worry about a thing, look," she urged, pointing to a small shrub poking out from the ashes. "This is the Everfree Forest. It regrows all on its own."

The dryad reached out with its roots, crushing the shrub and ripping it from the ground. "These grow!" she decried, throwing it away without a second thought. "Shrubs and grasses! They choke out the seedlings and prevent us from reclaiming what is ours!"

Applejack smirked. "Shucks, sugarcube, is that all? Yah want new trees to grow here?"

"You say that as if it is a simple task," the dryad challenged, staring hard at Applejack.

"If there's anythin' we Apples know, it's how to grow trees," Applejack boasted. "How about this: I'll teach yah to grow trees, and in exchange yah let us have that limb. After all, if yah learn how, it's just a matter of time and effort to get all of this back to trees."

"You can make it so that only trees regrow here?" she asked.

"It can be done, yeah, but you've gotta put a lotta work into it," Applejack explained, heading back to the treeline. Glancing around a bit, she found what she was looking for. "Aha!" she exclaimed as she reached up and grabbed a low-hanging acorn in her teeth.

As Applejack pulled it free, the dryad let out an audible growl. "Don't go 'n' give me that," Applejack said, rolling her eyes before plucking another. "I know these are supposed to come off."

"You don't need to be so rough," the dryad protested.

"Don't just stand there, help me collect seeds."

After a few minutes, the trio had collected a saddlebag full of nuts, acorns, seeds, and even a pine cone. "This's plenty," Applejack asserted, leading the group back to the charred swath.

"You think scattering the seeds to the wind will help?" the dryad scoffed. "They will dry out and be consumed."

"Yah don't just throw them to the wind!" Applejack chided as she dug a couple of hooffuls of dirt and ash from the ground. "Yah treat each and every seed with attention and care." She dropped a seed down in the pit and covered it with the loose soil.

The dryad looked to the mound of dirt. "You're burying it? Like a squirrel?"

"It's called cultivation," Applejack explained, inserting a stick to mark the seed's position. "Burying it prevents it from being eaten from critters. Mark it like this so yah know where yah buried it. Then, we usually water the seeds, but I can't imagine how yah'd get that done out here."

"You are telling me that this will cause it to grow into a tree?"

"Only if you keep givin' it love and care," Applejack said, gingerly patting the ground over the seed. "Yah gotta keep all the grass 'n' weeds away from it until it gets big enough to stand on it's own. Don't forget to water it, if you can."

The dryad stared hard at the patch of dirt. "I see no tree."

"Well, it's gotta have a chance to grow. A sprout'll show up in a few days, just you wait."

"You promised me endless groves to replace this scorched earth," she accused.

"And I'm showin' yah how to go about gettin' it done. Trees don't just appear overnight. It takes a lot of work to take care of them so they grow up healthy 'n' strong," Applejack claimed. "Now, if you just follow what I've told yah, yah'll be growin' up nothin' but trees here in no time." Applejack opened the flap on her saddlebag where all the seeds were held. "Here, give it a try."

Unfurling a leg, several roots plucked seeds from Applejack's bag. They immediately spread out and shoved the seeds into the ground. "There," the dryad spat.

Applejack gave a wary smile as she rubbed her neck. "Well, that was...uh, a good try there."

The dryad blinked. "What?"

"Yah did a couple of things wrong," Applejack claimed, trotting over and digging one of the seeds up. "First off, yah can't just shove 'em in the dirt. It's best to dig up a hole first. That way when you bury them the soil is nice and loose. Makes it easier for the sprout to grow up 'n' the roots to grow out."

After demonstrating planting a seed again, Applejack pointed back to where she marked the first seed. "Another thing yah ain't considerin' is how big trees get to be. Yah planted all the seeds way too close to each other. If yah don't give 'em enough room, they'll crowd each other 'n' stymie their growth." Applejack planted and marked a few more seeds for emphasis. There were several feet separating each fresh plot. "Try 'n' spread 'em out about like this."

Without even looking, the dryad's roots dug up the seeds she had erroneously planted. Then, she whirled her roots around to excavate several holes before placing the seeds in and gingerly burying them. "Like so?"

"Perfect!" Applejack praised. "Yah just need to mark 'em so yah know where they are."

The dryad simply stared back at Applejack, raising an eyebrow.

"So, uh, I take it yah don't need a marker to know where they're at," Applejack muttered. "Well, that's fine. Let's just get these here seeds in the ground 'n' make sure yah got the hang of it."

Sure enough, It didn't take even an hour for the dryad and Applejack to empty the entire satchel, seeding a wide swath of the burned area. The dryad, of course, did the lion's share of the work. Rarity, on the other hoof, kept her distance from the ashes and the dryad.

"Hoo-eey! I'd say yah got the hang of this. I could certainly use one of yah on the farm," Applejack praised.

The dryad surveyed the scorched swath. "In exchange for a branch you promised me a resurrection of all the trees lost to those burning monsters," she stated, turning to stare hard at Applejack. "I see not a single tree returned to us."

"Uh, well, if yah just keep it up like I show yah, you can replace all the trees yah lost. Yah just gotta work at it."

"I see no proof that this will do anything at all," the dryad shot back. "You would have me just take your pony word for it?"

"Yes, I do!" Applejack asserted, stomping a hoof. "I've been nothin' but straight with yah from the get-go. You have my word that this will work. This will bring back the trees, good as new. It just takes time and hard work."

The dryad scoffed, strolling back into the woods. Rarity and Applejack immediately went after her, but struggled to keep up. Even though the dryad only seemed to be lazily strolling through the forest, it took a full gallop just to keep up with her. After a very short chase, the pony duo found themselves in the same grove as before, standing before the mighty tree.

"For as long as I can remember, I have loathed your kind," the dryad spoke as she reverently pressed her forehead against the tree's trunk closing her eyes. "Our kind was hunted down, callously driven to the brink of existence." She sighed, stepping back and looking to Rarity and Applejack. "You two are nothing like the stories I have heard. Stories of ponies fighting us, binding us away as they cut our trees, and not caring about our fate… I thought your kind nothing but monsters and heartless beasts."

The two ponies shared a glance before turning back to the dryad. "We're right sorry about that," Applejack apologized. "We had no idea about any of that before we came here."

"To think a pony would treat a tree with the kindness and reverence they deserve is… It never even crossed my mind. Not until I met you, Applejack," the dryad spoke as she outstretched a leg above her head. "Yesterday, if I had been asked if I would ever believe the word of a pony, I would have laughed." Sighing again, she looked up at the branches above her. "I will uphold my end of the bargain, but I have just one more request: a promise."

"A promise?" Applejack asked.

"I want you swear that neither of you will tell a soul of this place."

Applejack nodded. "It's a promise."

"Yes, of course," Rarity agreed. "It's not like we even really know where here is, anyway."

"To break your promise would seal my fate, condemning me to a brutal demise," the dryad gravely spoke. Having said her piece, her leg unraveled into a cluster of groping roots that then wrapped around a limb as big around as a pony's torso. She winced.


"Take this, and do not return," she said, extending the branch towards Applejack.

Applejack used a length of rope to secure the feather-light limb to herself. "We're mighty grateful of yah," she appreciated, nodding at the dryad. Making sure Rarity was set, Applejack started to leave, but hesitated. "Which way did we come from, again?"

The dryad pointed. "The nearest pony settlement is in that direction."

"Thanks again," Applejack said, tipping her hat.

"Wait," the dryad urged, trotting over to the duo. She came to a halt in front of Rarity, extending a hoof towards her. Rarity instantly flinched. Her ears folded back as she cowered before the dryad. "I-I wanted to apologize to you," she said, lowering her leg to the ground. "I never intended you harm. I thought you came to hurt us, so I was trying to scare you away. I am sorry."

"Yes, w-well, you succeeded," Rarity stammered.

The dryad turned back to Applejack. "And you, Applejack. I have never… I can barely fathom how a pony can possibly know how to care for trees better than I, yet here you are."

A pink tinge accented Applejack's cheeks. "Shucks, it ain't nothin'," she dismissed the praise. "We Apples've been raisin' up trees for as long as they're've been Apples. Uh, the family members I mean, not the fruit."

"If you show it the love and attention you have shown the trees today, then I would like you to take this as well," the dryad offered, holding out a leg towards Applejack. "It requires the utmost care, but I believe that you may be capable of nurturing it."

Applejack reached out her hoof, receiving a small, nearly-spherical object from the dryad. Blue-green and possessing a nearly reflective sheen, it was unlike anything Applejack had seen before. That didn't stop her from realizing what it was, though. It was a seed, and it possessed the same, mysterious aura the Mist Teak had.

"I-is this...yer seed?" Applejack asked, looking up at the dryad.

"I trust that you will ensure it grows up safe and strong," the dryad said, walking back to the lone, towering Mist Teak. As she approached the trunk, she vanished from sight.

Applejack gingerly tucked the seed into her saddlebag before stepping in front of Rarity. "Come on, now. We need to get back to Ponyville."

"R-right," Rarity agreed, hesitating just a moment before following after Applejack.

After just a few minutes of trekking, the trees gave way to an open field. Just beyond the open field, was the familiar sight of home.

Applejack chuckled a bit. "Well, how about that?" she mused aloud. "We must've been more lost than I thought."

Rarity's eye twitched. "We went all that way, for nothing!?" she shouted indignantly. "The icky muck, the horrible leeches, all those biting insects—and the tree was a five minute walk from where we started!?"

"I guess so," Applejack said, barely suppressing a laugh, "but look on the bright side: yah can go 'n' take that bath now."

Rarity huffed as she trudged towards town. "I swear, no matter what happened to them, Twilight and Fluttershy couldn't have possibly had a worse time than us!"

Twilight grimaced as she struggled to move at all. She found herself upside down as thick scales completely encapsulated her limbs and torso. "F-Fluttershy! Do...something!"

Fluttershy didn't reply. She just sat there with her cheeks all puffed up as her face started to turn blue. Mere inches from her were enormous fangs.

The giant snake licked its lips with its long, forked tongue. Both ponies struggled in vain against its powerful grip. It would eat well tonight.

"Hey, girls! Fancy meeting you here!" Pinkie greeted as she bounded towards the enormous serpent. A thick loop of muscle surrounded the party pony, but as it constricted, she bounced over it. "I'm looking for a little flower that has alternating blue and pink petals," she explained, continuing to bound around and avoid the snake's ever-more fervent attempts to ensnare her. "Oh! Nevermind! There it is!" Deftly dodging the dangerous beast, she snatched up the flower and set it in her saddlebags.

Behind her, the snake opened its enormous maw as it struck! The jagged teeth snapped shut just shy of Pinkie's tail. The snake's eye widened as it tried again to get to the pink pony, but it was stuck. Somehow, the rest of its body had ended up in knots. It was so tangled up in itself that it had even dropped Twilight and Fluttershy.

Pinkie bounded over to Twilight, stopping to help her up off of the ground. "Good news! I almost have all the ingredients for my taffy!" she happily announced before bounding off.

"Thanks for saving us!" Twilight called after Pinkie as she dusted herself off.

Fluttershy, meanwhile, was stroking the paralyzed serpent's head. "Now, now, I can help you work out your kinks, but you have to promise to be nice, okay? No more trying to eat ponies." The snake emphatically nodded, spurring Fluttershy to fly to the nearest knot to start untying the jumbled mess.

"Ugh," Twilight groaned as she rubbed her aching sides. "That's the fifth thing that's nearly eaten us today," she complained. Sighing, she looked up to the sky as best she could. "I certainly hope Applejack and Rarity are having more luck than we are."