• Published 20th Oct 2011
  • 2,259 Views, 18 Comments

Ballad of Autumn Dreams - Cadence



As Rainbow goes to work with AJ, they find an old friendship renewed, and perhaps a bit more.

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Summer Part 1

A Summer of Hopes

As the seasons fade from Spring to Summer, the vibrancy and life that had grown during the former became sharper. Longer days and the Summer sun brought a brightness to everything, the green color of the leaves and plant life growing more vivid and beautiful as time passed. Flowers that had begun to appear throughout the Spring were now in full bloom, lending a wonderful fragrance to the air and a splash of color to the scenery. Little critters were out in abundance and the sound of birdsong greeted the ponies of Ponyville as they frolicked and played in the wonders of the day, while clear skies and beautiful stars greeted those who preferred Luna’s night.

At Sweet Apple Acres, the apple trees were now in full bloom and the first apples would be appearing before too long. The crops that had been planted a few months back were growing strong now and the harvest was approaching steadily. For now though, there was still some time to go before then and Rainbow Dash continued to pull together small rainstorms every few days to water the fields.

Despite whatever she may have thought before, the pegasus found she was actually enjoying her time at the farm. Sure, the early mornings weren’t exactly her favorite things in the world, but she could live with that. Apart from that though, there was a feeling of pride, of a job well done that came with watching the progress of the crops she had helped to plant and grow. And then, there was the time she was able to spend with Applejack. They had quite a lot of things in common, probably why they had become friends in the first place, and she quickly found herself enjoying their conversations as more than just ways to distract herself from the work.

Nothing much seemed to be going on around town as time passed, no major adventures for her and her friends to take part in. Still, life was far from boring for Dash and it looked like the Summer was going to get far more interesting following the arrival of a special letter from a particularly friendly mailmare.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” Applejack said curiously as she walked into the room, looking at the letter Rainbow Dash was holding.

“I don’t know. I was just about to open it and find out.” The pegasus replied, quite curious herself.

Dash didn’t get too many letters since everypony who would think of writing to her lived in the same town. Well, except for her parents, but they didn’t talk much anymore, and that worked out better for everypony. Carefully, she broke the seal and unrolled the scroll to read.

As her eyes roamed over the words, they widened and a look of shock, confusion, and excitement all at once came across her.

“Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, ohmigosh! I... I don’t believe it!” She said, nearly dropping the scroll in her excitement.

“What is it sugarcube?” Applejack asked, tilting her head a bit at Rainbow’s reaction. “Somethin’ good, Ah can see that much.”

“Oh yeah! It’s... it’s from the Wonderbolts! They’re coming to Ponyville in a few weeks to see me perform, maybe even to give me a spot on the team! I didn’t know they even did this kind of thing. This is so awesome!”

“That’s great news, Rainbow! This could be yer chance ta have yer dreams come true.” The earth pony said, giving a smile that matched the one worn by her friend.

“I know! I’ve always hoped this would happen and now it is.” Rainbow said before something occurred to her and she turned toward Applejack. “Oh, but I’m going to have to work that day...”

“Heh, ya’ll can have that day off. Ah don’t think that’ll be a problem at all.” Applejack replied with a laugh.

“Thank you Applejack! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” The pegasus said, positively beaming at her friend.

“Hey, Ah know just how important this is to you, Rainbow. What kinda friend would Ah be if Ah made you work through it? Though, ya’ll might have ta work extra hard the next day ta make up for it.” The orange pony said with a little chuckle.

“It’s totally worth it! This is going to be so great... I’m going to have to practice extra hard to make sure I can nail my best tricks. Eheh, after work of course.” Rainbow said, spotting Applejack’s look.

The earth pony gave a laugh and shook her head, smiling widely to her friend. “Ah’m only kiddin’ sugarcube. Now, let’s get workin’ so ya’ll can have plenty of time to practice yer flyin’.”

**************

For the rest of that day, and indeed for the next several days, the upcoming tryout was all Rainbow Dash could think about. However, after her initial excitement began to wear off, another feeling began to set in, one that she was only too familiar with. It was nervousness, and fear. What if she messed things up again, like she did during her routine at the Best Young Flier’s Competition? Or worse, what if she did her very best and the Wonderbolts just didn’t think it was good enough...

Whenever her mind touched upon those topics, or similar ones, she tried to distract herself by going over her tricks again in her mind, thinking through what she could do to improve them. A nice side effect of this was that by the time of the tryout, she would have her routine completely memorized, which left only her flying skills to be put to the test.

Nearly all of Rainbow’s free time was spent flying around to practice her tricks. As soon as she was let loose by Applejack, she would head out to the field she normally practiced over, or the lake if the trick was particularly risky. Despite a few minor setbacks, she was doing extremely well, capable of pulling off all of her tricks with few errors. Still, even though everypony who happened to come by and watch her perform told her so, she continued to push herself to make it even better. Good wasn’t good enough, it had to be perfect for the Wonderbolts.

While she had grown stronger during her time working at the farm, this was another matter entirely. Dash’s constant drive to improve herself began to take a toll on her body, sore muscles beginning to protest against the constant use. Once again, she started to have trouble waking up in the mornings, Applejack sometimes having to call for her three or four times before she would emerge from her room, grumpy and sore after a rough night’s sleep.

About a week after she had received the letter, Rainbow Dash woke up after a particularly bad night. She had tossed and turned all night, dealing with nightmares that were far worse than usual. Though she couldn’t remember any details, one had something to do with her doing so badly at the tryout that the Wonderbolts had revoked her rights as a pegasus and she had woken up just before her wings were removed. Still shaking slightly, she followed Applejack out of the house, her friend trying to make light conversation but being met with only curt answers or nothing at all.

Her mood did not improve at all as the two ponies went about their various tasks of the day. If anything, it grew worse and seemed to be infectious as it wasn’t too long before Applejack was in a rather sour mood as well. Several times throughout the morning, the earth pony had had to snap at her friend for making mistakes that were either dangerous or shouldn’t have been made at all. They had even come close to getting into a shouting match more than once as time dragged on.

All in all, Rainbow Dash was quite glad as she was left with just one more task for the day, putting together the rainclouds that would cover the farm and water the crops. For one thing, it meant she was almost finished and could go practice some more. For another, it meant that she no longer had to be around Applejack any longer.

The pegasus began to pull clouds together to form a solid grey mass in the sky, grumbling to herself as she did so. She was so caught up in her irritation and anger that she didn’t notice that the clouds, which should have been a light grey shade, were rapidly growing quite dark. It wasn’t until there was an ominous rumble of thunder and the rain began to pour down that she realized she’d forgotten one of the most important rules of the weather team. Never put together something like a storm while angry.

Just like any other form of art, a pegasus put a bit of themselves into the weather they created. Normally, this simply served to make their work look incredible and have more life to it than the kind of weather that would form over, say, the Everfree Forest. Of course, this also meant that negative emotions such as anger or jealousy could have a profound effect on whatever the pegasus put together, as Dash was seeing with her storm which was rapidly growing out of control.

Lightning crackled from cloud to cloud, though even as Rainbow Dash fled to the ground to avoid being struck, she knew it would only be a matter of time before it would make it’s way down. As the gusts of wind howled and the downpour grew even stronger, Applejack made her way out of the barn, holding her hat on with one hoof as she stared up at the clouds with wide eyes.

“R-rainbow, what’s... what’s goin’ on here? Ah know Ah asked fer a storm, but this is just too much! If this keeps up, we’re gonna lose the crops and maybe even some of the apple trees.”

“Applejack, I’m so sorry! I... I didn’t mean for it to turn out like this.” Rainbow Dash shouted over the storm, her eyes wide and fearful.

“Save yer apologies fer now, sugarcube, we’ve got bigger problems. Can’t ya’ll break it up or... stop it or somethin’?” Applejack said as Big Macintosh and Caramel appeared, having dropped whatever they were doing to see what was going on.

“No, it’s too big now. I can’t control something this size. I... I suppose I might be able to try something to slow it down or break it apart, but I don’t know. With that lightning...”

“Well, you can’t just stand around doin’ nothing. None of us can. Come on, Big Macintosh, Caramel, we need to get tarps out over the crops, secure the barn and house, ya’ll know what ta do. Rainbow, do somethin’ about that storm if you can. If not... let’s just hope you can anyways. Move it ponies!” Applejack said, steeling herself up as she took command in the face of this disaster.

Her brother and Caramel did as she said, though the smaller pony was visibly trembling. Together with Applejack, the three earth ponies began to pull large tarps out of the barn, hauling them toward the fields to try and cover up the crops from some of the worst of the storm. Unfortunately, as soon as the tarps were unfolded, that plan began to fall apart. The wind was just too strong and, though they kept their grips on the fabric, it was still flapping wildly in the wind.

As they were fighting with that, Rainbow Dash had taken to the air again, trying to take calming breaths even as she dodged around the clouds to avoid any lightning. Against something like this, one pegasus alone didn’t stand a chance, but she didn’t have time to go get any others or the storm she’d put together would wind up tearing Sweet Apple Acres apart. Still, there had to be something she could do, and she began to try everything she could think of to break apart the clouds.

Despite her best efforts though, for every cloud she kicked away or got separated from the main thunderhead, more continued to get sucked into the mass and the storm grew and grew. Gritting her teeth as yet another of her attempts failed, Dash flicked her mane out of her eyes and flew right back into the clouds again. She couldn’t just give up, not while those three ponies below were counting on her. She had to stop this monster she’d created.

Down below, things were going a bit better for the earth ponies. They had finally managed to get half of the tarp down, Caramel tying the ropes to stakes which were driven into the ground. Applejack and Big Macintosh each had one of the other corners and were struggling to hold them down so that he could come around and finish those off as well, starting with Applejack’s. The wind was terrible though and it was taking all the strength they had just to hold on and keep the tarp from flapping loose again.

After yet another failed attempt at putting a stop to the storm, Dash headed back down toward the ground to let the other three know that she needed help with this. Before she could say anything though, there was a loud snap as one of the ropes holding down the tarp broke under the strain. Caught by the wind, the entire tarp began to shift and blow around, the severed rope now whipping viciously through the air. Before anypony could do anything except stare on in horror, the rope blew straight toward Big Macintosh, slamming into the stallion’s side with a crack loud enough to be heard over the storm. The red pony was thrown off his hooves by the force of the blow, landing in the mud where he lay, completely still.

“Oh Celestia, Big Macintosh!” Applejack called out, racing over to her brother.

She looked over the fallen pony for a moment before turning back to the other stallion there.

“He’s hurt bad. Gonna need somepony’s help fast... Caramel, run and go get Nurse Redheart!”

Caramel didn’t move at all, didn’t even act as if he had heard her. He was simply staring at the scene unfolding around him with wide, terrified eyes, apparently completely oblivious to the deadly rope still lashing through the air around him. The pony seemed to be completely paralyzed with fear.

“Caramel, get down!” Came a voice from above, followed by a speeding blue blur that knocked the yellow pony to the ground just in time to avoid the rope as it whizzed past at head height.

The shock seemed to be enough to break whatever trance had fallen over the stallion as he blinked and quickly got back up onto his feet, backing out of reach of the severed rope. Looking from Big Macintosh on the ground and Applejack beside him to Rainbow Dash where she was picking herself up from the mud and seemed to falter once more.

“I... I...” He tried to say before Applejack cut him off.

“There ain’t no time, Caramel! Ya’ll need ta get ta Ponyville and get Nurse Redheart!”

“After you’ve done that, gather up as many pegasi as you can.” Rainbow Dash added on hurriedly. “I need all the help I can get.”

The colt still looked absolutely terrified, but he nodded and bolted off toward the town. After he left, Applejack took another look down at her brother before getting back up. After a quick look around, she found a cloth that would at least keep some of the rain off of him and laid it over the red stallion.

“Ah’m sorry, Big Mac, but Ah’ve still got a job ta do. Ah’m sure ya understand...” She said, hesitant to leave his side while he’s injured but still turning away toward the runaway tarp. “Rainbow! Ah know Ah asked you ta take care of that storm, but Ah can’t do this all by mah lonesome.”

“R-right! Just tell me what you need me to do!” The pegasus gave a nod in reply.

With that, the two set about trying to get the tarp back under control and staked down. It was hard going, far harder than it had been with three ponies working on it. The driving rain and howling winds didn’t make things any easier on the two of them. Somehow though, they finally managed to get the first tarp pinned down and, despite a brief, anxious moment where it looked as if the ropes might snap, they held.

Applejack gave a little sigh of relief, though she didn’t have time to rejoice just yet. There were still two other fields to cover and this was just a temporary measure. If something wasn’t done about that storm... Her thoughts are distracted by the arrival of Nurse Redheart, followed shortly thereafter by Caramel and a flock of pegasi ponies along with some of the stronger ponies from town.

As the nurse pony immediately rushed to Big Mac’s side, looking him over before calling over two ponies to help her lift him up onto a stretcher and haul him back toward Ponyville, the others began to divide up into groups. Applejack led one group of the land-bound ponies, leading them toward one of the remaining fields while Caramel led the second. Rainbow Dash took command of the fliers, putting in action a plan to cut the storm into several bits all at once, breaking it up faster than it could grow back.

Slowly, the tide had turned. Thanks to the efforts of all the ponies, the last two fields were covered over and the storm was worked down to a size where it would blow itself out before too much longer. Apart from some minor cuts and bruises, and a lot of discomfort from the storm and the mud, nopony else was injured and, soon enough, they had all huddled inside of the barn for shelter rather than brave the walk back into town.

The pegasus ponies really knew what they were doing. While they were unable to disperse the clouds entirely, the storm blew itself out in a little under an hour. The ponies that had helped during the emergency trickled out the barn, heading for their homes, but Applejack made sure to personally thank each and every one of them.

“Hey, it’s not a problem. What hurts Sweet Apple Acres, hurts all of us. Giving help during a time of need is the least we can do.” One of the ponies replied to her thanks, giving her a little smile before leaving.

Soon, the last of the helpers had left, leaving just Applejack, Caramel, and Rainbow Dash in the barn, each dreading what they might see once they step outside. Before that happened though, Applejack knew there were things she needed to speak to the other two about now that the townsponies had left.

Before she had a chance to say anything though, Caramel stepped up. “Applejack, I... I’m sorry. I let you down, all of you. And, I know we’re going to need to have a talk, but I can’t right now. I have to know... if he’s alright.”

As she looked at the yellow pony, still trembling somewhat with his wide, teary eyes, Applejack’s heart melted for him and she gave a little nod. With no need to be told twice, the stallion shot out of the barn toward Ponyville. That left just the pegasus in there with her.

Although all of the adrenaline had left her body a while ago, Rainbow Dash still seemed to be stuck in a fight or flight mentality. As she stood there nervously, her wings rustled and shifted continuously as she hoofed at the ground. This was far worse than any mistake she had ever made before. She had never lost control of a storm like this and today it may have cost her friend dearly, possibly even more so than just the damage to the farm.

As her friend turned to look at her, Dash knew that it was all over. Their newly strengthening friendship, the good times here at the farm, it was all gone. Next to this, the incident with the raincloud a few weeks ago looked like nothing. At that moment, the one thing that Rainbow Dash knew for certain was that she had messed up bad and that she couldn’t stand to hear the anger and hate that she knew would be in her former friend’s voice.

The guest room at the house wasn’t far enough to run. Her own cloud house wasn’t either. She would just keep flying and flying and flying until she crossed the very borders of Equestria, maybe not even stopping then. The barn doors were still wide open, she could see the clearing skies through them.

Unable to face her friend, Dash bolted.

Or she would have, had something not grabbed hold of her tail and pulled her crashing back to the ground.

Turning her head to look behind her, she saw that Applejack had caught her tail in her teeth and was currently holding onto it.

Once certain that the pegasus was grounded for now, the orange pony spat out the sopping tail before giving her friend a little look. “Ah ain’t lettin’ you fly off this time Rainbow Dash. We’ve already done that once, and Ah’m afraid ya’ll won’t let me catch up this time. Now, Ah jus’ want ta know... what happened, Rainbow?”

Looking into her friend’s green eyes, it was like a floodgate burst inside of Rainbow Dash. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t keep the tears from gathering in her own eyes and soon she found herself sobbing uncontrollably, tearing her eyes away from Applejack’s.

“I... I don’t know. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I... was just so mad... at you, at myself, at the whole world. And... I lost control. The storm just fed off my feelings and... and it kept getting bigger and bigger. It was a stupid mistake and... now I’ve messed up everything. Big Mac’s in the hospital, the farm’s probably in shambles, and there’s no way you can’t hate me for this. Ugh, and now this is the second time you’ve seen me fall apart like this... I’m so pathetic...”

Silence met these words as Dash tried to pull herself together with no success. The sudden feeling of a pair of legs wrapping around her neck caused her to tense up for a moment before she realized that Applejack had pulled her into a tight hug.

“Rainbow Dash, Ah don’t hate you. Ah won’t say ya’ll didn’t make a mistake, but Ah forgive you. That’s what friends do...” The earth pony said softly as she held her friend.

Held in the embrace, the pegasus was hesitant at first, unused to displays of emotion around her friends. Before too long though, she was leaning gently against Applejack, sobbing softly as she let out emotions she had been keeping bottled up for quite some time, afraid to let anypony else see them for fear that they might lose respect for her if they saw. Applejack gave little comforting nuzzles to her friend as she held her.

Finally, Rainbow Dash’s tears began to dry up and her sobs ceased. Applejack released the pegasus and took a step back. Now that her friend seemed to have calmed down a bit, it was time to talk.

“Ah want ya’ll ta know, Ah’m not angry at you, sugarcube. Ah’m worried. Ah ain’t never seen you like this before. What’s wrong, Rainbow? Does this have somethin’ ta do with that tryout you’ve got comin’ up?” She said softly.

Rainbow hesitated for a moment before giving a little nod, turning away. “Y-yeah... I... I’m so nervous, AJ. No matter how much I practice, I’m scared it’s not enough. What if I mess up, or they don’t like me? It... this has always been my dream... What if I’m just not good enough...”

“Rainbow, ya’ll ain’t got nothin’ ta worry about. Ah’ve seen yer tricks and they’re amazing. Ya’ll jus’ need ta have a bit more confidence in yerself. Besides, if Ah recall, you saved those ponies once before, right? That’s gotta count fer somethin’. When you get out there and perform for them, the Wonderbolts’re gonna love it.”

“You... you really think so?” Dash said, though she still seemed afraid to truly get her hopes up.

“Course Ah do, sugarcube. Yer the best young flier in Equestria, right? Got the award and everything. And, even if somethin’ does go wrong and you don’t make it in, well, ya’ll jus’ keep on tryin’ until you do. Put that stubbornness of yours ta good use.” Applejack said, cracking a little smile. “Jus’ remember, Rainbow, we’re all here for you, Twi, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy, and me, no matter what.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I... I can’t let this get to me. I’m Rainbow Dash, the one and only. Fastest flier in Equestria.” The pegasus said, a small grin appearing that, though shaky, was still more like her normal self. “And I am going to join the Wonderbolts! Thanks, AJ. I’m just going to keep practicing even harder.”

Applejack gave her friend a wide smile upon seeing her cheering up again. Though, at the mention of practicing, she raised an eyebrow at Dash, quickly putting a hoof down over her tail as the pegasus looked ready to run off. Finding herself caught yet again, Dash turned back to the orange pony with a little look.

“What is with you ponies and grabbing my tail?”

“Gets yer attention, don’t it?” Applejack said with a little chuckle before turning serious once more. “Now, that’s somethin’ else Ah wanted ta talk with you about. Not the tail thing, but yer practicin’. Ah know ya’ll want ta do the best you can, but Ah’m worried yer pushin’ yerself too hard.”

“Pushing myself too hard? No way! I have to do this, Applejack. No matter how good a flier I may be, there’s always room for improvement and my show needs to be absolutely perfect for the tryout. Besides, I... I can handle it. No problem.” She said, though her mask of confidence seemed to be slipping a bit.

“Yer a terrible liar, ya know that?” Applejack said, shaking her head slowly. “Ah can see it jus’ by lookin’ at you, Rainbow. Yer hurtin’ yerself by doin’ this. Ya’ll were getttin’ better, workin’ faster and gettin’ up on time with no problem and now look at you. This ain’t healthy sugarcube.”

Rainbow Dash seemed to wince a bit at this but looked up at her friend and retorted. “You’re the last one who should lecture me on this kind of thing, Applejack. Overworking yourself, why does that sound so familiar...”

“Heh, maybe ya’ll have a point with that. Ah learned mah lesson from that though, and Ah sure ain’t gonna do somethin’ like that again. Well, probably not. Still, Ah know what that’s like and Ah don’t want ta see ya’ll do that ta yerself.”

“Ugh, I told you, I can handle it! I used to practice like this all the time. Okay, not quite as much as this, but still, my point stands.”

“Rainbow, stop bein’ such a stubborn little filly and listen ta me! If ya’ll keep up like this, you won’t be doin’ any flyin’ at all cause you’ll be in the hospital. What’re yer chances of joinin’ the Wonderbolts if you can’t even show up ta yer own tryout?”

Dash cast about for a reply for a moment before giving a little sigh. “You’re right, again. These past few days have been terrible. It’s just like when I first started working with you. If I don’t practice though, then how will I ever be good enough?”

“Confidence, sugarcube, remember?” Applejack said, giving her friend a gentle nudge as it looked like she was falling back into her gloom. “Think positive and make good use of yer time ta practice, just take breaks too.”

At the touch, Rainbow looked up to her friend again and nodded. “Alright. I’ll try to keep positive. And I’ll make sure I don’t push myself too hard.”

Applejack gave her friend a warm smile and a nod. With that, the two fell into silence once more. Finally, Rainbow Dash spoke up again.

“Hey, AJ, can I ask a favor of you?”

“Sure thing, Rainbow. What c’n I do fer you?”

“Well... normally self-confidence comes naturally to me. Heh, it’s not hard to be confident when you’re as awesome as I am. With this though... I haven’t felt like this since the Best Young Fliers Competition. Would you mind helping me out when I practice?” The pegasus asked, quickly continuing as she spotted the look in her friend’s eyes. “Or even just hanging out together while I’m on break. I mean, I know you’re not able to be up there to help me practice flying but... having a friend like you around will help a lot. You’re really good at helping me keep confident about myself, Applejack. And... I may be fine now, but what about tomorrow? Or the next day?”

Applejack just listened to Rainbow’s words before giving her a wide smile. “Course Ah will, Rainbow! Ah mean, when Ah can get away from the farm, Ah’d be more than happy ta help you. If ya’ll want me watchin’ yer practice, then Ah can do that too. Heh, we already kinda do that anyways, when the others are at work and all.”

“Heh, yeah, I suppose we do. Thanks, AJ.”

“Don’t mention it, sugarcube. Now, Ah suppose we’d best be headin’ straight fer Ponyville.”

“Hm? Why’s that?” Dash asked, her eyes going wide as she remembered what had happened not too long before. “Oh no, Big Mac... I can’t believe I nearly forgot. I’m so sorry Applejack, I didn’t mean to keep you here!”

At the mention of her brother’s name, Applejack gave the slightest of winces, a chink appearing in the armor of strength she’d been displaying though she shrugged it off. “Don’t worry about it, Rainbow. This was important too, and Ah’m glad Ah took the time. Still... we should probably hurry.”

“Y-yeah, we should. Um... why don’t I fly you to the hospital. It’ll be faster than running.”

“Ya’ll can do that?” Applejack said, blinking at her friend as the pegasus nodded. “Well... alright then. Come on, let’s get goin’.”

With that, the two ponies left the barn, shutting the doors behind them. As Rainbow Dash looked around the farm, seeing the damage the storm had left in its wake, she winced a bit. After the talk with Applejack, she’d nearly forgotten that this was all her fault and seeing it all first hoof made her want to break down again. However, she remembered that wince from her friend and realized that she needed to stay strong for now, for her depending on what they found at the hospital.

Turning back to face her friend, Dash’s wings spread out as she flew up from the ground. After a quick circle around, she lowered down to grab hold of the earth pony, wrapping her forelegs around her middle. Straining herself just a bit to gain altitude, she began to fly off toward Ponyville as fast as she could.

For Applejack, that trip was one of the most frightening experiences of her life and she knew right as her hooves left the ground that that was where they should be, not hanging free up in the air like this. Still, she did her best to hold still and let Dash carry her, trying not to think too hard about what might await them. Then again, thoughts of what would happen if her friend’s grip slipped didn’t help much either.

Soon, though not nearly soon enough for the orange pony still holding on for dear life, the hospital came into view and Rainbow began to head toward the ground. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of her rather common crash landings and the two managed to land on their hooves with no problems.

“Th-thanks.” Applejack said, somewhat shakily as she turned to her friend. “One thing though, sugarcube. Remind me ta never do that again.”

Despite the situation, Rainbow Dash chuckled softly at that. It died off fairly soon though as the two entered into the hospital. Nurse Redheart emerged from a side hallway shortly after they entered, looking up as she spotted them. Applejack wasted no time in walking up to her.

“H-how is he?” She asked anxiously.

“Well... there was some minor internal injury and a few bruised ribs.” The nurse pony said before a little smile appeared on her face. “But he’s going to be just fine. If it were anypony else, it would have been far worse. Your brother’s quite a tough pony though. He’s not going to be in any condition to work on the farm for a while though.”

Hearing this, a relieved smile crossed Applejack and she gave a quick nod. “Ah see. Thank Celestia and Luna both. And you too, Nurse Redheart. Kin Ah see him?”

“Of course. He regained consciousness an hour ago and Mr. Caramel has been in there talking with him. It’s the second room on the right.”

“Thank ya kindly, Nurse Redheart.” Applejack said, dipping her head to the nurse pony before heading in the direction she’d indicated.

After getting confirmation that she could go too, Rainbow Dash followed her, still feeling quite nervous about just how Big Macintosh might react to her. As they reached the door, Applejack turned to her friend.

“Would... would ya’ll mind waitin’ out here fer just a moment, Rainbow? Ah’d like ta talk with mah brother in private fer a moment.”

“Of course not. Go right ahead, AJ. Just let me know when you’re finished.” The pegasus replied.

The orange pony nodded before opening the door and stepping inside. Caramel looked up at her from where he sat next to the bed. Without needing to say a word, he into her eyes before standing up and leaving the room. Now alone with her brother, Applejack walked over to the bed where the red stallion was propped up and looking at her.

“Hey there, Big Mac...”

“Hey, Little Jack.”

“Heh, Ah thought Ah outgrew that name a while ago. Ah might not be as big as you, but Ah ain’t little no more.” Applejack said with a soft chuckle.

“Hmm, that’s true. You’re always going ta be my little sister though, like it or not.”

“Ah suppose so. How’re you feelin’?”

Big Macintosh gave a little sigh before answering. “Ah’ve felt better. It still hurts a bit, but it’s not too bad. Ah’m more upset about not being able to help out. Miss Redheart said that Ah might not be able to make Applebuck season this year. Hopefully Ah’ll be better before then though. Hate ta leave you alone for that again.”

“Don’t worry about that. Ah’m sure... sure you’ll be just fine by then. Besides, Ah’ve got plenty of help with Caramel and Rainbow Dash there ta help out. Just don’t push yerself too hard until yer sure yer better.”

“Heh, Ah know, Ah know. How’s Rainbow Dash doing? She doesn’t blame herself for all this, does she? Ah’ve been getting enough of that from Caramel. Poor pony’s dead certain that it’s his fault Ah got hit. Everything from not tying the ropes well enough to just being bad luck. Ah’ve tried to tell him otherwise, but Ah’m not sure he’s listened.”

“Yeah, Rainbow’s pretty upset about what happened. She was in a pretty bad state back at the farm, that’s why...” Applejack began before falling silent.

Big Macintosh seemed to understand what was troubling her as he immediately spoke up. “Don’t you even think it, Applejack. Ah know full well that you just did what you had to, what our pappy would have done in your place. Ah understand completely, so you don’t need to beat yourself up either.”

“Yeah, Ah... Ah suppose...” Applejack responded, though she didn’t sound entirely convinced. Still, she did her best not to let that show at all as she stood beside her brother. For a second, she thought of hugging the injured pony but decided against it, giving him a gentle nuzzle instead.

“Ah’m glad yer alright, big brother. When Ah saw you lyin’ there on the ground, Ah was so worried...”

The red pony gave a soft nuzzle back but said nothing. The two stayed there in silence for a moment, both feeling relieved that they even could just be there together. Finally, Applejack glanced toward the door and pulled back from the bed a bit.

“Well, Rainbow wanted ta come see how ya’ll were doin’ and Ah told her Ah’d let her know when she could come in. Guess Ah’d better go tell her then.”

With a nod from Big Macintosh, she headed over to the door and pushed it open. Looking out, she saw that Rainbow Dash was still standing right outside, looking exceedingly nervous. Upon spotting her friend looking out at her, the pegasus straightened up and looked right at her.

“How is he? Is everything alright?”

“He’s doin’ just fine. Ya’ll can come in now, if you want.”

“Alright, thanks.” Rainbow said, nodding before walking toward the doorway.

“Do you want me ta step out or anything? Ah don’t mind.” Applejack said as the pegasus passed her.

“No, it’s alright. He’s your brother after all. I’m not going to ask you to leave the room. Besides, I’d... kinda prefer if you stuck around.”

“Of course, Rainbow.” Applejack said, nodding and closing the door again before following her friend back into the room.

Rainbow Dash walked in but stopped a good ways away from the bed, looking nervously at the pony laying in it. As she took in the bandages and wrappings around Big Macintosh, pain filled her eyes and she fidgeted around for a moment, not quite meeting his eyes. Finally, she spoke up in a shaky voice.

“I’m sorry, Big Macintosh, about all this. I messed up bad and now you’re hurt because of it. I... apologies just don’t seem like enough for this, but they’re all I’ve got...” She said, looking quite distraught, though she held herself together better than she had back in the barn.

“You don’t need to apologize, Rainbow Dash. Ah know you didn’t mean for any of this to happen. As far as Ah’m concerned, this was all just a big accident and nopony holds the blame for it. These things happen. The important thing is that you move on.”

The pegasus nodded slowly at his words. She looked away for a moment with a shake of her head as she felt her eyes threatening to water up again, trying to play it off so that nopony would see. Once she was sure that she was keeping calm, she began to speak again.

“I’m glad you’re not... that you seem to be doing well.”

“Eeyup.” Came the reply, eliciting a slight chuckle from the rainbow maned pegasus.

With that, the three ponies stood around for a bit, making idle chat occasionally but spending the bulk of the time in silence. Finally, after a good while of this, Applejack gave a little sigh and glanced out of a window.

“Well, Ah reckon we’d better go on back ta the farm and see how things are up there. Ah’ll probably be back later tonight. Ya’ll be sure ta get some rest, alright?”

“Alright. You take care of yourself, little sister.” The red pony responded with a nod as Applejack began to leave the room. “Hey, Rainbow... make sure she doesn’t work herself too hard.”

Dash gave a light chuckle at this but nodded. “Sure thing, Big Mac. Take care!”

The pegasus followed after her friend and the two began to make their way back toward Sweet Apple Acres. They traveled on hoof this time, the earth pony having learned her lesson about flying with the trip into town. As they walked though, Applejack seemed to stumble a bit at one point and, when Rainbow turned to see if she was alright, she noticed that her friend was shaking slightly.

“Woah, AJ... what’s wrong?” She asked, looking concerned.

“It... it’s nothin’. Ah jus’ tripped is all.” Came the response, though it wasn’t very convincing. Still, Dash just gave a bit of a shrug and let it pass, though she decided to keep watch and make sure her friend was doing alright.

Before too long, they had made it back to the farm and got right to work. The first thing to do was to remove the tarps and see how the crops had fared. It took a bit of effort with only the two of them, and the fact that Applejack didn’t seem to be entirely there didn’t help much either. A few times, Rainbow had to repeat herself several times before the earth pony responded. Despite all this, they eventually managed to finish up.

Thankfully, it looked like most of the plants managed to endure the weather without much damage. After the last tarp was removed, folded, and set aside, it appeared that they had lost about five percent of the total crops. In addition, a quick flight around the orchard showed Dash that about six or seven trees had been felled by the strong winds. With the minor property damage added in, it really wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Still, a lot of extra work was going to be needed to fix up these problems.

Throughout it all, as Rainbow Dash helped her friend inspect the farm and start doing light cleanup work, she noticed that something was definitely troubling the earth pony. Applejack had made a few minor mistakes that were still uncharacteristic of her and she didn’t seem to be paying much attention to her surroundings.

After finishing up as it began to grow dark, the two fixed themselves a light dinner as Granny Smith still hadn’t returned from her trip with Applebloom to go see Big Macintosh. Once they had finished eating and cleaned up, Applejack said a quick good night to her friend and began to head off toward her room. Rainbow Dash wasn’t going to let her just walk off though.

“Hey, AJ, hold up for a moment.” The pegasus said, heading over to join her friend as the earth pony turned back to face her. “We need to talk. What’s bothering you so much?”

“Ah already told you, Rainbow, Ah’m fine. Nothin’s botherin’ me.”

“Don’t give me that. You know that’s not true just as well as I do that that’s not true. Even I could see that you’ve been out of it all night. What’s wrong?”

“Ah said nothin’s wrong! Ah’m jus’ tired is all. Now, if you’ll excuse me...” Applejack said, turning to begin walking again only to find that Rainbow had flown over her head and was now blocking her path.

“Applejack, you’ve been telling me to open up and not bottle these things up, so now it’s your turn. Trust me, I’m here for you.”

The orange pony hesitated for a moment at these words, trembling ever so slightly. When she spoke up again, a lot of the confidence and strength in her voice had faded.

“Ah... Ah can’t do this anymore, Rainbow. Ah’m so tired now... always havin’ ta be the strong one fer everypony else. Here at the farm, with mah friends, even fer the ponies of Ponyville...” She said shakily, glancing over to a trophy that stood on a little stand nearby. “Most dependable pony. Sometimes, that feels more like a curse than a blessing... Ah’ve always got ta be the one ta hold strong when other ponies can’t. It’s been that way since Ah was left in charge of the farm the day mah parents... passed on. But Ah... Ah...”

Applejack clenched her teeth and looked down at the floor, her hat hiding her face from view. To Rainbow’s surprise, she spotted what looked like tears leaking out from behind the hat’s brim, even as her friend continued to speak.

“Ah was in that barn fer over an hour, Rainbow. When mah only brother was in the hospital who knows how hurt? He may have been dead fer all Ah knew! Ah should have been the very first pony there ta see him, stayin’ right by his side the whole time. But... Ah stayed here ta take care of the farm instead. Ah left him in the mud so Ah could see to the crops...” She continued on, now starting to shake with obvious sobs.

Rainbow Dash took advantage of a pause to get in a word edgewise, looking a bit nervous again as she tried to console her friend. “Well... he didn’t blame you for that did he? You just did what you had to do at the time. I’m sure he could understand that.”

“No, he didn’t. He... he said the same thing you did, Rainbow. And Ah know Ah did what Ah was supposed ta, kept mah cool and took care of things first. But... Ah can’t keep this up. Ah get scared or upset or hurt just like everypony else, but Ah can’t show it cause they need me ta be the rock they can lean against fer support. Nopony asked me ta do this, but it’s just the way things are and... and... when Ah’m fallin’, when Ah need support, who can Ah turn to? Ah’m there fer others, but when it’s all too much, what am Ah supposed ta do with nopony there fer me?”

“You’re wrong about that, Applejack. There is somepony there for you.” Rainbow said, giving her friend a little smile and gently putting a hoof to her shoulder. “I... I didn’t know you felt like this, AJ, or I would have told you this before. I may not be able to be strong all the time, but I can and will be when it counts. There’s no way I would leave a friend hanging.”

Applejack didn’t respond for a second, and when she did it wasn’t with words. For the second time that day, the two ponies found themselves in an embrace, although it was reversed this time, with the earth pony sobbing as the pegasus comforted her.

Several minutes passed before she began to pull herself together again, sniffing softly as she let go of her friend and raised a hoof to wipe at her eyes.

“Th-thank you, Rainbow Dash. Ah really needed ta... ta do this. Ta let somepony know.”

“Hey, that’s what friends are for, right? To be there and to look out for each other, in good times and bad.”

“That they are, sugarcube, that they are... um, some of what Ah said might sound kinda harsh, but I don’t really blame nopony else for this. It ain’t like anypony’s asked me ta do this, it’s just the way Ah am. Still, it really gets ta you, pushin’ aside yer emotions so you can be strong fer others...”

“I’m here for you, AJ. If you need somepony to talk to, or just to be there for you, then I can do that.”

“Thank you...” Applejack said, giving a faint smile.

Seeing that smile was enough to bring one to Dash as well and the two friends hugged briefly again. With that, the orange pony gave a little yawn and shook her head a bit.

“Well, Ah suppose Ah should be headin’ ta bed now. It’s gettin’ late and we’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

“Yeah, that might be a good idea.” Rainbow said, giving a yawn herself before looking to her friend. “So... you sure you’re alright now?”

“Yeah, Ah’m feelin’ a lot better now. Honest.”

“Alright then. Have a good night, Applejack.”

“You too, sugarcube. See ya’ll in the mornin’.”

With that, the two ponies headed to their respective rooms, sleep coming easily for the both of them.

____________________________________________________________

“Phew, that weren’t so bad.” Applejack said, shaking her head and flinging water everywhere as she stepped away from the water barrel. “Yer turn now, Sugarcube.”

“Heh, I knew I should have given you something harder.” Rainbow Dash said with a little chuckle before giving it some thought. “Hmm... how about Dare.”

“Well gee Rainbow, they might as well call it Dare or Dare when yer playin’.” The earth pony said, rolling her eyes.

“Hey, it’s the logical choice. I mean, I can handle any dare I’m given with no problem. Why wouldn’t I pick it?”

“Ah fine then. Give me a moment ta think of somethin’. Ah thought this was supposed ta be fer you ta take a break though...”

It was a few days after the storm up at the farm and the two ponies were sitting together in one of Ponyville’s parks, taking a moment of rest after another of Dash’s practice sessions. True to her word, Applejack had been showing up to these sessions to watch her friend fly about through her tricks again and again and to provide support for the pegasus. And, for her part of the bargain, Rainbow had been taking these little breaks to cool down and relax.

Without their usual competitions to occupy them, the two friends had taken to chatting during these breaks or sitting there in silence, simply relaxing in each other’s company. One day though, when their other friends had been able to join them, Twilight Sparkle had suggested that they play a game to occupy them, voting on Truth or Dare. While that idea went over well enough, until Pinkie Pie had somehow managed to bring every other pony in Ponyville into the game, it had really struck a chord with Applejack and Rainbow Dash. A somewhat competitive game that required little to no strenuous physical activity fit perfectly with what they were looking for. From that point on, the game became a fairly regular fallback for whenever they got too bored.

“Ah think Ah’ve got somethin’.” Applejack said suddenly with a little grin. “Ah dare you... ta pick Truth next time.”

“What? That’s not fair... You can’t do that!”

“Heh, Ah don’t see why not. The rules say that if you choose Truth, then you have ta answer a question truthfully and if you pick Dare, then ya’ll have ta do what Ah say. And Ah say you’re gonna pick Truth next time.”

“That... that... no, that just doesn’t seem right. I think you’re cheating.” Rainbow Dash said, frowning at this turn of events.

“Well, do you want ta go get Twilight and see what she says? Ah’m sure she’ll know all about this, or have a book that does.”

The pegasus had to ponder this for a moment, deciding if it was worth getting the studious unicorn involved. “You know what, I think I’ll pass on that. Fine, we’ll do it you’re way then. That makes it your turn again though.”

“Why, so it does. Ta be fair, Ah’ll pick Truth this time. How’s that?”

“Sure, that works. Let’s see... Ah, I’ve got it. What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?”

“Ah geez, Rainbow... ya’ll gonna pull that one out on me? Yer just gettin’ revenge fer that dare, aren’t you... and Ah’ve got ta answer honestly...” The earth pony said, muttering to herself for a moment before giving a little sigh. “Well, gettin’ beaten by that braggart Trixie and the whole poison joke thing come ta mind, but Ah suppose they’re not the most embarrassing things. Alright, here goes...

“When Ah was still just a little filly, just after Ah’d gotten mah Cutie Mark, Ah was dead certain there was a monster livin’ in our apple orchard. When Ah looked out mah window at night, Ah thought Ah saw it movin’ about between the trees. It got ta the point where Ah was almost too afraid ta go out and buck the apples down even in the daytime. Well, one day Ah said enough was enough. Ah couldn’t be in charge of the farm if Ah was too afraid ta go outside, so Ah decided Ah’d do somethin’ about this monster.
“One night, when Ah saw it movin’ around out there again, Ah got up out of bed, grabbed a rope, and headed out ta confront whatever was out there. Put mahself tagether a nice lasso first, though Ah had no idea what Ah was doin’ at the time, but soon enough Ah found mahself in the middle of the orchard. Now, it was real dark cause of the clouds coverin’ the moon, so Ah couldn’t see things too clearly. Still, Ah was sure Ah saw somethin’ movin’ nearby, so Ah took mah lasso and... well, do ya’ll remember what happened when you tried ta use one back at the Iron Pony competition? Like Ah said, Ah had no idea what Ah was doin’ then.

“Course, it was just mah luck that at that very moment, the clouds over the moon passed by, givin’ enough light to see by. Even from where Ah was tied up, Ah could see that the ‘monster’ was really just a colt from back in town who’d been sneakin’ onto the farm. Better still, it was somepony who... well, maybe Ah had a bit of a crush on him, you know? Anyways, once he’d finished laughin’ his tail off, he finally helped me down, though Ah was so embarrassed Ah ran right back to mah room. The story spread like wildfire and Ah didn’t live that down fer a good while. There’s still some ponies that bring it up occasionally...

“And that’s that. Whew, guess Ah got a bit carried away there.” Applejack said with a faint flush, taking a breath before looking at her friend. “Heh, Ah half expected you ta be dyin’ of laughter at this point.”

“Well, it wasn’t really all that embarrassing, actually...” Rainbow Dash said with a little shrug. “I was kinda hoping for something a bit more.”

“Hey, it was pretty embarrassin’ at the time. Anyways, that’s mah turn down, now it’s yours. Heh, and Ah’m gonna make sure ta get you back fer that one.”

“I’d like to see you try. You can’t ask the same question the pony before you did, it’s in the rules.” Dash said with a little smirk, having planned for just this occurrence.

“What? That... actually, Ah do remember somethin’ like that.” The orange pony responded, frowning for a moment before getting an idea. “It’s a good thing Ah’ve got somethin’ else in mind. So, go ahead, take yer pick.”

“Ugh, you know what I’m going to pick, since you made me.” Rainbow said, rolling her eyes. “Truth.”

“Gotta follow the rules, sugarcube. Now, what was the first competition you ever lost and how’d it happen?”

“Is that all? Hah, that’s no trouble at all. There aren’t very many of those to begin with, and certainly none that are all that bad.” The pegasus replied with a confident grin. As she thought on it though, her face suddenly fell as the memory of the first loss came back to her.

“Oh... I’d nearly forgotten about that. Um, can I pass on this one? I know, I’ll just do another three dares or so, how’s that?”

Applejack chuckled at seeing her friend trying to dodge the question and shook her head. “No can do, Rainbow. You said truth and Ah asked you yer question. Now, you’ve got ta answer, and truthfully.”

“Fine...” Dash said sullenly, giving a little sigh before going into her story. “Back at flight school, my friend Gilda came up to me one day and decided to make a bit of a bet with me. She was certain that she could get a date before I could. Well, there were only like, what, two or three other griffins there? Of course I said yes. Besides, there was somepony I’d already been wanting to ask out for a while. The only problem now was how I was going to do it.

“I decided to try for a secret admirer thing, leave him a little note or two before going up and actually asking. Had it all planned out so that nothing could go wrong. I wrote the note and was going to hand it to another friend of mine who would then pass it on to the next pony and so on until it finally came to him. Unfortunately, the teacher caught me trying to pass it on. She took the note and then... decided to read it aloud in front of the class...”

By this point in her story, a blush had begun to appear on Rainbow Dash’s face and she looked down a bit before continuing. “Like a complete foal, I had, you know, put his name on it and everything, so it was pretty obvious what was going on. By the end of it, everypony was laughing at me. I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t even think of asking anypony else out, which meant that Gilda won the bet pretty easily.”

Applejack was chuckling softly as the story was finished up, earning herself a glare from the pegasus. Still, after a moment she gave her friend a curious look.

“So... what happened with him? The colt that note was for?” The earth pony asked.

“Well... have you ever seen any of the stuff I’ve written?”

“Hmm... no actually.”

“Yeah, there’s a good reason for that.” Rainbow Dash said and left it at that.

“Oh...” Applejack said before fading into silence for a moment. “Well... should we start up another round or go grab some lunch?”

“I think lunch.” Dash said with a slow nod. “Yeah, definitely.”

“Sounds good ta me.”

With that, the two ponies stood up and began to head back toward the farm, passing several other ponies out enjoying the beautiful day. As they walked along, Applejack spoke up again.

“Are you still sure you’re not bored doin’ this every day? Ah didn’t think sittin’ around talkin’ was really yer thing.”

“Of course! I mean, I would rather take the time to keep practicing, but you’re right about needing to take breaks. Besides, I do enjoy these times.” Rainbow replied with a grin. The best thing was, it was entirely true. Since they had started, she had begun to look forward to the breaks with Applejack, even when they just sat around and said nothing. Simply being in the presence of her friend seemed to have a calming effect on her, comforting her and helping to drain away all the tension and nervousness she’d been feeling, leaving a warm happiness in it’s place.

The Wonderbolts tryout was growing ever nearer, only a few days left until she would be giving her all in front of her life long heroes, yet she wasn’t nearly as worried about that. Her practices had been going great, especially since Applejack had started showing up to watch them and Rainbow Dash knew that when the day came, she could look down and see her friends cheering for her and those beautiful green eyes looking up at her, and she would do her very best...

“Uh... everything alright, sugarcube?” Applejack asked, giving Rainbow a puzzled look.

Rainbow Dash blinked a bit as she realized that she had apparently spaced out in the middle of the street while her friend walked on. “Huh? Oh, um... yeah, I’m just fine. Sorry, guess I got caught up in a daydream or something.”

She gave a little chuckle and hurried to catch up to her friend, though at the back of her mind, she wondered why, if everything was alright, she felt a blush upon her face...

**************

“Well, that sure was a mighty fine lunch.” Applejack said with a grin as she lay out in the shadow cast by one of her apple trees. “How come ya’ll never told me you could cook so well?”

“Aw, come on AJ. It was just a sandwich, that’s not cooking.” Rainbow Dash replied from the branch she was relaxing on, though she gave a rather pleased smirk at the compliment. “Besides, with nopony else to fix up meals for me, I’ve had to learn a bit.”

“Huh, Ah never thought of that... Ah reckon mah point still stands though, sandwich or not. It was good and that’s what matters.”

After the two ponies had made it to the farmhouse, they found that Granny Smith was once again out visiting Big Macintosh, leaving the two of them on their own for lunch. Rainbow had offered to put something together, since they were planning on a light meal anyways, and she’d fixed up a couple of sandwiches for the both of them. Now, finished with their meals, the two were out relaxing in the orchard.

“Ah wonder what the others are up to. Seems like we don’t get ta see them nearly as much now.” Applejack mused, looking up at her friend in the tree.

“Yeah. I feel kinda bad about that, like I’ve deserted them or something. Which I know isn’t true at all. If they needed me, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Still...”

“Ah know just what you mean, sugarcube. Things keep gettin’ in the way though. There’s the work here at the farm, then yer practice sessions, plus the fact that everypony else is busy with their own jobs. Guess this just ain’t a good time fer us ta get together.”

“I’d say we should go into town now and see if anypony’s available, but that’s not going to work. Pinkie’s been working on that huge party she’s been planning, Rarity’s got a deadline to meet, Twi’s... actually, I have no idea what Twilight’s doing. Haven’t seen her around much lately.” Dash said, frowning a bit at this.

“Hm... that’s true. Wonder what she’s been up to...”

“No idea. Probably locked herself in her lab for some study or other she’s working on.” The pegasus rolled her eyes a bit at this before giving a sigh and continuing. “Even Fluttershy’s too busy taking care of that sick rabbit of hers to hang out.”

Applejack nodded with a little frown. “Well, at least we’ve got each other, right?”

“Yeah, that’s good at least.”

Once more they lapsed into silence, two friends simply enjoying a warm summer’s day in the outdoors. After a few minutes of this though, Applejack gave a sigh and shook her head.

“Ah can’t do this, Rainbow. Ah feel Ah should be... doin’ somethin’ productive. Not just sittin’ around here.”

“Relaxing can be productive sometimes. I mean, sometimes you just need to sit back and wind down, right?”

“Ah suppose...” Applejack said before glancing up at her friend with a little smirk. “Ah didn’t take you fer the type ta just sit around doin’ nothing though, Rainbow. Ain’t you the one always tryin’ ta rush about and do things?”

“Well... yeah, I guess you’re right. This is different though!” Rainbow said, intending on leaving it at that until the look Applejack gave her persuaded her to explain. “I mean... we’re not doing nothing, right? We’re hanging out. I can always make an exception for hanging out with my best pal, right?”

“Heh, Ah reckon yer right about that.” Applejack said with a chuckle, though she started to get up anyways. “But Ah can’t just sit around right now. Ya’ll want ta help?”

“Sure, sounds good to me.” The pegasus replied, jumping from the branch with a little flap to slow her fall as she landed. “What do you need me to do?”

“Ah know it’s a bit early, but Ah was thinkin’ of startin’ ta set up the baskets under the trees. Just do a bit now and we won’t have ta do that much again later.”

“Alright. Lead the way then.”

As the earth pony led the way to the barn, she couldn’t help but smile a bit at the difference in her friend now than from how she was before the bet. This time last year, she would bet a fair deal of bits that Dash wouldn’t even think about giving up time she could be spending relaxing to help out. At least, not with something like this that wasn’t absolutely vital. While this did mean that Applejack was now in quite a bit of danger of losing the bet, she didn’t really care. This change and the time they’d spent together more than made up for that.

Soon enough, they had reached their destination and, as Dash helped her pull out stacks of baskets, she started to explain what they were going to do. It was fairly simple, just set a couple of baskets under each tree so that they could catch falling apples, and it wasn’t long at all before they were going about this work.

About half an hour passed and Applejack was on her way back to grab a few more baskets when she spotted Rainbow Dash and Spike standing around by the barn and talking. The pegasus looked either puzzled, intrigued, or both while the little dragon just look worn out.

“What’s goin’ on, you two?” She called out curiously, walking toward them.

“Oh, there you are Applejack. I’m glad you showed up.” Spike said, turning toward her as she approached. “I was just explaining to Rainbow Dash, but Twilight wanted to see all of you at the Library. She said it’s really important.”

“Twilight? Ah’ll be there just as soon as Ah clean up here. What does she want ta see us for?”

“Um... she wouldn’t tell me. Said it had to wait until you all arrived.” Spike said, though something about the way he was fidgeting seemed off to the earth pony.

She shrugged it off and turned to Rainbow. “Ya’ll go on ahead, Ah’ll finish puttin’ these away and meet you there.”

“Alright. See you there then!” The pegasus said with a nod before turning to Spike. “Here, hop on. It’ll be much faster that way.”

“Sorry, no can do Rainbow. I still need to go tell Fluttershy.” The baby dragon replied, giving a slight sigh.

“Oh... well, then I guess I’ll see you there too.” Dash responded with a little shrug before taking off toward Ponyville.

As she flew, Rainbow Dash began to ponder why Twilight would call them together like this. Maybe it had to something to do with why she’d been missing for the past couple of days. Or, maybe it was an Elements of Harmony thing. Oh no, what if Nightmare Moon had returned! Starting to fear the worst, she sped up even more.

“Hiya Dashie!” Came an excited voice from right ahead of her, accompanied by a waving pink pony.

“Ack, Pinkie Pie, watch out!” The pegasus called back, trying to stop herself without hitting her friend.

Unfortunately, she was going far too fast to just stop and had to veer off to the side, crashing into a handy pile of barrels. Pinkie Pie quickly hopped over to where she’d crashed, peering at the rainbow maned pony amid the barrels. Rainbow gave a little groan and sat up, more shocked than injured.

“Oh no... are you okay there, Rainbow Dash? I knew my tail was twitching, but I didn’t think you were practicing your tricks or I would have warned you.”

“I’m fine!” Dash said, shaking her head a bit before putting a hoof to it. “Takes more than that to keep me down. Though... do you have a twin sister you haven’t told any of us about?”

“No, silly. At least, I don’t think so... ooh, what if I do and nopony told me about her? We could be the best of friends! Oh, unless she’s my evil twin... Why do you ask though?”

“Oh, no reason.” Rainbow said, blinking a few times until she could only see one pink pony. “So, what did you want Pinkie? Cause I’m kinda in a hurry here to get to the library.”

“Um... I don’t know. I guess I forgot.” Pinkie Pie said with a little giggle. “Oh, thanks for reminding me though! I was so surprised at seeing you again that I nearly forgot I’m supposed to be at the library too. I wonder why though... What if Twilight’s throwing us a surprise party! That would be so great!”

“Somehow, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, Pinkie.” Dash said with a slight chuckle, getting back to her hooves. “Well, if we’re both supposed to be there, then let’s go ahead and get started. Don’t want to be late or anything.”

With that, she took to flight again, going a bit slower this time though so that her earth pony friend could keep up. Though, she couldn’t help but suspect that wasn’t necessary. Her pink friend had an odd habit of somehow managing to keep up no matter how fast she went.

It didn’t take long before they had arrived at the large tree that served as both library and as a house for their friend Twilight Sparkle. Two other ponies were already standing there, the unicorn Rarity giving a little toss of her well groomed mane as she turned to watch their approach, and the pegasus Fluttershy, who seemed to be looking quite nervous about all this.

“Oh there you two are. We have been waiting forever for you to arrive.” Rarity said with a disapproving look.

“Um... it’s only been a few minutes since we arrived from the spa, Rarity.” Fluttershy said softly, looking down as the unicorn’s attention was turned to her. “I mean... I guess that is a while...”

Seeing this reaction, the white pony gave a little sigh and smiled to her friend. “You are right, Fluttershy. Still, there is such a thing as punctuality. It isn’t proper to keep a lady waiting after all.

“For that matter though, Rainbow Dash, where is our dear friend Applejack? I would have thought she was with you. After all, the two of you have been nigh on inseparable these last few weeks.” Rarity said, turning toward the cyan pegasus.

“She’s still back at the farm putting away some things before heading here.” Rainbow answered before blinking and turning back to look at Fluttershy. “Wait, what are you doing here Fluttershy? Spike said he was headed to your cabin to let you know.”

“Oh, um... I was with Rarity at the spa and... well, he didn’t seem to notice me. I guess that’s understandable, I’m not too noticeable...” The shy pony responded, her voice fading out as she talked.

“Do not ever say that about yourself, dear. It is not your fault that he seems to get... distracted quite easily when I am around. With all the time he spends looking at me, it is no surprise that he would miss somepony else in the room.” Rarity said, shaking her head a bit before giving her friend a little smile.

“I see... well, I guess we’ll just have to wait for Spike and AJ to show up then.” Dash said with a little shrug.

While they waited, the four friends began to talk about why Twilight would call them all together like this. It turned out that none of the other three knew anything more than Rainbow Dash and their theories grew wilder as time passed, thanks largely to Pinkie Pie’s contributions. Before too much longer, Applejack came into view, running full speed toward them, slowing down to a trot as she drew close.

“Sorry Ah’m late ya’ll.” She said, coming to a stop beside Rainbow Dash before greeting each of her friends with a nod. “Hey Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity. So... anypony here know what’s goin’ on?”

“We were just discussing that when you showed up. Oh, I do hope that Spike does not take too long to get here. I am just filled with curiosity now as to why our mutual friend Twilight Sparkle would call us here so suddenly. That isn’t like her at all.” Rarity said.

Luckily, they didn’t have long to wait. Soon, the little dragon walked toward them, grumbling softly to himself. As he stopped in front of the library, he shot a little glare toward Fluttershy, who let out a soft ‘meep!’ and looked down at the ground. Seeing this, Rarity gave him an angry look of her own.

“Spike, that is not how you treat a lady! It is not her fault you did not pay attention.”

“Yeah, y-you’re right, Rarity.” Spike said, already looking a bit sorry for his actions as he turned toward the cowering pegasus. “Sorry Fluttershy. I’ve just... I’ve been kind of worried about this. Twilight won’t tell me what’s going on and that’s got me all on edge.”

“It... It’s alright Spike.” Fluttershy said, looking up a bit again.

“Well, in that case I’ll go ahead inside and let Twi know you’re all here.” The dragon said, opening the door and heading on into the library.

While they waited for him to return, Rarity turned to face the farmer pony with a little smile. “So, Applejack, how are things going at the farm? It seems like we haven’t really had a chance to catch up for some time.”

“Heh, Ah guess we haven’t, huh. Things’re goin’ great actually, now that we’ve cleaned up from after that storm. It’s kinda odd, but even though Ah’ve got another pony helpin’ out around there, Ah seem ta be busier than ever since Rainbow Dash here started workin’ with me.” Applejack said, glancing over to the cyan pegasus with a little grin. “Not that Ah mind at all. These last few months have been real nice.”

Rainbow Dash gave a little chuckle and grinned back. “Oh yeah, they certainly have been. Working at Sweet Apple Acres has been a lot more fun than I would have thought.”

Rarity blinked a bit at their answers, glancing from one pony to the other as a little smile began to form. Applejack and Dash tilted their heads a bit at this, giving her a curious look.

“What are ya’ll smilin’ at?” The orange pony asked.

“Oh, nothing.” Rarity replied, the smile still present. “I was just thinking that you two seem to be getting along quite nicely. It is always nice to see a pair of good friends growing closer. I just hope you won’t forget about the rest of us in the meantime.”

Before either of them had a chance to ask her what she meant by this, a bright purple flash from through the window caught all of their attention. Accompanying the flash was a loud thumping sound, causing the door and windows to rattle. All five of the ponies looked to each other in varying degrees of surprise. The only one who didn’t seem too fazed by any of it was Pinkie Pie.

“Ooh, that’s it! I remember what I was going to ask you Rainbow, but it looks like Twilight might beat you to it.” The pink pony said excitedly.

At that point, the door suddenly burst open, a rather wide eyed Spike stepping out, quickly slamming it behind him. Each of the ponies tried to say something all at once, but it was Rarity who managed to beat out the other voices.

“Spike! What in Equestria just happened in there? One second everything is quiet and then there was a flash and a dreadful noise.”

“Er... it’s nothing to worry about. Twilight’s just... having some trouble with her research.” Came the dragon’s response, though once again something seemed wrong with it. “Um, Twi’s let me know what’s going on. She’s been working on some new magic and... well, she needs something for her studies. She said she’s really sorry, but she can’t go with you to help you get it.”

“Ah see... what does she want us ta go get?” Applejack asked.

“Well, um...” Spike hesitated for a moment, looking exceptionally nervous. “You see, there’s this flower that is absolutely vital to the spell but nopony around here supplies it. You’re going to have to go get it... from the Everfree Forest...”

It was clear why he had been hesitant to say that as there was an immediate outburst from the gathered ponies at this news. Throughout it all, a rather meek voice had been trying to catch Spike’s attention with no luck. It took her actually walking up to Spike before the others realized that Fluttershy was trying to say something and fell silent to let her speak.

“Um, Spike... is Twilight alright? I mean, not that I don’t like talking with you but... I had thought she would be here to talk with us. Has something happened?”

Spike gulped a bit at this before replying. “No, nothing’s really happened. She just... this is a really tricky spell and she has to be there to monitor it at all times or else it could go wrong and that would be very bad. If she could, she would be out here talking with you all.

“So... is this alright with all of you? I know Twi wouldn’t ask something like this of you unless it was really important.”

“Of course, Spike. If Twilight needs help, then Ah’m gonna do what Ah can ta help out. Even if it does mean goin’ into that... unnatural place.” Applejack said, suppressing a shudder as she thought about the forest.

“I’m in too! There’s no way I’d say no to something like this.” Rainbow Dash said, immediately following Applejacks’ speech.

“Ooh, this sounds like it will be fun! Besides, the Everfree Forest isn’t so scary anymore. I mean, sure there’s all kinds of nasty monsters in there. Manticores, Ursas, Cockatrices... all kinds of things that just love to munch on ponies, but--” Pinkie Pie said brightly, though a group glare cut off her words. “I mean... I’ll go with you.”

“Please, Pinkie Pie. It is hard enough to say this without thinking of all the horrible things we might run into.” Rarity said with a little shiver. “Still, I can’t walk out on our friend, so I will do this.”

Everypony’s attention turned to Fluttershy who backed away from the attention, looking away. “Um... well, I mean... it’s so dark and scary in there...”

Applejack stepped closer to her, giving a kind smile. “It ain’t a problem, sugarcube. If ya’ll don’t want ta go, then you don’t have to. We won’t think less of you for it.”

“N-no, I’ll go.” Fluttershy said, taking a deep breath and giving a little nod. “I won’t let my friends go in there on their own. What if you run into something that I could have helped with? I... I can’t let that happen.”

“Well, that’s settled then. We’re all going to go.” Dash said, looking to her friends who each nodded with a little smile. “In that case, how about we go ahead and get started then?”

“Now hold on just one moment, Rainbow Dash, before you go running headfirst into this.” Rarity said sternly, turning toward Spike. “Do you know what this flower looks like? Maybe a picture or something for us, hm?”

“Huh? Oh, right!” Spike said, digging around for a moment before producing a sheet of paper with a brightly colored flower on it. “Here, this is what you’re looking for. It shouldn’t be hard to find, but it only grows in the deeper parts of the forest.”

Nopony looked all that excited at this news, but Rarity nodded and grasped the paper with her magic, horn glowing softly as she levitated it over to her.

“Well... thank you for your help, Spike. Do take care of Twilight for us, won’t you?” She said, looking to the baby dragon who quickly nodded. “Very good then. I suppose we had better get started now so we don’t keep our friend waiting for us.”

“Good luck, everypony!” Spike called after them, waving as the five ponies began to make their way toward the Everfree Forest.

A few short minutes later, the party had reached the edge of the forest, pausing there for a moment. In varying degrees of fear, they stood there and looked through the trees, into the darkness that seemed far darker than it should have been considering the time of day. Even Pinkie Pie seemed strangely subdued as she was faced with the prospect of entering into this spooky place, though it was Fluttershy who seemed to be the worst off. The yellow pegasus was cowering behind Rainbow Dash, wings locked firmly to her sides. While the others only had a vague knowledge of the sorts of beasts lived in the Everfree Forest, she alone knew exactly what they might run into in there and that knowledge was not comforting at all.

“Well... Ah suppose this is it. Anypony that wants ta back out, now’s yer last chance. Once we’re inside, there ain’t no goin’ back.” Applejack said.

Nopony moved at all, each determined to go through with this to help their friend out despite the dangers. The orange pony gave a little nod at that and began to lead the way into the forest. As they began to walk along the path through the trees, avoiding any patches of poison joke along the way, a flower they knew all too well, Fluttershy timidly sped up for a moment to catch up with Applejack.

“Um... Applejack, I was just thinking and, if you don’t mind, maybe we could go see Zecora first? I mean, it could save us a lot of time if she has some of the flower we’re looking for on hoof. Or... even if she just knows where some is.”

“Hmm... you know, that’s a mighty fine idea sugarcube.” Applejack said, nodding slowly. “At the very least, it couldn’t hurt ta go check, right? Everypony in favor of that idea?”

The other ponies all voiced their agreement and the timid pegasus gave a little smile at having her idea accepted. With that, they took a slight detour to head toward their zebra friend’s house.

After their initial mistrust of the striped equine, the ponies of Ponyville had begun to value her expertise on herbal remedies and natural cures. Even Applejack had swallowed her pride a few times to go ask for help with a few troubles at the farm, whether with the trees or with somepony there. Though Zecora still lived way out here in the Everfree Forest, she had been accepted as a citizen of Ponyville.

Unfortunately, it didn’t look like they would have her help with this task though. As the five ponies approached her house, they could see an odd, rather spooky looking mask hanging on her door. Thankfully, the zebra had also thought to include a note beside it, written in Equestrian for those who couldn’t understand the mask’s meaning.

To those who here have come to find, the solution for a pressing bind. Or those who come as friendly guest, seeking only a place to rest. I regret to say I made a choice, to leave and seek another’s voice. To my own land I must roam, for an occasion known as going home. And now to those who read this rhyme, I shall return in one month’s time.

Zecora

Applejack finished reading the note before turning to the others with a puzzled look. “Now what the hey does all that mumbo jumbo mean?”

“It means, dear Applejack, that our zebra friend has left to return to her own homeland. It looks like we shall be on our own for this journey. Alas, I had been hoping it would be this simple...” Rarity responded with a little sigh.

“So... I suppose we should keep going then, since we’re going to have to find this thing all on our own.” Rainbow Dash said glumly, to which the others all agreed.

All except for Pinkie Pie, who had procured a notepad from somewhere and was hastily jotting something down in it. They all gave her an odd look, though it was Rainbow who spoke up again.

“Um... Pinkie Pie? What are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m just writing this all down. I mean, if Zecora’s gone away on a trip, then that means she’s got to come back at some point, right? I want to make sure there’s a super amazing party waiting for her when she gets here!”

At this response, the four other ponies blinked for a moment before starting to chuckle a bit and then laughing outright, soon joined in by Pinkie herself. Something about worrying about such a thing in a situation like this tickled them to no end. The simple mirth of the moment helped to ease away a lot of the tension that had been building on their trip, leaving the ponies in a much better mood as they continued on their way, still with the occasional chuckle.

However, as the time passed, with still absolutely no sign of the flower, that mood began to fade. Though she hadn’t mentioned it to anypony else, Applejack was beginning to feel rather lost. Everything looked the same in the forest, so it was hard to tell for sure, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that they were going in circles. Not much later, she frowned as they came across a cliff face that felt oddly familiar.

“Well shoot, Ah guess it ain’t this way neither. And Ah was sure we were nearly there...” She said, shaking her head as she walked to the edge of the cliff, followed by everypony else.

As they looked out over the edge, that feeling of familiarity seemed to grow stronger, along with a faint fear. While the orange pony pondered this along with where they should go now, a soft cracking noise suddenly jogged her memory. This was the ledge that had collapsed while they were hunting down the Elements of Harmony, where they had very nearly lost Twilight Sparkle.

“Oh hayseed... Everypony, get back! The cliff’s about ta fall!” She called out, taking a quick hop back from the edge.

At the warning, her friends all acted immediately, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy taking to the air while Rarity jumped back as well. Pinkie Pie didn’t seem to have noticed though and was still intently looking down below.

“Hey, I think I see--” The pink pony began before letting out a cry as the ground crumbled beneath her, sending her into a free fall toward the river far below.

Suddenly her fall was halted as somepony caught her. At the last second, Applejack had managed to lunge forward and grab the poofy pink tail and was currently digging her hooves into the ground to keep from being pulled over as well. With a bit of effort and help from everypony, they soon had their friend back up and on solid ground again.

“Oh, thank you thank you thank you, Applejack!” Pinkie said, turning to give a huge hug to her savior. “If you hadn’t caught me, then I’d have to go to the hospital at the very least. And you can’t put together parties from inside the hospital. Although... hey, maybe then I could have thrown a get-better-soon party for your brother! Ooh, and all the other ponies there too!”

Although Pinkie Pie seemed to have gotten over the potentially fatal experience rather quickly, Applejack wasn’t so lucky. As she listened to Pinkie talk, she could still feel her heart racing, though she put on a little smile.

“Ah’m just glad yer alright, Pinkie Pie. Ah thought we’d nearly lost ya’ll there fer a moment...”

Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash had been glaring a bit without realizing it as she watched Pinkie Pie and Applejack. After a couple of moments, she blinked, catching herself in the act and shaking her head a bit, wondering what in Equestria had come over her. Pinkie Pie was only hugging her friend, something she did quite often really, so why was it making her feel this way? Almost as if she were jealous...

The pegasus was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice the others trying to get her attention until Applejack called out her name for the third time, causing her to blink suddenly and look up.

“Huh? Oh, sorry about that. What’s up?” She asked.

“Heh, Ah was startin’ ta think ya’ll might have up and left the buildin’, Rainbow.” Applejack said, giving a slight chuckle. “Anyways, Pinkie Pie said she thinks she saw what we’re lookin’ for down below. Do you mind goin’ down with Fluttershy ta check it out? Ah think it’s best if we all stick in groups.”

“Oh, yeah that makes sense.” Dash said, having just been wondering why she couldn’t just go on her own. “We’ll head on down and be back before you know it.”

With that, she and Fluttershy flew down the cliff, gliding down toward the ground below. As promised, it wasn’t long before they flew right back up again. Dash was carrying something brightly colored in her mouth, though as soon as she landed again, she spat it out at Applejack’s feet with a little grimace.

“Ugh, that thing tastes terrible... Is this what we’re looking for? Cause if so, I vote somepony else gets to carry it back. Blech...” She said, starting to rub a hoof across her tongue to try and rid it of the foul taste.

“Hmm... Ah can’t say fer sure. Rarity? Ya’ll got that picture, is this what we’re after?” Applejack said, turning to the white unicorn.

“Why, I do believe it is! Let me see... yes, it is an exact match. Well done you two.” Rarity said, giving a smile to the pegasi who both looked mildly proud on their achievement. “And have no fear about the taste, Rainbow Dash. I might not be as powerful as Twilight Sparkle, but I think I can handle holding onto the flower until we get back to Ponyville.”

With that, she turned to face the colorful plant, a faint glow forming around her horn. Nothing at all seemed to happen though. Despite the fact that Rarity was indeed using her magic, as evidenced by the look of concentration she was now giving and the light coming off of her horn, the flower just sat there. Finally, after a short while of this, she released the magic with a soft gasp, glowering at the flower.

“I... I don’t understand. Telekinesis is one of the first tricks a unicorn learns, it should not be this difficult.” The unicorn said with a frown, turning her gaze on one of the rocks littering the ground and soon lifting it up with her magic. “Hmm, it is still working. So... something about this flower seems to be stopping my magic.”

“Wait, is that even possible?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking incredulously at the inconspicuous flower.

Rarity gave a little nod as she replied. “It is quite rare, but still possible. I have heard of a few gems and materials that have such a property, but never of a plant such as this. I cannot help but wonder what our friend is planning on doing with this flower. Surely it can’t be much help as a spell component if it blocks out magic.”

“Ah don’t know, but Ah reckon she’s got somethin’ in mind fer it, or she wouldn’t have asked us out here.” Applejack said, looking down at the flower. “Though, without yer magic, Rarity, somepony’s gonna have ta carry this thing.”

“I call not me.” Dash spoke up almost immediately, shaking her head quickly.

Nopony else looked ready to volunteer for a while until a meek voice spoke up. “Um, if... if nopony else wants to, then I can take it. Sometimes I have to bring worms or medicine to some of the animals, so bad tastes don’t bother me so much anymore.”

Hearing her words, everypony flashed her a grateful smile, though Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. Still, Fluttershy had volunteered and she didn’t seem to fazed as she picked up the flower delicately with her teeth.

“Thanks, sugarcube. Let’s head on back quick as possible then, so we can deliver this ta Twilight and you won’t have ta carry it any longer than necessary.” Applejack said.

That said, the five ponies began to make their way back along the path they had followed to get there, moving as fast as they dared to go while still remaining quiet so as not to attract the attention of anything that lived in the Forest. The two pegasi remained grounded for the entire trip back, thanks to a combination of low hanging branches and fatigue. At least, that’s what Dash assumed about Fluttershy, knowing it to be true for herself.

Finally, after a good while of walking, light began to break through the trees up ahead and the ponies emerged into the warmth of Celestia’s sun, though it had sunk considerably during their trip. Still, nopony could quite help but crack a smile as they left the gloom of the forest behind them.

“Oh, it does feel good to finally be free of that dreadful place. I hope I never find myself going into the Everfree Forest again.” Rarity said, glancing back at the treeline and shaking her head.

“Yeah, I know just what you mean, Rarity. After being cooped up by the trees for so long, all this space feels great!” Rainbow Dash said, stretching her wings for a moment before hopping into the air.

Rather than taking off as she expected, she found herself fluttering frantically to keep aloft. After a short few seconds of hanging in the air, she fell to the ground with a soft thump.

“Rainbow! Ya’ll alright?” Applejack said, rushing over to her and followed by the others. “What happened?”

Rainbow Dash picked herself up from the ground and shook her head a bit before giving a soft chuckle. “Oh wow, must be more tired than I thought... Yeah, I’m fine. I guess I just overworked my wings today and they need some rest.”

A collective sigh of relief came from her friends and the orange pony chuckled along with Dash as she replied. “Heh, well how about ya’ll don’t scare us like that again? It ain’t healthy ta get all worried twice in one day.”

“Hey, it’s not like I chose to let that happen. Still, I think I’ll stick to walking for now.”

Applejack nodded at that, though as her eyes fell upon Fluttershy, who was still holding onto the flower, she realized they should probably get moving again. Though the kind pegasus wasn’t saying anything, her eyes had begun to water a bit from the terrible taste.

“Well, if yer alright, then we should keep goin’. Ain’t much farther now.” Applejack said, turning an leading the way back into Ponyville.

As she said, it wasn’t much farther to the Ponyville Library and soon enough the five friends were standing in front of the tree. Raising a hoof, Applejack knocked loudly on the door. When there was no reply for a while, she made to push open the door and just head inside when Rarity stopped her.

“Applejack, you can not just barge in there like this.” The unicorn said disapprovingly.

“It’s a public library, Rarity. Should still be open this time of day. Besides, Ah think we count as a bit more than just the public, bein’ Twi’s friends and all.” Came the orange pony’s response.

“Well, that is true, but it is also her home. Certain respects must be paid in these circumstances. Allow me.” Rarity said, stepping up to the door and giving a light knock of her own. “Twilight Sparkle, we have returned with the item you asked us to go and get. May we come inside?”

For a few moments more, there was no reply. Finally, the door opened to reveal Spike standing there, looking incredibly glad to see them.

“You found it?” He asked immediately, looking quite relieved as Rarity nodded. “Oh thank goodness... I don’t think Twilight can hold it back for much longer. Um, do you mind if I go ahead and take it in to give to her?”

“Oh... well, I... I suppose so. After all, that is why we brought it here in the first place.” Rarity said, a little startled by the dragon’s response. “May we come in and see our friend though? Or is she still busy?”

“Er... I can ask, but I think she’s still pretty caught up with things at the moment.” Spike said, somewhat nervously even as he carefully took the offered flower from Fluttershy. “I’ll be back in just a second.”

With that, the dragon headed off, closing the door behind him. Rarity blinked a bit before turning toward the others.

“Well, that was fairly strange, was it not? Is it just me, or did Spike seem fairly... panicked?” She said, looking puzzled.

“Ah’ll say. Somethin’ seems off about this whole thing. Ah’ve been feelin’ it since he first came ta the farm ta get Rainbow and me. Ah wonder what’s goin’ on here...” Applejack responded.

“Um... I don’t know... I think we should trust Twilight on this.” Fluttershy said softly. “I mean... we’re her friends. Why would she try to hide something from us?”

“Yeah, I agree with Fluttershy on this one. Twi’s given us no reason not to trust that she knows what she’s doing.” Rainbow Dash said with a nod.

“Ah suppose that’s true... still, Ah can’t shake this feeling...” Applejack said, turning to Pinkie Pie. “Yer bein’ mighty quiet, Pinkie Pie. What do you think?”

“Hm?” The pink pony said, blinking and turning to face Applejack. “Oh! Well, I think you might be right. I’ve had this weird twitchy-witchy feeling all day and it’s been getting stronger since I got to the library. Don’t know what it means, but I think it has something to do with Twilight.”

“Well, perhaps we should put this up to a vote, hm? See who all believes we should question Twilight about this or just leave it alone.” Rarity said, her words accompanied by nods and agreement from most of the other ponies.

“Woah, hold on just one second.” Rainbow Dash said suddenly. “Are we seriously going to do this? Plot behind our friend’s back? I don’t know about you ponies, but that seems wrong to me.”

Silence greeted these words as everypony there thought about what the pegasus had just said. Finally, it was broken by a little sigh from Applejack.

“Ya’ll have a point there, Rainbow Dash. This ain’t right at all. Twilight’s our friend, and we should trust her more than this. She’ll let us know what’s goin’ on when she’s good and ready, right?”

The other ponies gave their agreement and before much longer, the door was once again opened by Spike.

“Um... Twilight says she’s very sorry, but she can’t really have any visitors at the moment. She needs to have her full concentration on the magic right now. However, if anypony is interested, Twi can join you for lunch tomorrow.” The dragon said, sounding as if he was simply relaying somepony else’s message.

“Oh, I see...” Rarity said with a little sigh before giving the little dragon a small smile. “Well, that sounds wonderful to me at least. I shall be there tomorrow. Please offer dear Twilight Sparkle my fondest wishes that her research go well.”

“Of course, Rarity.” Spike replied with a nod. “Sorry about all this. It must seem kinda rude to you, but all I can really say is that Twilight’s been under a lot of pressure with this whole thing. I hope she’ll finish up tonight and get some good rest by tomorrow. Thanks, all of you, for getting that plant. That should be just what she needs.”

“It’s quite alright Spike. I quite understand Twilight’s quest for knowledge and how it can consume her at times. Still, I do worry about her sometimes, as I’m sure we all do.” Rarity said, turning to face the other ponies who nodded in agreement.

“I’ll be sure to let her know.” Twilight’s assistant said with a little smile. “Well, I should probably go help her out and make sure everything’s going alright. Hope you have a good rest of the day, everypony. Thanks again.”

With that, the baby dragon gave a little wave before closing the door again. Rarity turned back to the other four ponies with a soft sigh.

“Well, now that this has been taken care of, I suppose I had better get back to the boutique and keep working on that order. Will you girls be able to meet up for lunch tomorrow?” She said.

“I should probably be going back to check up on the injured animals. I left Angel Bunny in charge but... well, his bedside manner is kind of... um, not good. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and he is getting better.” Fluttershy said. “Er... I mean, I’ll be there tomorrow...”

“Oh, I’ll definitely be there! Though, that means I’m going to have to put my party plans on hold, but that’s okay. Friends come first right? Besides, it’s kind of like a party when we all get together, just without the cake or balloons or streamers or games. Hmm... I know, I’ll bring a cake along. Then it will be a party!” Pinkie Pie said bouncing around excitedly.

“Ah can’t think of a reason why Ah wouldn’t be able ta show up. Ah’ll be there.” Applejack said with a nod.

“Heh, guess I have to go too in that case. Can’t practice without somepony there to watch, right?” Rainbow Dash said, chuckling softly. “Nah, I’d have been there anyways. It’ll be nice to see Twi again, and maybe find out what’s been going on.”

“Then it’s settled! We’ll all meet up for lunch tomorrow.” Rarity said brightly. “Well, as I said, I must be off. Have a good day, girls. Until tomorrow.”

As the unicorn headed off, the others all said their goodbyes and did likewise, each pony headed off in different directions, save for Applejack and Rainbow Dash who were both going back to the farm. The sun was setting before too much longer as they walked along and talked.

“Well, Ah reckon that was more than enough excitement fer one day.” The earth pony said with a chuckle, shaking her head.

“Yeah, I think you’re right about that. Still, it was good to be able to see everypony else again, even if it meant taking a trip into the Everfree Forest.” Dash replied.

“Indeed it was, sugarcube. Ah’ll have ta remember ta try and make more time ta spend with them.”

“Definitely.” Rainbow said with a nod.

As they walked along the path, the pegasus decided to give her wings another go. Flaring them out, she gave an experimental flap, but found that they still didn’t seem ready to support her weight. Applejack noticed this and gave her a look tinged with concern.

“Everything alright, Rainbow?”

“Yeah, I... I think so.” She responded, frowning lightly. “It’s just weird that this is happening. I mean, I’ve gotten really tired before, to the point where I could barely fly, but this feels... different? I dunno, maybe I’m just imagining things.”

“Ya’ll have been goin’ at it pretty hard. Maybe you just need time ta rest up?”

“That’s probably it. In fact, I think I might just hit the cloud when we get back. Been a long, long day AJ...”

“Heh, that it has, Rainbow.”

Before long, they had reached the farm and, after saying their goodnights, each pony retired to their own bedroom. Rainbow smiled happily as she flopped out upon the cloud she’d been using for a bed, resting on the fluffy material. For a few seconds at least.

Without warning, the pegasus found herself sinking through the cloud to land on the floor with a thump. Blinking in confusion, she sat up again, looking around herself.

“Huh... that’s odd.” She mused to herself, shaking her head a bit before hopping up and trying again.

It didn’t work out the second time, or the third, and as she found herself once again lying out on the floor, Rainbow was starting to feel quite annoyed.

“Come on now. Stop doing this to me and just let me get some sleep!” She said, glaring at the cloud.

Despite her words though, the cloud still didn’t seem capable of supporting her own weight. Grumbling softly to herself, she stood up once more and hopped up onto the earth pony bed in the room. It was just as uncomfortable as she remembered, but she was feeling too tired by this point to really care. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, she finally drifted off to sleep.

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