• Published 22nd Mar 2014
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Seasons Turning - moguera



The coming of autumn brings with it new trials for Dawn, his family, and his friends...as well as new feelings.

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The Turning Season

Chapter 6: The Turning Season

Three days later, Shining and Cadance departed to head back to Canterlot. Twilight quickly settled back into her normal life as Ponyville's librarian. At the same time, she began making preparations for examining the ponies she had identified during her research in the Royal Archives. The difficult part would be getting them to Ponyville, but Twilight wanted to make sure that she had all her equipment ready and that she had a full battery of tests prepared to help identify the source trait that resulted in the Eyes of Nightmare. Towards that end, she began taking volunteers from Ponyville's population, trying to get an equal spread of unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies in order to have a good quantity of baseline data.

To her relief, the townsponies were eager to help, many of them having apparently taken a liking to the ebony colt (A sharp reduction in Cutie Mark Crusader-related disasters coinciding with his joining the group may have had something to do with that fact). More than a few were legitimately upset on his behalf when they heard the slander the members of the Cult Solar had been spreading about ponies with Dawn's condition, particularly when they realized that Willow's attack on Ponyville had been an attempt on Dawn's life.

Meanwhile, autumn had arrived with its usual fanfare, the trees having burst into a variety of colors as the season continued to build. Preparations for the final and largest harvest of the year were in full swing. Ponyville saw a sharp influx of new ponies, many of them migrant workers looking for seasonal employment at the various farms as hired hooves. While the increased number of laborers was a relief to the farmers, Twilight and her friends felt rather nervous, as there was no means of screening the new arrivals to find if they had any associations with the Cult Solar. At Twilight's suggestion, Dawn was careful to keep a low profile during the season, staying clear of Ponyville itself during any time of day where the farmworkers might be spending time enjoying the town's amenities and staying in the back sections of the teashop when he worked there.

So far, it seemed that those precautions were sufficient, as there had yet to be any disturbances that could be attributed to anything aside from normal causes.


"This is borin'," groaned Apple Bloom, earning an amused snort from Red River as he watched her.

It was just after lunchtime. Applejack and Big Macintosh were moving about the orchard, laying out baskets and making preparations for their busiest harvest season. Thanks to careful application of earth pony magic, the trees of Sweet Apple Acres rotated through different harvest times throughout the year. A few more years down the road and some of the trees would even be capable of sprouting multiple yields a year. However, autumn was their busiest time, not simply because it was the largest apple harvest of the year, but also because the arrival of autumn meant the beginning of Cider Season, the sales for which would generally carry the Apple Family through the winter and well into spring.

"That it may well be," agreed Red, "I remembered hating it back when I first started too. But it will grow on you over time."

"How long?" asked Bloom.

"That will depend on you. But you will realize how important this is once the power begins to grow within you and takes root."

Under normal circumstances, Red would have been helping Applejack and Big Macintosh in the preparations. However, when Apple Bloom began desperately pressing for a chance to help, Red had seen an opportunity to do something more significant than simply lending his hoof to the farm work. As it turned out, the extra profits he’d managed to bring in with his sales techniques had allowed them to hire some additional hooves to help with the harvest. On top of that, other branches of the family had heard about the trials caused by Cloudsdale’s drought, leading to a few relatives promising to drop by and provide their own assistance.

Applejack and Big Macintosh had more than their fair share of trepidation when it came to letting Apple Bloom help with the work. On one hoof, she had shown that she was capable of making their signature Zap Apple Jam, something that not even Applejack had quite gotten the hang of yet. She could also buck the apple trees fairly well, though not well enough to clear an entire tree with a single strike yet. However, the applebucking would come later. Right now, Applejack and Big Mac were in the most tedious phases of preparing for the large harvest to come. And though Apple Bloom would have to learn about all aspects of running the farm eventually, currently, her overabundance of enthusiasm and lack of experience were more likely to leave a mess and slow things down than the were to help. To make matters worse, Apple Bloom's Crusader friends were occupied with their own tasks. Scootaloo and Dawn were busy with their training, while Sweetie Belle was still receiving instruction on controlling her nascent magic. Finally, Rumble was helping his brother with weather work when he wasn’t at his lessons with Storm Front. Unfortunately, this meant that there was no Crusading to keep Apple Bloom occupied either.

It was then that Red River stepped in with an offer of his own. He had a means of keeping Apple Bloom occupied. At the same time, it would help Apple Bloom become more in-tune with working the earth and settle her energetic impulses to allow her to be more of a help than a hinderance.

And thus, Apple Bloom's instruction in earth pony magic began.

Needless to say, teaching an energetic filly the rudiments of how earth ponies mastered their own innate magic was a difficult enough task. Stillness was a central element to learning that magic, but still quite a lot to expect from a foal.

However, though she grumbled and complained, Red thought that Apple Bloom was doing quite well.

"How do Ah make the power grow?" asked Bloom predictably.

Red chuckled, remembering that he had once asked his own teacher the same question once. "Take a deep breath," he instructed, "Suck in as much air as you possibly can."

Looking confused, Bloom followed his instructions, opening her mouth wide as she fought to draw as much air as she could into her lungs. Her chest swelled as she fought to pull more and more with each passing second. Finally, she couldn't take in any more and snapped her mouth shut, her cheeks bulging out as the excess air filled her mouth and fought for escape.

"Can you take in any more?" asked Red. When Bloom shook her head, his smile widened. "Really? Are you sure?" Bloom's response was more emphatic this time. "Alright, let it out."

With a whoosh, Apple Bloom expelled the air from her lungs and resumed breathing normally. "What was the point 'o all that?" she demanded.

"For earth ponies, using magic is much like breathing," explained Red, settling down to lay in front of Bloom, "Though you may not realize it, you've been using your magic all your life. Earth pony magic is instinctual and automatic, just as it is with breathing. You use it without thinking about it. It fuels our strength and our stamina, allowing us to go harder and longer than our pegasus and unicorn cousins."

"Then how come Ah still get tired real fast?" demanded Apple Bloom, "Dawn can work harder than Ah can and he's a pegasus."

"That's because he's been working hard for most of his life," replied Red, "Once you start to get a hold on your magic, you will easily be able to outlast him. Right now, your strength is limited because the amount of magic you draw into yourself is limited. Just as you can only draw so much air into your lungs, you can only draw so much of the earth's power into yourself at a time.

"But that amount can be increased through training. Over time, you will find yourself able to take deeper and deeper 'breaths,' drawing in more and more power. The extent to which you can increase your ability to draw the earth's strength into yourself is virtually limitless."

"So how is this 'standin' still' stuff supposed to help?"

"Because, while breathing might be an appropriate metaphor, the function is a little different," said Red, "The idea is to fashion yourself into an empty vessel, into which power can be poured. As you learn to draw in more of the earth's power, the seed of your own power will begin to grow.

"There are two aspects to our magic. The first is the magic we can draw in from without, which determines quantity, and the power within ourselves, which determines quality. Your own internal magic will determine how your power can be used. Stillness allows you to tend to both at once. This is Cultivation, the essence of earth pony magic."

"Ah'm still not quite sure Ah get it," said Apple Bloom, cocking her head.

Red stood up. "Let me give you a demonstration." He assumed the same stance he had instructed Apple Bloom to and took a deep breath.

For a moment, Bloom felt as though the ground she was on had suddenly tilted in the azure stallion's direction. Her ears picked up the sound of wood creaking around her, as though the trees themselves were trying to lean in. It was as if Red River's very presence was slowly pulling in the world around him.

Then Red let out his breath and visibly relaxed. The feeling vanished, leaving Bloom wondering if she had ever felt it at all. "Did you feel that?" the stallion asked.

Apple Bloom nodded.

"Good," said Red, "I think you're perceptive enough. Right now, you are overly distracted by your own thoughts. You must let go of thinking for the time being and focus on feeling." He nodded at her. "Try the stance again."

Bloom did as she was bid, settling her hooves beneath her so that she could easily stand with her legs relaxed and not feel any strain trying to remain up. She closed her eyes and tried to keep her breathing calm and even. A twitch of her rump caused her tail to bounce, making Apple Bloom clench her teeth as she tried to still the troublesome limb.

"Don't fight it," said Red, "Stillness comes, not by clamping down on yourself, but by relaxing and letting go."

Bloom tried to follow his advice, giving up on trying to control her tail and deciding not to think about it. With each breath, she tried to let her thoughts melt away. Strangely, it seem to make the information she drew from her senses all the more vivid. Her ears were filled with the soft swishing of the apple trees on the wind. She could almost feel the individual hairs on her coat being stirred by the breeze. She became acutely aware of the feeling of the grass beneath her hooves, able to to feel out individual blades...

...And it tickled.

Red found himself blinking in confusion as Apple Bloom nearly collapsed, her momentary quiet demeanor dissolving into giggles. Once she recovered, Bloom noticed that Red was staring at her. "A-Ah'm sorry."

"For what?" asked Red River.

"Ah couldn't keep it up. All 'o a sudden, the grass started ticklin' me." Bloom looked down, thinking that Red would be disappointed in her.

However, the azure stallion merely chuckled. "I see," he said softly, "You have nothing to be sorry about."

"Really?"

"Yes. All that means is that you are making excellent progress. The reason that the grass started tickling you was because your awareness of your senses were heightened, a direct result of successfully clearing your mind. You were just caught off-guard because you aren't used to feeling everything so clearly. If you continue to practice, it won't tickle for much longer. Once you get past that block, it won't be long before you start to feel the earth's power and are able to draw it into yourself. After that, the rest is repetition."

"It's that easy?" asked Apple Bloom.

Red nodded. "Yes. Before long, you won't even need that stance. You'll be able to do it lying down, sitting, virtually anytime where you are staying still. You can practice it anytime, during quiet moments where you have nothing else to do, while you're waiting in line in the market, before school starts-"

"Can Ah do it durin' class?" asked Bloom...predictably.

"I wouldn't recommend it," said Red, "School is a place where you're asked to think." He kept to himself the fact that the last thing he wanted was to have Cheerilee and, subsequently, Applejack coming after him for teaching Bloom "bad habits."

"But a lot 'o the time, it ain't gonna be more than a couple minutes, or even a few seconds," protested Apple Bloom, "How can mah magic get stronger if Ah'm only workin' on it for a little bit at a time."

"But those little bits add up," replied Red, "As earth ponies, time is our greatest asset. Every little bit of growth accumulates over time. Layers upon layers of practice build up, becoming stones, then boulders, and ultimately, a towering mountain. Unlike Dawn and Scootaloo, you don't need to go off and find a private place, away from others. This is practice you can do anywhere, at virtually any time."

"But Ah have to get over the ticklin' first," groaned Apple Bloom.

"Like I said, you get used to it in time." Red's eyes began to glitter with mischief. "However, if you're in such a hurry, there is a faster way."

"Really!" exclaimed Bloom, jumping up in her excitement, "A really fast way."

"Yes, we simply have to inoculate you against ticklishness ahead of time, by having you experience it all of once. Are you interested?"

"You bet Ah am!" replied Apple Bloom, missing the slowly spreading grin on Red's face, "How do Ah start."

"Oh that's very easy..." Red's words were all the warning he gave her before he pounced on the yellow filly.

A second later, the surrounding orchards were assailed by gales of laughter as Red River tickled the living daylights out of Apple Bloom.


On a chilly afternoon a few days later, Twilight called a meeting of her close friends and important ponies. Naturally, all five of the other Element Bearers were coming, but so were the Crusaders. The primary reason was so Twilight could formally introduce Arkenstone as her coltfriend, a decision she'd put off for a good long while as she wrestled with whether or not to tell them that he was also a Celestial Knight. Ultimately, Twilight came to the conclusion that it was worth it for her friends to know. She'd also remembered something else that had dropped to the back of her mind since she'd returned from Canterlot.

Given all the work going on at harvest time, Twilight opted to hold their little meeting in the evening so that everypony could finish their work for the day before coming over. As such, she and Spike had planned everything out to be an easygoing gathering that they could all spend together in the library. To that end, the two of them were preparing snacks and hot cocoa, making sure to have enough for everypony and make up for the fact that they'd be at the library instead of having dinner.

Twilight looked up from her preparations in the kitchen as she heard the door to the library opening. Looking out into the main room, she saw Arkenstone removing his lavender scarf as he closed the door behind him. Given how short a walk it was from his teashop, Twilight was surprised to see the stallion wearing anything at all, particularly given his resilient nature. With a smile, she took the scarf from him with her magic and hung it on a peg by the door.

"Thank you," said Arkenstone as Twilight trotted up to him. The two of them shared a gentle nuzzle.

"Are you sure you're okay with this?" asked Twilight as the stallion settled himself onto some cushions by the fireplace.

"It was your decision to make," replied Arkenstone calmly, "As the Element Bearers, your friends have a right know these sorts of things if it's relevant to their lives. That was the reason Spitfire was willing to reveal her status to everypony as well. Or were you talking about whether or not to tell everypony that we're special someponies?"

"Oh stop that," chided Twilight, lightly bopping Arkenstone on the nose, "I'm pretty sure everypony knows about that already."

"I wouldn't count on it," commented Spike, moving to set a plate of small sandwiches on the table, "You guys don't act all that different in public than how you usually did before you came back from Canterlot."

That much was certainly true. In reality, not much had changed between Twilight and Arkenstone since Canterlot. Any differences were not readily visible to the casual observer. Akenstone seemed more relaxed and less distant than he had been before, generally feeling much easier in Twilight's company. In private, they were a good deal more affectionate than they had been, spending many an evening nestled together in front of the fireplace, enjoying each other's company as they read or talked. Still, things were moving slow for them (Rarity would probably complain that things were moving glacially slow for them).

Still, the fact that it was true didn't stop Twilight from igniting a spark of magic right underneath Spike's tail, causing the dragon to jump with a yelp. "Okay smart guy, let's get back to work. Or would you like me to break out the baby pictures when Apple Bloom gets here?"

She was rewarded by a blush and an irritated mumble as the dragon went back to his allotted tasks. Stifling a giggle, Twilight joined him, leaving Arkenstone to his own devices.

A few minutes later, they were wrapping up the final preparations for the evening when a polite rapping at the door betrayed the arrival of Rarity. "Good evening Twilight darling," said Rarity cheerfully as she paused to hang her dark-purple scarf on the hook next to Arkenstone's.

After exchanging greetings with Twilight and embarrassing Spike a little, Rarity settled onto the cushions near where Arkenstone waited. "And how are you this evening?" she asked, smiling politely at the stallion, even though she knew he couldn't see it.

"Quite well, thank you," replied Arkenstone equally politely.

"I see you were wearing the scarf I made for you," she noted, her smile becoming more of a smirk.

"Well, since you went through the trouble..." the beige stallion demurred with a chuckle.

Twilight watched the pair, one eye twitching as something resembling anger flared up in her chest. She very nearly gasped as she realized what she was feeling. Is this is my first bout of petty jealousy? she marveled, making a mental note to consult one of the relationship guides available in the library and perhaps record her observations of her own feelings for further study.

Fortunately, she was stirred from her troubling thoughts by a rapid flurry of knocks against the door. Twilight barely managed to get the thing open before Rainbow Dash came barreling in, making several circuits of the library in a rainbow-colored blur before settling down onto the cushions herself. "Hey Twi," she said casually to the unicorn she'd almost bowled over in her entrance. Unlike Rarity and Arkenstone, Rainbow was unclothed, having no need for a scarf or coat, given that the weather was still rather mild, compared to what it would be like later in the season. Pegasi were naturally more resilient to cold than the other pony breeds, a side-effect of them spending much of their lives at higher altitudes.

"Feeling chipper?" asked Twilight sarcastically as she glared at her cerulean friend.

Letting out a sheepish giggle, Rainbow scratched the back of her head and blushed. "Yeah, sorry about that. I'm feeling a little wired right now. It's almost time for me to get back on the job and I've been pretty jazzed about it."

In all honesty, Mayor Mare might have had the best of intentions when it came to granting Rainbow her month-long vacation. However, with Soarin's departure, Rainbow found she only had so much she could do. Sure, she could spend time with her friends and hang out. But without her weather duties to keep her occupied, about the only physical exertions she could look forward to were her practice sessions, which were fun and entertaining, but she looked forward to having something to actually do with her time, especially since this would be her last stretch managing the Ponyville Weather Team before she officially left the job to Raindrops and joined the Wonderbolts in the spring.

With a sigh, Twilight let it go and turned back to the door, just in time to catch a series of knocks so rapid that they might have been the work of a woodpecker rather than a pony. Opening the door, Twilight found herself bowled over by a burst of pink as Pinkie Pie tackled her and trapped the lavender mare in a fierce hug...all while vibrating fiercely.

"Thanks so much for inviting me!" squealed Pinkie Pie excitedly as she all but crushed Twilight with her embrace, "I love getting invited to parties, especially since I almost never get invited to parties."

"Ack...Pinkie," gasped Twilight, "That's..."

"That's because you're always the one throwing parties," Rainbow pointed out, "It's hard to invite you to a party when most parties are the ones you're already making."

Gasping, Pinkie let go of Twilight, letting the abused unicorn fall to the floor with a dull thud, struggling for breath. "You're right!" exclaimed Pinkie, "Oh! Maybe I should invite somepony else to be Ponyville's premier party pony for a while so that she can make great parties and I can get invited to them."

The three other mares present in the room paled at the mere idea of another pony like Pinkie Pie taking up residence in Ponyville. The incident with the mirror pond flashed to the forefront of their minds and they all exchanged nervous glances.

Arkenstone, on the other hoof, was concerned with something else. "Miss Pie, you appear to be shaking. Are you cold perhaps?" He made to scoot over and open a bit more room by the fireplace.

Almost on cue, Pinkie turned into a vibrating blur as a shudder ran throughout the course of her body. Twilight, Rainbow, and Rarity exchanged another set of glances, these ones knowing as Pinkie explained, "Oh no! This is just my Pinkie Sense going off. It's telling me that there's going to be a real doozy tonight."

"Really now," said Rarity, giving Twilight a coy smile, "I wonder what that could be." Twilight blushed fiercely at the attention.

Fortunately, another set of heavier knocks heralded the arrival of Applejack, who hung her emerald-green scarf up with the others and then settling her brown stetson over that. "Howdy," she said cheerfully as she cantered into the library to join the others.

"Good evening Applejack," said Rarity, "How is the harvest coming?"

"Like clockwork," said the orange earth pony as she paused at the table to snatch one of the apples Twilight had set out for a snack, "We've got some hooves helpin' out and Ah've even got some family comin' in to help with the harvest themselves. Cousin Braeburn and Uncle Blenheim are comin' over from Appleloosa."

"Really?" asked Twilight, "Are you sure they can afford to? I thought the Appleloosans would be busy with their own harvests, especially when they're such a new town."

"Nah, they've got all the help they'll ever need," said Applejack, waving a dismissive hoof, "Once the buffalo start stampedin, they'll have all the apples down in two shakes of a lamb's tail."

"That's good," said Twilight, "All that's left then is-" She was cut off by another series of knocks at the door, these ones so soft that she had to strain just to hear them. "Fluttershy."

The mare in question stepped in when Twilight opened the door, pausing to hang up her pink scarf as well. Behind her followed a quintet of foals. Arkenstone had left the Cutie Mark Crusaders to finish closing and cleaning the teashop under Fluttershy's supervision while he went ahead of them.

Even though she wasn't a farmer herself, Fluttershy had her own work to do during the autumn, making sure that all the animals around Ponyville were getting along in their preparations for their winter hibernation. She'd spent most of the day making arrangements with various sellers in the market to obtain food for animals that hadn't had much luck finding their own to store up for the winter, of which there were a larger number than usual this year, thanks to the drought making the available wild supplies of food somewhat scarce.

Having finished her business, she'd joined her son and his friends at the teashop while they worked through the final customers of the day and closed up afterwards. Even Fluttershy found herself amazed that the Crusaders were able to work the shop with no incidents.

"Hello everypony," said Fluttershy as the foals, with the exception of Dawn, rushed past her to help themselves to the snacks on offer.

A few minutes later, Spike came out of the kitchen, loaded down with mugs of hot cocoa. Twilight reached out with her magic and levitated the mugs to everypony in attendance.

Once they were all settled, She took a deep breath. "Everypony, I have a couple of things I'd like to tell you."

Everypony paused, looking at her expectantly. Twilight gestured to Arkenstone and he came to stand next to her. "You all know Arkenstone already. I just wanted to tell you that he's officially my special somepony." Her cheeks burned from the admission alone as she looked expectantly at her friends.

Reactions varied. Rarity sported a knowing grin, clearly anticipating this development, if she hadn't already guessed it long before. Fluttershy quickly blushed and hid behind her mane with a squeak. Rainbow and Applejack shared an amused look before turning to smile back at Twilight. Of the Crusaders, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom were grinning ear-to-ear, watching and listening eagerly. Rumble blushed and shrank back a bit to sit next to Dawn, who looked completely unaffected by the announcement.

As expected, the biggest reaction of all came from Pinkie Pie as she suddenly swelled up like a balloon, her limbs shooting out in odd directions before she abruptly deflated and settled back onto the floor. "Oooooh," she gasped, "That was the doozy!"

"It was that much of a doozy?" asked Twilight.

"Oh I never thought that you'd have a special somepony in a million years and, even if you did have one, that you'd actually tell us. I always thought you'd make it some kind of big secret like it was some horrible crime and that you'd never let us see him or talk to him or ask him questions or threaten him or torture him horribly if he ever hurt you or that Princess Celestia would send him into the sun after Princess Luna sent him to the moon and Princess Cadance shriveled his heart into a dried out husk after Shining Armor smacked him around with his super-awesome magic. But now you do have a coltfriend and you did tell us, which I didn't expect at all, so that means..."

Pinkie's voice trailed off as she suddenly ran out of air, which she promptly replenished with a prolonged gasp that started to swell her up again. "A P-!!!" Her gleeful shout was promptly cut off by the application of several hooves as Twilight and the others rushed to stymie Pinkie's shout before she could shatter every window in the library with the sheer force of her voice. The unexpected impediment to her yell caused Pinkie's cheeks to puff up and, a second later, she was sent whirling around the library, looking and sounding like a balloon propelled by its own escaping air before somehow, miraculously running out of both air and momentum exactly right above where she started, landing on the floor with a thump.

Rumble who, like everypony else, was staring in shock at Pinkie Pie, turned to see Dawn bending over slightly, his head between his hooves, stifling a low groan. "You okay?" he asked the other colt.

"Just watching that mare gives me an incredible headache sometimes," muttered Dawn petulantly.

Uncertain of what else to do, Rumble sighed and gently patted Dawn's shoulder.

With a sigh, Twilight slumped down onto the cushions next to Arkenstone, relaxing as he gently rubbed a hoof between her shoulders. "Now then, with that out of the way, there's something else I need to tell you."

Once again the center of expectant attention, Twilight looked at her friends, her expression much more serious this time. "Arkenstone is also a member of the Celestial Order of Knights, just like Spitfire."

As expected, this earned a succession of gasps from around the room. Twilight found herself quite miffed that, by Pinkie's reckoning, her getting a coltfriend was a much bigger doozy than the revelation that said coltfriend was a Knight.

"Well Ah'll be," said Applejack, "Ah never thought Ah'd meet one of y'all in a hundred years, much less two."

Twilight covertly glanced sidelong at Arkenstone, who merely shook his head slowly. She nodded silently back. Granny Smith had her reasons for keeping the truth from her grandchildren and it wasn't their right to tell Applejack.

"That's awesome!" exclaimed Rainbow, "So, do you know Spitfire?"

"Yes," replied Arkenstone, "We do know each other well enough to recognize each other on sight. However, we aren't what you might call close friends, more like familiar acquaintances."

Scootaloo moved back to sit next to Dawn. "Did you know?" she asked the ebony colt.

"Yes," replied Dawn, "After I met Spitfire, she gave me a hint and I was able to deduce that Arkenstone was a Knight. It wasn't all that surprising, to be honest."

"Um..." Rumble was staring wide-eyed at the gathering, "...Should I even be here? This whole thing sounds like it's way over my head." He did feel more than a little like an outsider. Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom were younger sisters to Rarity and Applejack respectively, which he supposed entitled them to knowing if their sisters thought it appropriate. Dawn was Fluttershy's adopted son and a formidable martial artist in his own right. Scootaloo, the only other one without any familial ties to the gathering, was essentially an honorary younger sister to Rainbow Dash. Compared to all of that, Rumble felt fairly disconnected.

Feeling something brush up against his side, he saw Sweetie Belle sit next to him and gently lean against him. "It's okay," she said, "You're one of the Cutie Mark Crusaders after all."

"Eeyup," agreed Apple Bloom, grinning at him, "And we stick together." The foals once again turned their attention to the adults.

"I wonder who the other Knights are," said Rarity.

"Well, actually..." Twilight said, her magic reaching out to grasp a satchel from the quiet corner where it had been resting since her return from Canterlot, "We met another of the Knights while we were in Canterlot."

"Ooh who is it? Who is it?" squealed Pinkie eagerly.

"He's a unicorn stallion named Arcana," replied Twilight. Though you wouldn't believe he's a stallion the first time you see him. "And...actually, he's Trixie's older brother."

Deafening silence descended upon the library for all of a second before Twilight found herself shrinking away from the collective cry of, "WHAT!!!"

Dawn glanced at the others around him, feeling a bit out of the loop. "Trixie?"

"The Great and Powerful Trixie," said Scootaloo irritably.

"Oh..." Dawn's mind dredged up some of the stories Fluttershy had told him about her and her friends' adventures. "Oh!"

"And...um...how...how is Trixie?" asked Fluttershy nervously.

"She's doing...alright," said Twilight, "Arcana took over her punishment for the whole Alicorn Amulet thing." She quickly explained the arrangement Arcana had come to with Princess Celestia. Several of her friends winced in sympathy, many of them thinking that they'd prefer jail time to the harsh experience of wandering through the snowswept northern wilderness.

"Well, Ah certainly can't say that mare hasn't done her time," said Applejack, "Ah guess we should treat her nice if we see her again." The others nodded in agreement.

"The thing is," continued Twilight, "When Arky (I can hear you snickering, Rainbow Dash) and I were leaving Canterlot, Arcana gave me a gift. It's sort of a thank you and an apology for what Trixie put us through."

Opening the satchel, Twilight reached in and pulled out an apple. A collective gasp arose from her friends, particularly from Applejack and Apple Bloom. Its flawless white skin gleamed in the firelight, making it shine with the luster of a pearl as it hung in Twilight's magical grip.

"It's beautiful!" gasped Rarity.

"Is that what Ah think it is?" asked Applejack, her eyes widening when Twilight nodded back at her.

"Can we eat it?" asked Pinkie...rather predictably.

"Of course," said Twilight, "I have over a dozen of them, so we can each have one with a few left over."

She levitated the first apple over to Applejack, who took it in her hoof and examined it critically, much like a jeweler appraising the cut of a gemstone. "Hold on a minute sugarcube." She set the apple on the table and trotted over to the bathroom. A few seconds later, the group could hear the sounds of running water, followed by gargling and spitting as the apple farmer rinsed her mouth out.

"What was that about?" asked Rainbow as Applejack came back out of the bathroom.

"Ah was cleanin' mah mouth to clear mah palate," said Applejack, "Ah'm a professional when it comes to apples, so Ah can't let anythin' else interfere with the taste."

Picking up the apple once again, she took a generous bite of out of it. Her jaw worked exactly once before her cheeks suddenly bulged, along with her eyes. A few seconds of chewing and gulping later, Applejack swallowed and let out a gasp.

"Was it bad?" asked Apple Bloom nervously, a bit put off by her older sister's reaction.

"Bad? No! It was fantastic!" exclaimed Applejack, "But dang! If that ain't the juiciest darn Apple Ah ever did bite. Nearly had it blow out mah nose." She looked at the rest of the fruit that rested on her hoof. "That's gotta be one 'o the best dang apples Ah ever tried in mah life, right up there with the zap apples."

"Really?" asked Apple Bloom eagerly.

"You betcha sugarcube," said Applejack with a wink.

"Here," said Twilight, levitating enough apples for everypony out of her bag and picking one for herself.

"Take small bites," counseled Applejack, "Ah ain't kiddin' 'bout that juice."

Twilight bit into the apple, her incisors piercing right through the skin, allowing her to bite off a piece. Following Applejack's advice, she kept her bite smaller than she normally would. As she closed her mouth around it, she was struck by the texture of the apple's flesh, firm and rigid, much like a granny smith. However, it was smooth, smoother than even a grape's flesh. Running her tongue across it in her mouth was akin to licking an incredibly smooth piece of glass. Taking a moment, she basked in the incredible sweetness and crisp taste before crunching down on it with her molars.

In an instant, Twilight understood Applejack's warning as her mouth was completely flooded with juice, almost as though as she'd tried to suck down an entire bottle of cider in a single gulp. It was sweet, yet refreshing, like fresh spring-water, incredibly tangy, yet not sour. Her mind was flooded with images of meadows covered in a clear, unblemished sheet of fresh snow beneath a blue sky. It was almost as though something had distilled the very essence of a beautiful winter's day into a flavor and packed it into the flesh of this apple.

Swallowing and chewing and swallowing some more, Twilight finally got the piece of apple down her throat, the last drops of juice disappearing down her esophagus before she opened her mouth to gasp in delight.

"Wow!"

"Ya don't say," said Applejack, grinning wryly at Twilight over her own half-eaten apple.

"What the hay are these things?" asked Rainbow, before she paused to wipe away the small rivulet of juice that had leaked out of her mouth.

"They're a variety of apple that grows wild in the far northern regions," said Twilight, "They're called wintersilk apples. It's said that wintersilk trees only grow in areas that receive the heaviest snows of the year. I've done some research on them before because they're magical flora, just like zap apples."

"I'm impressed with this brother of Trixie's," commented Rarity, taking a moment to wipe her lips with a hoofkerchief. Her apple had, at most, a few nibbles taken out of it, making it the least-eaten one of the group. "This is most certainly a lavish gift."

"Well, I think there's more to it," said Twilight, looking at her own apple contemplatively. Even to the eye, its flesh was smooth, like she'd just bitten a chunk out of crystal-clear ice. "When Arcana gave them to me, he said he'd thought we'd have a 'use' for them. He also brought up the fact that Applejack is an apple farmer."

"So what yer sayin'..." said Applejack.

"...Is that this stallion thinks we should try and grow these here apples?" finished Apple Bloom excitedly. Her own fruit was nearly finished and the fur around her muzzle was matted with juice, making it obvious she hadn't exactly been following her sister's advice about small bites.

"I think so," agreed Twilight, "From what I've read, nopony has been able to successfully cultivate wintersilk apples, even in their native environment, not that there have been many ponies who've tried."

"Given how difficult the apples are to acquire in the first place, that doesn't surprise me," commented Arkenstone.

"Ooh!" squealed Pinkie, "It's just like a game! That's so cool!"

"A game?" asked Applejack, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

"More like a puzzle," said Twilight eagerly, "If we can work it out, then Sweet Apple Acres and Ponyville will be the only place in Equestria where wintersilk apples can be grown and sold."

The Apple siblings exchanged a wide-eyed look. "We'd be set fer life!" exclaimed Applejack.

"We'll never have to worry about money problems ever again!" agreed Apple Bloom. The two of them started grinning from ear-to-ear.

"Oh! I'm so happy for you," said Fluttershy, taking a deep breath before sort-of shouting, "Yay!"

"So how do we do this?" asked Dawn, setting aside the core of his apple, "I'm assuming you will want to keep the seeds."

Twilight nodded. "We need as many samples as we can get. The rest of the apples are good for another year, thanks to Arcana's stasis spell. I want everypony to give me their seeds as soon as they're finished eating."

As it turned out, the apples yielded six to ten seeds each, giving Twilight plenty of samples to work with. Unfortunately, a few were lost to Pinkie Pie, the party pony having downed her apple, core and all, before Twilight could finish her instructions. However, even with that minor setback, Twilight had plenty to work with. After amassing her small pile of seeds, Twilight took out a small pouch to hold them. Her horn blazed and everypony watched in awe as Twilight's violet aura seemed to take the form of an enlarged snowflake around the pouch before fading away. Opening the pouch, she set the seeds inside.

"You've managed to perfectly duplicate Arcana's stasis spell," Arkenstone observed, a tone of amusement in his voice as he remembered how completely flabbergasted the svelte stallion had been when Twilight had managed to deconstruct the spell that he had spent the better part of a year developing.

Twilight blushed. "Yeah, I've been working on it," she admitted, "This'll let us keep the seeds as long as we need to."

She turned to her friends. "Now then, I understand things are getting a little hectic with winter coming, but I think we can get this done. Rainbow Dash!"

The aforementioned pegasus sprang upright with a sharp salute. "Yes ma'am!" she responded in her best Academy voice.

"You still have a day or so before you go back to work, right?"

Rainbow nodded. "Yeah."

"Then I need you to go to Cloudsdale and get me copies of all the weather data you can find on the northern regions, particularly those areas north of the Crystal Empire. Even though it's outside of Cloudsdale's distribution zone, it's still being monitored and they should have plenty of data. I need it all, atmosphere, temperature, precipitation, everything you can get your hooves on."

Rainbow visibly deflated on having to go archive trawling on her last day off. "Oh."

"Take Storm Front with you," suggested Arkenstone, "He's supposed to be good at that sort of thing."

"'Kay."

"Fluttershy," said Twilight, turning to her meek friend.

"Y-yes?" asked the yellow mare.

"Can you talk to your insect friends? If there are any active during the winter, would you check and see if any of them would be willing to work as pollinators. I know the zap apples don't need them, but the wintersilks might."

"Okay," said Fluttershy, brightening up, "I can do that."

"Rarity, Pinkie, Applejack, could you three go to the farm sometime soon and see if you can set aside some land for planting these when we get around to it?" asked Twilight.

"Of course," said Rarity, "But isn't Applejack enough for that?"

"She might," said Twilight, "But it is the harvest season after all. We don't want to disrupt things, so it would be great if you two could help her."

"Sure thing!" said Pinkie, bouncing, as a Pinkie was wont to do.

"Oh, and if you could bring me back some earth from that plot of land, that'd be great too."

"You bet!" agreed Pinkie without the slightest question.

"Wonderful!" said Twilight eagerly, "I can't wait to get started!"

Author's Note:

Sorry about the late update. My work schedule has been a bit hectic this week and I've been worn out. Editing these chapters and getting them ready for posting can get a little tedious at the best of times. It's not the kind of thing that's fun to do when my brain is shot from a long day.

The scene with Red River and Apple Bloom was put there for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to show a scene of Red integrating himself further into the Apple Family lifestyle, since he's AJ's coltfriend, something showing him acting like a big brother to Bloom. Secondly, warm fuzzies...and that shouldn't require any further justification.

I also tried something a bit different with Pinkie Pie's dialogue in this chapter. When you read her long monologue, you'll notice a conspicuous absence of punctuation. This is entirely intentional in order to try and convey that confusing, rapid-fire delivery she does so often on the show. I don't plan on doing it every time she speaks, but it is a good for those moments for when she goes off on one of her fast-talking monologues.

The whole thing with the wintersilk apples is primarily meant to be a fun little sidequest for the group, something for Twilight to play with in between her other studies right now. Arcana sure knows his gifts.

Next chapter: Ya got trouble.