• Published 6th Aug 2014
  • 1,806 Views, 136 Comments

The Royal Apples: Into the Land of Neverwere - Radical Gopher

Mac finds himself uncertain as to his role as the new Prince of Equestria.

  • ...

Chapter 05

The white unicorn led her five companions down into the basement and through a heavy metal door that led to the wine cellar. Once inside, she closed the door gestured to two large kegs of wine, directing Applejack and Rainbow to use a nearby coil of rope and strap them to Big Mac’s back. When they finished, she trotted quickly to the back wall. “Now,” she muttered, “let’s see if I remember this correctly.” She counted eight rows of bricks up from the floor and twelve over from the left wall. Her hoof brushed against a particular brick and a section of the back wall opened up in front of them leading into a dingy, dark corridor. Her horn lit up like a bright torch and she guided the other ponies inside, making sure the wall was closed firmly behind them.

“Where are we?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“This passageway leads into the old subway tunnels that run underneath Manehatten. Most of them have been closed since HE flooded them out during the hurricane four years ago. The city didn’t have enough money to repair or reopen about ninety percent of them so they were left abandoned.”

“If they’re flooded, how can we use them?” asked Big Mac as he tried to settle his load more comfortably on his back. He didn’t like the way his wings were pinned down, but there was little that could be done about it. Underground they wouldn’t be of any use anyway.

Rarity glanced over at him. “The water’s long since drained away. We just have to be careful for weak spots in the ceiling.”

“Phew... it stinks down here,” complained Rainbow Dash.”

Babs gave her a twisted grimace of a smile. “Youse can say that again. Rot, mold and who knows what else. Ay bet the sewers smell better than this place.”

“The sewers don’t come out anywhere near where we want to go, darling,” replied Rarity.

“Where’s that,” squeaked Fluttershy.

“There’s an old station not far from the Crazy Horse Theatre. From there we can use the back alleys to make our way to the stage entrance.”

“Hopefully your friend Pinkie will want to see youse and maybe join this crazy search.”

“She’ll have ta,” Macintosh said. “She carried one o’ the elements on ma world.”

It took them about fifty minutes to wend their way to the promised subway station. As they approached they could see the glow of a flickering light reflected off the tunnel walls. Reaching the platform they saw the light came from a small fire burning in a low, metal drum. A group of five small, sleeping foals were arranged around the fire for warmth, all wrapped in threadbare blankets. A larger colt, no more than twelve or thirteen, slept only a few paces away. Next to him was a small pile of coals which he had been apparently using to feed the fire. Without a word Rarity pulled a small purse out from under her shawl, tiptoed over, and left it next to the sleeping guardian. She then rejoined the others and they headed for the exit.

The climbed the steps leading outside and found their way blocked by a large, heavy accordion gage. The padlock securing it looked relatively new and Big Mac thought it probably belonged to the colt they had seen. It explained why the foals felt it safe to sleep in the old subway station.

“How are we gonna get through that without breaking it,” the stallion whispered.

Without a word, Applejack stepped forward and pulled a bobby pin from her mane. She carefully worked it into the keyhole and moved it around some, placing her ear against it. After about thirty seconds there was a satisfying snap and the lock popped open. Babs pulled the gate open and held it as every pony went through, then with Applejack’s help she replaced the lock as they’d found it. Big Mac found himself speculating about what else he’d find different between this, and his own Applejack.

When they reached the street Bab’s pointed to a nearby alley. They ducked in just as a patrol of three police stallions rounded the corner. From the way they moved it was obvious they were searching for somepony. Babs got every pony to cover just as flashlight beams swept across the alley.

“What about down here?” asked one of the cops. “I’ve got some hoof prints in the snow here.”

“Youse can check down here if youse want to,” said Babs as she casually stepped into the flashlight beam holding up her badge for all to see, “but I’ve already looked and there ain’t nothing bad here.”

One of the ponies smiled as he recognized her. “Hey Babs... You heard about the general call out?”

“Yeah. Thought Ay’d help out a bit before heading back home, even if it is my day off.”

Her fellow cop nickered some. “Well, don’t put yourself out too much. After all, we’re only checking things out because HE told us to?”

“Is HE here?”

The pony shook his head. “Nah... HE sent one HIS lieutenants, Queen Chrysalis thank heavens. Guess HE doesn’t think it’s worth HIS personal attention. Though I wouldn’t want to be the pony who gets to tell the Lady Rarity her place was raided and pretty well tore up at the Queen’s insistence.”

“Ouch.” Babs replied. “Anypony arrested.”

“Just the House steward. They questioned him some then let him go. Place was apparently closed today because of a problem with the furnace. No heat... no clients. Still, we got a mandatory curfew in effect and an APB out on anypony found on the streets, so you might want to head home yourself, just to avoid some rookie confusing you will a civilian.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Babs smiled. “See youse tomorrow.”

“Right.” The three cops switched off their flashlights and trotted happily off down the street, glad to not have to search the back alley. Babs stood on the sidewalk and watched them until they disappeared around another corner. She went back into the alley and rousted the others from their hiding places.

“I am most certainly going to have a few words with the mayor about raiding my business,” Rarity huffed. “Who does that insect think she is?”

“Just be glad youse wasn’t there. Ay’ve seen what the Queen does to HIS enemies.”

“What does she do?” asked Big Mac.

“Suck a pony dry of all their emotions. Leaves them like a kind of living zombie who doesn’t care about anything anymore... not even eating.”

The alicorn was silent. Backed by Discord’s power, the Changeling Queen was even more dangerous than in his own Equestria. A thought occurred to him. “Does HE have any other lieutenants we should be concerned with?”

“Two,” said Rainbow. “Some guy called King Sombra and somepony else called Ahuizotl. Never met either of them and to be honest I don’t want to.”

“Well, with any luck youse won’t haff to,” said Babs. She looked over at Rarity. “Ay know these alleys... mind if Ay lead the way?”

“By all means, darling, but do hurry. This cold air is playing havoc with my coiffure.”

Big Mac smiled at the comment. The more Rarity changed, the more she stayed the same. It only took them about five minutes to reach the stage door of the Crazy Horse Theatre.

Babs climbed the short steps up to the door, but before she could knock the door flew open and an excited voice called out “There you are!! Common in, you’re just in time for the show.”

The police mare looked over at Lady Rarity, wary about leading the others into what might be a trap. She’d been expecting that she would have to bluff her way into the theatre, especially with the city on lockdown. The open invitation felt... wrong. The unicorn, however, did not seem even the least concerned. Instead she simply waved a hoof at Babs gesturing that she should proceed. Taking a breath, she stepped across the threshold and into complete chaos, followed closely by the others.

The theatre was less a theatre at this particular moment and more a massive, well-orchestrated party. Both customers and entertainers were cutting up on stage for the benefit of all. The concession counter had been raided and quantities of refreshments, some having a slight alcohol content, had been distributed to everypony present. Streamers and glitter were wafting down from backstage and flowing out into the auditorium thanks to a large stage fan that had been set up by the crew. The orchestra was playing a lively tune and several members of the audience were actually dancing with each other. In the middle of it all was a pink-furred earth pony swing back and forth across the stage and out over the audience on a wire harness. She was singing a lively little song about smiling and many of the ponies present had joined in.

Big Mac smiled when he beheld the sight. Obviously there was very little difference between the Pinkie Pie of this world and his own. As the song ended, the party mare made a comical “landing” on the stage and was quickly helped out of her rig by a couple of stage ponies. She then trotted back stage and nearly tackled Applejack and Rarity, grinning from ear to ear.

“WOW oh WOW! It’s been nearly like forever since I saw you guys how are you doing you know I’m doing really great I’ve got this great show going and I’m making a lot of ponies smile every day which has always been my dream and I’ve got my own theatre now so I can get a lot of other ponies work who also like to make ponies smile and laugh and it’s all really great though I have missed seeing you even though we aren’t that far from each other but then I’ve been really busy and who’s your new alicorn friend?”

“This is Big Macintosh,” Applejack said by way of introduction.

Babs shook her head at the effusive verbal assault. “How’d youse know he was an alicorn?” she whispered fiercely.

“Oh...is it a secret?” Pinkie asked conspiratorially. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to. Pinkie Promise.”

“What’s going on?” asked Rarity.

“Oh... I was in the middle of my regular show when the whole city went on lockdown, so since I’ve got a captive audience I decided to turn my show into a party until everypony can go home again. Isn’t that spectacular?”

“Simply wonderful,” the unicorn replied. “Do you think we could have a few minutes of your time?”

“Sure... just let me get the next act going.” The party pony turned and called across the stage. “Hey Trixie... Do you have your encore ready?”

Big Mac looked across the stage. A pale blue unicorn with a snow-white mane and tail trotted up to them. She was wearing a cloak and hat almost identical to the one Twilight had once worn on Nightmare Night a few years back. He remembered it as being an authentic recreation of one worn by Starswirl the Bearded.

“The Great and Power Trixie is always ready,” she replied, a warm smile on her face. She then whirled, galloped toward the curtain, executed a rather intricate summersault and landed in the middle of the stage. There was a flash of light as she made her entrance and the crowd roared its approval. What amazed the alicorn was that she accomplished her maneuver despite wearing what looked like a heavy, silver and gold, inlayed, leg brace on her left hind leg.

“She ain’t exactly what Ah remember.”

“Wadda youse mean?” asked Babs.

“The Trixie o’ ma Equestria was so full o’ herself she’d almost never smile. Whenever she showed up in Ponyville there was always some sort o’ trouble.”

Babs shrugged. “Well, our Trixie is the best stage magician anywhere. She even had her own show in Las Pegasus before HE turned the whole town into a chocolate lake. A lot of ponies might have drowned that day if she hadn’t distracted HIM with an improvised magic show long enough for the town to be evacuated.”

“So she’s a hero?”

“Yeah, but she’ll never admit to it.”

Big Mac shrugged. He watched the performance from the wings for a few moments before rejoining the others just as Rarity finished telling Pinkie what had brought them.

“So let me get this straight. You and your friends are all going into the Everfree and find that old castle that Twilight once told us about so you can kick HIS tail out of Equestria and set everything right.”

“Eeeyup,” the alicorn confirmed.

Pinkie got this really weird expression on her face and started bouncing around the group, her body deforming, inflating, stretching, twisting, flicking, blinking and every other outlandish type of movement one could think of before she came to an abrupt stop with her mane and tail total deflated. She paused for a second or two, then her mane poofed out again and she grinned from ear to ear.

“Are youse okay?” asked Babs.

“That was it...” she cheered. “That was my dozy from this morning. My Pinkie sense said something big was going to happen today and it did.”

“Yer Pinkie sense?” Big Mac asked. He thought he’d heard about it before from somewhere, but he’d never seen it up close.

“Yup. It bounced me right out of bed.”

“You weren’t hurt were you dear?” asked Rarity.

“Nope, and if you guys are going to try for Twilight’s treasure again then you can count me in.”

The others smiled hearing the party pony’s enthusiasm. “Now all we need is some pony who knows magic.”

“What about Trixie?” asked Pinkie.

“I’m afraid we need some pony who knows about real magic, not theatrical tricks,” said Rarity.

“Oh, but she does know about real magic,” Pinkie replied. “There’s more sorcery behind her stage magic than most ponies know. She just plays it down because she likes to keep ponies guessing and it makes her act that much more interesting. Besides, she probably wouldn’t mind getting back at HIM for what he had King Sombra do to her leg.”

Rarity looked up at Big Mac. “What do you think?”

“It wouldn’t hurt ta ask her,” the stallion said.

“If we’re gonna go trekking off inta the Everfree, we’re gonna need the right sort of gear. Has any pony thought o’ that?” asked Applejack.

“Not a problem, darling,” said Rarity. With help from both Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash she lifted the two small barrels off Big Mac’s back and removed the top of one. Inside were piled a variety of gems from emeralds and rubies to sapphires and opals, with more than a smattering of diamonds. “I keep these stashed away for emergencies. We should be able to buy anything we need at least a dozen times over.”

“How soon before we leave?” asked Applejack.

“We shouldn’t take more than a day,” said Big Mac. “Getting ta the Everfree will be at least a day’s travel and if Ah remember the stories right, the Castle of the Two Pony Sisters is about half a day’s travel into the woods.”

“Do you know the way?”

“Nnnope... but ma sister... gave me enough clues that Ah think Ah can find it when we get there.”

“What do we need? Maybe we can find some of it here at the theatre,” suggested Pinkie.

The group adjourned to one of the larger dressing rooms to make plans. Between Rainbow, Rarity and Fluttershy they came with a list of items that would be useful. With suggestions made by the party pony, they found about a quarter of these in and around the back stage area and property room. She also took Trixie aside and, after gaining a Pinkie Pie promise from the stage magician filled her in on the general plan. The blue and white mare didn’t hesitate at all to throw her lot in with the others. She then trotted off to her dressing room to gather the supplies she would need herself.

It wasn’t long before the lockdown was finally lifted and ponies were once again allowed out on the streets of Manehatten. Pinkie announced that because of their extra hard work, every pony would have tomorrow off with pay. There was a brief cheer and most of the theatre employees left, except for the manager and a few of the clean-up crew. Splitting into groups of two, Babs, Rarity, Trixie, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy went out to purchase additional supplies. Big Mac and Applejack put themselves to work sorting through what supplies they did have and preparing them to be packed.

As they worked, Applejack talked about herself and the stallion learned how different her life in the city had been to his own AJ. The hard times created by the Nightmare Queen’s reign, then Discord, had broken Uncle and Aunt Orange’s fortune, ending his sister’s life of privilege. When she came of age work was hard to find. Eventually she was forced to become a hostess at a Stallion’s club. It was then she met Rarity and was brought in on the ground floor of her new business enterprise. The unicorn brought with her a touch of glamour and class and despite the nature of her ‘job’ the farm pony started to feel rather pleased with her new found success.

Listening to her, Big Mac started to feel somewhat uneasy. It wasn’t the nature of her story that bothered him, though the idea of his sister being a Mare of the Night felt unnatural. It was the way she told the story. As she expanded the details the stallion had a growing sense that much of what she was saying was, at the least self-deluding and at worst a complete lie. It was a quality he’d never encountered in his sister before. It was like looking at the front of a building and knowing there was nothing there but a façade. A sudden, chilling thought occurred to him. It was so disturbing that he decided to put it to the test.

“Babs tells me that you and she get together from time ta time.”

“Yes... we’re kinda close.” (True)

“What about Aunt and Uncle Orange?”

“Ah’d like ta be closer ta them...” (False)... “but we’ve been on the outs the last few years...” (True)

“Why’s that?” asked the stallion.

“They didn’t like ma choice of jobs...” (True)... “As a matter o’ fact, they threw me out on the street when Ah told them...” (False)... With nothin’ but ma old stetson...” (False)... “And not two bits ta rub together...” (False)... “Ah haven’t seen them since.” (False)

“It’s amazin’ how different ma world and yer world are,” the stallion said. “Where Ah come from HE ain’t anywhere near as powerful or as scary. More like a really annoyin’ relative.” He paused for a moment. “It’s different in this world. It’s no wonder ponies here avoid sayin’ HIS name.”

“That’s fer sure...” (True)

“Every pony except you. Ya showed the same kind of spunk as ma sister when ya said his name.”

“That was an accident...” (False)...

“It was?”

“Yes...” (False)...”Ah ain’t got no reason ta be summonin’ HIM.” (False, False, False).

Big Mac asked her about Rarity... what they did and how she had come to know the others. As she talked he silently coiled several lengths of rope so they’d fit in a saddlebag. This Applejack was way different than his. You couldn’t get a lie past her or even get her to tell the smallest fib, except that one time she was under Discord’s spell. The more she talked, the more convinced he became that she couldn’t possibly represent the Element of Honesty. Add to that the fact he knew she had said Discord’s name on purpose. Why, he couldn’t be certain, but it all pointed to the inescapable conclusion that she could not be trusted.

As they finished with the items around the theatre, Pinkie and Trixie returned.

“Y’all find what we need?” asked Big Mac.

We did better than that... we found some things we didn’t know we needed,” the party pony said with a grin. With that, she unrolled an old map that showed not only where Ponyville use to be, but some minor details about the Everfree Forest. Big Mac recognized many of the details, including a few landmarks he was sure would lead them to the castle where the Elements were hidden. He quickly folded the map when Applejack came over.

“What about those magical components ya said ya needed?” the stallion asked Trixie.

“Most of what I need and can use I already have. The trouble is I don’t know if I can carry it all.”

Big Mac grinned. “You let me worry about that. Heavy lifting has always been ma... er... talent.”

“From your cutie mark I’d have thought you talent had something to do with apples.”

“Well... it IS a big, heavy apple,” piped in Pinkie. Trixie, Applejack and Big Mac chuckled at the observation.

It wasn’t long before the others had returned as well. Rainbow and Fluttershy had stopped at a surplus store and bought each of them a set of saddlebags for their gear. In Big Mac’s case, it was an extra-large set. They immediately began loading equipment, food and water into the bags. Rarity had bought all of them some very warm ponchos along with hoof sheaths useful for both snow and mud.

When they were all packed and ready Applejack suggested they should grab some rest before setting out for the train. Big Mac thought about it for a moment then seemed to nod in agreement. Turning, his horn abruptly flashed green and he caught the palomino directly in the eyes. She folded up quite gently and began snoring softly.

The others stared, aghast at what he had just done. As they watched he quickly removed her saddlebags, then hogtied and gagged her so she couldn’t escape to warn anypony. “Where can we put her so she’s safe fer a day or two?”

“You can use the couch in my dressing room,” said Pinkie. “The stage crew will find her when they open up day after tomorrow. It’s nice and comfy too.”

The stallion nodded and he quickly deposited his “sister” on the couch. When he turned back to the other’s it was obvious they wanted an explanation.

“A.J.’s all right. We can’t take her with us though.”

“Why not?” demanded Rainbow Dash. You said she was part of our group.”

“Ah was wrong, but Ah think we can still do this without her.”

“Whatever did you do to her?” asked Rarity.

“Ah used a sleep spell Ah learned while helpin’ in Magic Kindergarten. It’s normally used ta get foals ta go ta sleep during quiet time, though Ah put a tad more power in it fer Applejack. If we’re lucky, we’ll be deep in the Everfree before HE finds out what we’re doin’.”

“Well, that tells us what youse did, but we’re still waiting to hear the why,” Babs said.

“Ah’ll explain it on the way.” With that, the stallion tossed Applejack’s saddlebags across his own larger set and trotted towards the stage door. The six remaining mares looked at each other, then as a group turned and followed him.