• Published 3rd May 2012
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The Powers of Harmony - CyborgSamurai



The Mane Six develop the powers of the Elements of Harmony and must use them to stop a new villain.

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Chapter 10: Words Left Unsaid

Chapter 10:

Words Left Unsaid

Three Days Later-

Applejack, Strauss, and Norric made their way in from the southern apple fields for lunch. A slight chill was in the air this day, heralding the changing of the seasons. All three of them were breathing hard from the morning's exertions, and were rewarded with a thin layer of sweat. The sun peeked out from the clouds, revealing its luminance, and painting color onto the gray canvas of the world. Strauss was hitched to a cart filled with early blooming apples, while Norric and Applejack followed behind, each of them carrying a bag of tools and chatting between themselves.

“Would you collect the seaweed as it came in?” Applejack asked. “Or did you grow it on your own?”

“It depended on the season.” Norric kicked at a dirt clod that was in his path. “We preferred to grow it, though. Going out on the rocks and sandbars was dangerous.”

Never met anypony from another country. I wonder what it's like on the coast? Applejack regarded him with newfound interest. “I'da never taken you for a farmer. Was it a family business, or something ya’ll just started?”

Norric's bag began to slip off his back. He bucked lightly to settle it back into place. “It went back a few generations. And I wouldn’t really call it farming. It was more like scavenging. “

Applejack turned her head forward to look at the homestead a few hundred yards away. “So what’d you come to Equestria for?”

Norric took a swig from his canteen. “There wasn’t any opportunity for me in Gildesdale. All I’d ever known was seaweed gathering, and the only place to do that’s down on the coast. I wanted a fresh start, a place where nopony knew me and I could be free to pursue my own interests. I tried Thatchholm first, but that turned out to be a bust, so I came to Equestria thinking maybe I could do something in the military. Been here ever since.”

“You mighta been able to get a job on the west coast in someplace like Seaddle or Las Pegasus,” Applejack pointed out. “I doubt there’s much seaweed gatherin’ out there, but it mighta been more up your alley than a soldier’s life.”

Norric grimaced. “Nah, this ain’t so bad. Besides, I hate everything about the ocean: The sound, the sand, the gulls, the smell, all of it. If I never see it again, it’ll be too soon. ”

Applejack laughed. “There’ve been days I’ve felt that way about apples. It always passes, though. But what about your family? Didn’t they need you to stay and help?”

“Not when there were six other siblings who could pick up the slack,” Norric said casually.

Strauss grunted as the wagon got caught on a rock. He pulled hard, and it rolled on.

Applejack jerked her head at him. “I'da thought he'd be the farmin' type over you. He's taken to this like he's been doin' it for years.”

“Labor is labor,” Strauss said over his shoulder. “Military preps you well for that.”

I suppose that's true, but still, he's a quick learner. You'd never know he was a city boy from the way he acts. Applejack nodded. “Least it didn't come as a surprise to ya.”

“Army brats do have some advantages,” Strauss said. He slowed his pace as he carefully eased the wagon down a slope. “Pretty easy to get started, too, the way's basically paved for you.”

Applejack readjusted her Stetson as the sun went back behind the clouds. “I'm just glad I don't have to hold either of your hooves anymore. This Applebuck Season's gonna be a cinch with you two helpin' out.”

Norric looked around at the surrounding trees, which were laden with ripening fruit. “Do you always have this much?”

“Nope,” Applejack said with an odd smile. “Weather this year’s been perfect, and now we got us a bumper crop. Which is another reason I’m glad both of you are here, as it’d be mighty hard on just me and Mac.”

“When will Applebloom be old enough to help?” Norric asked.

There's no rush for that. I'm not gonna tear her away from her fillyhood when Mac and I can handle things for now. There'll be plenty of time for Applebloom to learn how to work the farm, but right now it's better for everypony if she stays at home. Applejack looked at one of the wagon wheels. “We could get her out here now if we really wanted, but we like her bein’ around the house with Granny. That won’t be a problem next year if we manage to sell all these apples, though.”

“You think you'll make enough to get Granny her hip replacement?” Norric asked.

Applejack smiled. “And then some. We figured we’d have the money in two more harvests, but this here’s the biggest bumper crop that any of us have ever seen. I already got orders set up for Manehatten, Fillydelphia, Trottingham, Appleoosa, and last night I heard Granny figurin’ out the details with Stalliongrad.”

“These apples go that far north?” Norric looked in the direction the distant settlement lay.

“Granny's got an old friend who lives there,” Applejack explained. “We send one shipment up to her every year. Technically we lose money, but Granny's adamant about it.”

“Never would’ve guessed,” Norric said. “What about the other members of the Apple clan, though? Aren’t you stepping on their hooves by delivering to so many different places?”

He prolly hasn't seen his family in a while if he's askin' a question like that. Or maybe he just wasn't in charge of sales. Applejack stared at him. “Who do you think is buying ‘em? Not everypony in the family has had a good season, and they all know how many we got this year. We’re sellin’ them our excess for cheap, and they in turn can sell them for full price in their own markets.”

“Advantage of a family business,” Strauss pointed out.

“We take care of our own,” Applejack agreed.

The three of them walked into the farmyard, passing by the newly repaired fencepost and passing by the barn. As they did, they heard raised voices coming from inside. Curious, Applejack walked over, and saw Granny standing at the entrance, looking down at Applebloom, whose mouth was hanging open.

“Why’d you let the Beetles eat Daddy’s tools?!” Applebloom said.

Granny shook her head. “They were old and worn, hun. Couldn’t even use ‘em no more.”

“But they were his!” Applebloom’s voice became loud and rushed. “They belonged to him! He used them!”

“I’m sorry, Applebloom,” Granny put a hoof on her granddaughter's cheek. “But I needed to use somethin’ for bait, and that was the best thing I could think of. We can get you some new tools if ya really liked playin’ with ‘em.”

Applebloom jerked away and stamped the ground. “I don’t want new tools, I want Daddy’s back!”

Granny narrowed her eyes. “I said they're gone. Now stop fussin’ over some old pieces of metal and finish cleanin’ out the loft. Lunch’ll be ready soon.”

“No!” Applebloom squeezed her eyes shut, her fierce yells echoing throughout the barn. “I don’t care about this smelly old farm anymore!”

“Now listen ‘ere, young lady—“

“All you care about are the stupid apples!”

Applejack flinched. “Applebloom!” Her sister was so loud that the echoes were hurting her ears.

“You don’t care about them anymore! I bet none of you ever did!” Applebloom’s voice broke as it turned into a scream, ringing with such force that Applejack felt a scratchy sensation in her eardrums.

Applebloom stared at both of them with wide, accusing eyes.

“I HATE YOU!”

The color drained from Granny's face, contorting for only a second before hardening into an impenetrable mask. She lowered her chin and stared darkly at Applebloom, speaking one word in a whisper.

“Leave.”

Applebloom stood her ground for a moment longer, then ran out of the barn and towards the road, her sobs trailing in her wake. Granny put a hoof to her face, closing her eyes as she took deep, calming breaths.

Applejack tentatively approached her. “You all right, Granny?”

Granny didn’t look up, but her voice was strong. “Did you know she was playin’ with Jonny’s old tools?”

Applejack shrugged. “Sorta. I didn’t know they belonged to him until after you used them for the trap.”

Granny sighed. “I put those up there years ago, and didn’ give ‘em a second thought. I shoulda known somethin’ was up when Mac found ‘em so fast.”

“You know she didn’t mean—“

“Of course she didn’t.” Granny straightened and looked Applejack in the eye. “This ain't the first time I been yelled at over somethin’ like this. I seem to recall a similar outburst comin’ outta your mouth over Jonny’s old lassoin' rope.”

I was hopin' she wouldn't bring that up. Applejack winced as her throat became tight. “I never said I hated you, though.”

Granny chuckled. “No, but I reckon ya came close.” She reached up and gently brushed the hair out of her granddaughter's eyes, her hoof lingering briefly as it touched the Stetson. “It’s all right, Jackie. It takes more than the upset words of an innocent filly to break me down.”

Applejack stepped forward and gently nuzzled her grandmother’s neck. “I'm sorry.”

“Forgiveness ain't somethin' that can be taken away, you silly mare,” Granny said as she returned the affection. “You were young and didn' understand; she's no different. It'll pass.”

“Want me to go get her?”

Granny shook her head. “She’ll come back on her own... although, that means that now the loft ain't gonna get cleaned. Think you and the boys can finish the job before lunch?”

Applejack stepped away with a nod, then turned back to Strauss and Norric, who were still standing in the yard, looking everywhere but the direction of the barn. Norric gave a start as he realized they were being looked at, and began stammer out something about the weather.

Strauss rolled his eyes. “Stop pretending like you weren't paying attention.”

Applejack cleared her throat. “Don't mind Applebloom. She does this sometimes.”

Strauss looked down the road at her retreating form. “Must be hard for her.”

Applejack walked out of the barn and followed his gaze. “That don’t give her the right to go yellin’ at anypony, least of all Granny. She’s gotta learn that, or it’s gonna get her in real trouble.”

“Enough.” Granny began to limp back towards the farmhouse. “Ya’ll can chat while you’re workin’ if ya want. I gotta go finish lunch so I can take those damn loopy pain meds.”

Applejack cleared her head with a shake. She looked over at Norric and Strauss, the latter now unhitched from the wagon. “Strauss, can you take the tools back to the shed? Norric and I’ll get started on the loft.”

Big Mac came in from the fields just as the three of them finished, and they all washed up before sitting down for lunch. They discussed timing and plans for shipping the apples from the upcoming harvest, as well as the price at which they were going to sell the excess to the rest of the Apple family. After they ate, Applejack hitched herself to the wagon and headed into town with Strauss and Norric to sell the early bloomers at the market, and ten minutes later, they passed the wooden fencing that marked the borders of Sweet Apple Acres.

“So then, Norric,” Applejack said as they walked down the road. “You were sayin' you left Gildesdale and joined the Equestrian military ‘cause you didn't like the ocean. Was that the only reason?”

Norric laughed softly. He was walking beside the wagon, keeping an eye on the barrels to make sure none of the apples fell out. “When you were younger, did you ever try new ways to get jobs done faster?”

Granny would've tanned my hide if I did. Applejack made a derisive noise. “Ain't no room for experimenting or foolin' around when messing up costs you time and money.”

“But what if you figured something out?” Norric asked. “What if you came up with something that cuts the time of the task in half? Think about what that would do in the long run!”

“It's too risky,” Applejack replied. “Only a foal takes a gamble like that when it could mean the difference between puttin' food on the table and goin' hungry.”

There was a bump in the road. One of the barrels wobbled and a stray apple bounced out, but Norric deftly caught it and tossed it back in. “When times are tough, yeah, but what about when they're not? What's wrong with trying a few things here and there?”

There’s no guarantees, that’s what. Farming’s got enough uncertainty as it is. Why add more? The sound of clip-clopping on stone and the rickety rumbling of the wagon was the only sound for several seconds before Applejack spoke again. “No sense in screwin' around when you have somethin' that works just fine. The money's better put to use by savin' it for hard times.”

Norric sighed. “You sound just like them.”

She looked back at him. “Who? Your parents?”

Norric kept his attention on the barrels. “I believe that there's always a better way to do something. I don't like just accepting what I'm told, and leaving it at that. I try and find things out on my own, even if it means I have to make mistakes in order to do it. Unfortunately, though, that doesn't lend itself well to farming.”

He understands that, at least. Sounds like his folks were thinkin’ along the same lines as me, though. Not that I’m surprised, Earth ponies in general aren’t too keen on messin’ with what already works. Now unicorns, they’re always tryin’ something new. Twilight and Rarity are never satisfied with what they know, and are always going off doin’ the creative stuff. I reckon though that if either of ‘em had seven foals to feed, they wouldn’t be too keen on experimenting, either. The pause lengthened, lasting for almost a minute as Applejack waited for him to finish. She was starting to get a cramp in her neck from looking back at him.

“Well, go on,” she finally said. “I’m guessin’ you had a fight. Did they kick you out, or did you decide to leave?”

“They—” Norric closed his eyes and grunted in frustration as he looked over at Strauss. “This isn't easy.”

Strauss jerked and glared fiercely at Norric.

Applejack didn't see the exchange. She‘d misinterpreted his statement, and had turned her attention back to the road. “Say no more, I didn't mean to be nosy.”

“Sorry,” she heard him say.

“Ain't nothin' you need to apologize for,” Applejack said. “If you ever want to talk about it, though, my ears are open.”

The three of them arrived in the Ponyville Market a little after two’clock, and the next hour was lost in monotony as the three of them set up the stand. Applejack’s usual customers came, some of them casting an interested glance at Strauss and Norric, but she deflected the questions with the usual explanation of 'new farmhands'. A brown earth pony, whose cutie mark was several bags of money, approached and purchased an entire bushel of apples, which he then had placed in a large wagon. A pink filly with a purple and white mane that looked to be about Applebloom’s age stood beside him, and as the two walked away, Norric turned to Applejack.

“Think Applebloom will be all right?”

Applejack was in the wagon bringing down a new barrel of apples. “She’ll be fine. This ain't the first time she's run off. Not a lotta places for her to run off to, anyways.”

Norric steadied the wagon as she hopped out. “Why do you think she was so upset about the tools?”

Applejack looked around the market. It’d temporarily thinned out, and most of the stand owners were chatting amongst themselves or restocking their wares. She exhaled deeply, and began to separate the earnings they’d made thus far. “I can't rightly say for sure. All I got is a guess.”

“Your guess is better than ours,” Strauss said from her left. He’d just come back, carrying with him three cups of lemonade.

Not as much as you'd think. Applebloom may be my sister, but I don't claim to fully know what goes on in her head. Applejack took the cup Strauss offered and stared at it for a few seconds before speaking.

“Applebloom never knew our parents, or Grandpa Penny. The only things she knows are from pictures, what we’ve told her, or the things they left behind. I've seen her lookin' at the family albums now and then, and I know she likes hearing about 'em. But I think what she likes the most are keepin' the things that they used, or just meant something to 'em. My guess is it makes her think she's got some kinda connection with 'em.”

A customer came. Applejack paused and did the transaction.

“Now, I don't think there's anythin' wrong with that,” she said as she gave her Stetson a nostalgic tug. “But I’m worried she might be takin’ it to the extreme. She wants to keep everythin' they once had or used, because she feels like it's the only link she's got to ‘em.”

“That'd explain it,” Strauss said.

Applejack closed the money box with a snap. “It would, but it might well be somethin' else. It's hard to understand her sometimes.”

Norric paused as he raised his cup to his lips. “Why? She's your sister. She's gone through the same things as you.”

She turned and gave Norric a searching look, speaking in a soft, clear tone.

“Is it worse to have somethin' and then lose it? Or to never have it at all, but know that you should?”

Applejack had expected Norric to turn away or back down at the question, not return her gaze with unfocused, haunted eyes. He considered for a long time before answering, and when he did, his voice was deeper, and tinged with a note of sadness.

“It depends on what you’ve lost, but in my case, I’d say the former.”

The former? What is he—Applejack pursed her lips. “Did you…”

Norric set down his lemonade and sat on his haunches. “He wasn’t family, but he might as well have been.”

Applejack looked around. The market was still slow, and the neighboring stall owners were away. She leaned slightly forward. “Who was he?”

“His name was Seeker,” Norric said. “He came from a seaweed farming family, too, and his special talent was finding alternative solutions to problems.”

“You and him prolly got along pretty well then,” Applejack remarked.

“I remember spending more time with him than just about anypony else.” Norric’s face crept up into a smile, but it quickly faded as he slammed a hoof into the ground. “The damn idiot.”

“What happened?” Applejack asked.

Norric looked at the hoofprint he had left. “I wasn’t there, so I only know about this from his brother. There was a storm coming in one night from the ocean, and those two reckless foals were out flying kites in the gusts. The wind suddenly shifted and both of their kites fell into the rocks, so Seeker went out to go and get them, despite his brother telling him not to.”

Norric closed his eyes and briefly clenched his teeth. “The wind got worse as he went down by the sandbars. The waves got high and soaked the rocks, making them slicker than snow-covered ice. Seeker wasn’t paying attention, jumping and messing around like he always did, until... he lost his balance and fell into the surf.”

Applejack cocked her head. “Couldn’t he just climb out?”

Norric shook his head, then began to draw arrows in the dirt in the shape of a ‘W’, motioning to it as he spoke. “Remember when I said going out sandbars was dangerous? The reason why is because they’re perfect for making riptides. Seeker got caught in one when he fell in, and he was dragged out to sea in seconds.”

Norric swallowed and spoke in a forced, even tone. “The last thing Seeker’s brother heard of him were his screams, slowly fading out as he disappeared into the horizon, never to be seen again.”

A sour taste filled Applajck’s mouth as a pit formed in her stomach. No wonder they try to grow it. But I’ll bet they can find a heck of a lot more if they go out onto the rocks… ugh, what a way to go. That’s a heck of a lot worse than apple farmin’. Applejack winced. “I’m sorry. That must’ve been hard on ya.”

Norric blinked several times as he looked up at the sky. “It’s never easy to accept death, but Strauss and I have seen more than our share, so we’ve each found ways to cope.”

Applejack felt a chill as she turned to Strauss, who stood with rigid, perfect posture, staring down the street with a clenched jaw. He felt her gaze and turned to her with hollow eyes. “Our pain is different. I don’t think we can help you, or Applebloom.”

These boys have seen combat? They don’t look much older than me! Were they deployed outside of Equestria before they got into the Royal Guard or—y’know, I’m not sure I really wanna know. Judgin’ by the look on their faces right now, I doubt it’s a pretty tale.

Applejack sighed. “I don't know if I can, either. All I know is she's gotta deal with it somehow, or it's gonna turn her bitter.”

“You can be there for her,” Strauss pointed out. “She'll come to you if she knows she can.”

“And I try to be.” Applejack finished her lemonade and tossed the cup into a bin. “But there’s only so much I can do if she’s not ready to talk, so all I can hope is that when she is, she will.”

A line of customers formed. Applejack's mind was dragged away from Norric’s tale as she attended to their demands and made polite conversation. A few minutes later, the last customer approached the stand, and Applejack turned to see how many apples they had left.

“What can I do ya for?” Applejack said absentmindedly. “We only got Red and Golden Delicious in stock—”

“You know those are my favorite, anyways.”

Applejack turned to see Rarity regarding her with a patient smile. Beside her was a vaguely familiar white filly, fidgeting and looking around with an impatient frown.

“Aw shucks, Rarity,” Applejack said. “Don't tell me you've been in line this whole time.”

“I'm not one to abuse the power of my connections,” Rarity said with a raised chin. “Not when I have some time on my hooves, anyway.”

“Rarity, are we done yet?” Sweetie crouched on the ground and played with a tuft of grass.

“Do you want apple coleslaw or not?” Rarity said sharply.

“Yes,” Sweetie replied in a monotone.

Rarity gave a nervous laugh. “You recall my sister, don’t you?”

Wow, that’s Sweetie Belle? She’s sure grown up big. She was still in diapers last time I saw her. Applejack looked down at the filly. “Been a while, but yeah. How you doin', Sweetie?”

Sweetie looked up at her with blank eyes. “Who're you?”

Applejack chuckled. “I suppose you wouldn’t remember. I used to come over twice a week to foalsit ya when Rarity was first gettin' the shop started. I'm Applejack.”

“Hiya, Applejack!” Sweetie sprang to her hooves, looking her former foalsitter up and down. “You seem nice. Why don't you come over anymore?”

Rarity’s ears turned red. “Sweetie, that's not an appropriate thing to ask.”

“It’s fine.” Applejack gestured to the open barrels and wagon. “I live out on an apple farm, and my family decided that it was time for me to run it. Afraid I didn't have time to come over anymore after that.”

“I'm just glad it was only that first year that was rough.” Rarity examined an apple in her magic. “I never did properly thank you for your help.”

“I didn't do it expectin' anything in return,” Applejack said dismissively. “Not like it was hard, anyways. Applebloom's the same age as her.”

Sweetie, who had been poking at a frog that was hopping by, perked up. “Who's Applebloom?”

“My little sister.”

Sweetie's eyes filled her head. “You have a little sister?! Is she here? I wanna meet her!” She zipped around and atop the stand like a white and purple missile, searching around for Applejack’s younger sibling. She was standing on Applejack’s back looking in her ponytail when she was suddenly lifted up in a blue aura and deposited back at Rarity’s side.

“Don’t go causing a mess, now,” Rarity sang in a dangerous tone with a wan smile.

What a little ball of energy. Rarity must have quite a time of it keepin’ her under control in the shop. “I’m afraid Applebloom's not here right now.” Applejack raised a hoof to her chin. “Although maybe someday we could arrange for the two of ya to meet.”

Sweetie squeed with delight.

“I’d need to ask my parents, but I don’t foresee a problem with it. ” Rarity leaned forward and whispered to Applejack’s ear. “Maybe she’ll tire herself out for once on your farm.”

Applejack smiled evilly. “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll load her up with sugar before sendin’ her home.”

Rarity’s eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Applejack gave her a sly wink as she leaned back and helped pick out some apples. Norric took her money after she’d gotten as many as she needed, and she regarded him with interested as he politely nodded at her.

“Why Applejack, you haven't introduced me to your assistants!”

Applejack feigned surprise. “I suppose I haven’t! Norric, Strauss, this here is Rarity. She's a real nice gal... probably the most generous pony you'll ever meet.”

Norric wrinkled his brow. “You're the one with the earrings, aren’t you?”

Rarity blinked. “How’d you know about that?”

“Elo's an old friend,” Strauss cut in. “I met up with him a few days ago. We both had to deliver something, so we did it together.”

“I see,” Rarity said.

“What earrings?” Applejack glanced at the small pieces of jewelry Rarity wore. “Did you use some kinda magic on those?”

Rarity put a hoof to her lips. “I'll tell you another time, dear.”

Norric looked behind and around her. “Shouldn't you have some ’assistants’ of your own somewhere?”

“I'm not sure what you mean.” Amusement danced in Rarity’s eyes. “I don’t think I’m quite ready to take apprentices, but I do have two clients that I can tell you the exact location of right now.”

The tiny jewels in Rarity’s earrings sparkled. “One of them is thirty paces behind me and to the left looking at a stand,” she said, “and the other is inside the building to our right. First floor, facing our direction, probably through the bay window.”

Norric’s lips parted. “Impressive.”

“Rarity, can we go now?” Sweetie asked, poking her sister’s side with a hoof.

“In a minute.” Rarity took the bag of apples in her magic and gave one to Sweetie. She took it and happily munched away, momentarily placated.

Rarity turned back to Applejack. “I know you're not much for elegance, but can I convince you into letting me make you something nice for your grandmother's birthday next week?”

Applejack snorted. “Not unless you can make some nice work clothes. I'm gonna be helpin' Pinkie run the party all night, and I’ll be all sweaty from settin’ things up, helping with the food, and doin’ the dishes.”

Rarity thought for a moment. “Well then, perhaps something nice for your grandmother? She’s such a lovely shade of green, I bet I could make something that would make her look half her age!”

And that’d still be older than us by more than ten years, heh. Granny's not much for fashion, but I don't think she's got anythin’ other than that one threadbare dress with the ugly frills. Maybe she'd be okay with it if I can convince Rarity to hold back on the frou-frou? Applejack shrugged. “I'll ask her about it.”

“Beautiful,” Rarity said. “I'll need to come over at some point to take her measurements, of course. I don't expect her to come all the way into town. When would be a good time for me to—”

“Rarity!”

Sweetie had finished the apple and was hopping up and down. “Can we please go home now?! Or can I at least have another apple?”

Rarity sighed, then turned back to Applejack. “We'll figure out the details later.”

Applejack gave her a slow smile. “You know where to find me.”

Rarity nodded to Norric and Strauss before walking away with Sweetie, and the sound of the two bickering sisters faded into the crowd. Applejack attended to a stallion who had just approached. Guess I’m not the only one who don't fully understand her sister.

An hour and a half later, Applejack had managed to sell all of the apples. The three of them took down the stand and loaded it into the wagon, apologizing to the occasional pony who asked if they‘d anything left. It was Norric’s turn to pull the cart, and Applejack was just about to hitch him up to it when she heard a familiar voice call out.

“AJ!”

Applejack turned and saw Mac scanning the crowd from the other side of the road. She waved to him, and he ran over upon seeing her, weaving deftly in between the passersby with impressive agility for a stallion his size. Applejack regarded him evenly as he closed the distance, his usual stoic expression replaced with tired eyes and a slumped posture.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

Mac spat out the straw he’d been chewing. “Applebloom hasn't come home yet.”

Applejack bit her lip. “Have you checked the usual spots?”

Mac looked away. “All but one.”

“And the one you you didn't check is...”

“Eeyup.”

Dang it filly, what’re we gonna do with you? Applejack looked to the east of town. “You went last time, didn’t ya? Guess it's my turn.”

Mac exhaled through his nose. “Can ya try talkin’ to her? I tried before, but I don’t think it did much good. It ain't right for her to keep doin' this.”

Applejack tried to ease the knot that was forming in her stomach. “If she’ll listen. It’s not like we can really stop her.”

“Want me to take the wagon?” Mac asked. “No sense in you draggin’ it all the way out there.”

“Yeah,” Applejack said. “And let Granny know we’ll be late.”

“Sure.” Mac hitched himself up and began to walk forward, but paused to look back at his sister.

“Don’t be too hard on her.”

Norric watched as Mac took the wagon away. “What's going on?”

Applejack began to redo her ponytail. “We're gonna have to take a detour. I gotta go get Applebloom.”

“Do you know where she is?” Strauss asked.

“I got a pretty good idea,” Applejack mumbled, her braid in her mouth.

Norric cocked his head. “You and Mac seem hesitant.”

“Good reason for that,” Applejack said grimly. “Not very many ponies are comfortable around cemeteries.”

The sun was hidden behind the clouds as the three of them approached the dull metal gates that marked the Ponyville Cemetery. It was a quiet, well-kept little place, with thin shrubs dotted along the gray stone walkways, and subdued flower gardens placed along its borders. A soft wind brushed Applejack's mane as she approached from the city limits with Norric and Strauss in tow. She looked with a practiced gaze to the far western end between two middle-aged pine trees, and sure enough, there was Applebloom, lying down on the ground with her back turned to them.

Applejack turned to Strauss and Norric. “Can you wait here?”

They both nodded. “Take your time,” Strauss said.

Applejack took a slow, deep breath, steadied her mind and heart, and crossed the threshold of the cemetery. She walked down the neatly trimmed path she'd taken so many times past, the sharp scent of crushed pine needles and freshly cut grass filling the air.

Place doesn't change, does it? Even smells the same, just like it was back then.

Each step was like going back in time. Applejack's vision wavered as the memories came, but these were not like blood oozing out of an old wound. Rather, they were like slow waves that crashed against a hardened wall of resolve.

Applejack stood in front of three coffins that stood beside three holes in the ground, wearing a tight black dress that made her neck itch. Applebloom was sleeping in a carrier snugly strapped to her back, and to her right was Granny, wearing a dress similar to hers, along with a black veil that hid her silent tears. Mac was in a tux to her left, his eyes as red as his coat as he stared at the coffins. Around the four of them was the entire Apple clana crowd of ponies, all in black, overflowing the tiny cemetery. From all over Equestria, they’d come to pay their last respects.

Applejack continued on towards Applebloom, the clip-clopping of her hooves almost an affront to the ancient, crumbling memorials that stood as testament to ponies long past. She now saw that her sister was lying down before a pair of tombstones that had the symbol of the Apple clan engraved on their tops.

It was like her ears and throat were filled with cotton. Crying wasn't enough to show how much she missed them, and how much it hurt that they were gone. All Applejack could do was stare, disconnected from the world, but painfully in tune with it at the same time. Somepony she didn't know was talking, saying something about how they'd gone to a better place. What did it matter if the place was good or not? They weren’t here anymore, and it’d be a long time before she’d see them again, if ever at all. The strange pony finished speaking, and the coffins slowly descended, each of them taking a piece of Applejack’s heart with them into the cold, dark earth.

Applejack approached Applebloom, and as she did, it became apparent why she hadn't come back yet. Her head was resting on a small mound of dirt, and her breathing was slow and even. Her mane was a mess, and her face was covered in tear-and-grass stains.

The crowd slowly dispersed as the funeral ended. Family members kept coming to Applejack with the same sorrowful, concerned eyes, saying something about how sorry they were for her loss, but she wasn’t even trying to listen to them. Why bother? Words weren’t going to make the pain any easier to bear, and they certainly wouldn’t bring Mom, Dad, or Grandpa back. They all finally let her be, and soon Applejack was alone, staring at the fresh mounds marking the resting place of the ones she never thought she'd lose. She read the newly erected tombstones, and a raw, fresh surge of grief caused her to cry out in a long, sorrowful wail.

Jonamac Apple Cinnamon Swirl Apple

1658-1692 1657-1692

Pendragon Apple

1624-1692

May their spirits and legacy resound

through the loved ones they've left behind.


Applejack nudged her sister.
“Applebloom.”

Applebloom jerked awake, looking around wide-eyed, but her expression turned melancholy as she saw Applejack and gained her bearings. She turned away from her sister, and directed her gaze back at the graves.

Applejack sat on her haunches beside her, looking out beyond the graves and into the open fields beyond. “Did you come straight here after you left the farm?”

Applebloom shifted. “No, I only been out here for a little while.”

Applejack stared hard at her sister, as the wind had made the words linger in her ears. “Applebloom, don't lie to me.”

“Fine,” Applebloom spat. “I came straight here. What do you care?!”

Applejack closed her eyes, speaking in a careful, controlled tone. “This ain't right, sis. You're sleepin' in the middle of a cemetery. Why do you keep comin' out here?”

Applebloom refused to meet her sister’s gaze as she replied in a defiant voice. “Because none of you do.”

Applejack's ears flattened. “You're not the only one who misses them, you know.”

“Then why'd you throw their stuff away?!” Applebloom demanded. “It's all we got left of them!”

“It's okay to keep a few mementos.” Applejack took off her Stetson and looked at it, turning it over in her hooves. “But we don't need to keep every little thing of theirs. We have our memories to remember them by.”

Applebloom's face reddened as she gritted her teeth. “I. Don't. Have. Memories. And it's not the same havin' you or anypony else tell me.”

I was afraid of this. Applejack sighed and rubbed her head. “Believe me, if I could give you some of mine, I would. But you can't go squirrellin' away everythin' that Mom, Dad, and Grandpa used to have.”

Applebloom stared at the ground. “You can't stop me. If you're gonna take away the things I wanna keep, then I'll just start hiding 'em.”

“Keepin' their old possessions ain't gonna bring them back.”

“I know that!” Applebloom snapped.

“No, I don't think you do.” Applejack raised a hoof to put on her sister's shoulder, but thought better of it and continued. “You're not acceptin' that they're gone, and you're takin' it out on others instead. And the longer you run from it, the worse it's gonna get.”

“I ain't runnin!” Applebloom said in a trembling voice.

“Then why'd you come out here?” Applejack asked again.

Applebloom jumped to her hooves and whipped around to Applejack, her face livid and teeth bared.

“Because this is where they are! You don't understand because you got to know and see and smell and touch and hear them! All I got is a feelin' that something is gone!”

Applebloom's voice cracked as tears streamed down her face. “I wanna wake up in the morning and know that they're there! I wanna see them walk in through the farmhouse door and tell me it was all a bad dream! I wanna listen to them talk at the dinnertable! I wanna have them yell at me when I get in trouble! I wanna have them tuck me in at night!”

Applebloom turned to the gravestones and let out a pleading shriek.

“I WANT THEM TO LOVE ME!”

Applejack pulled Applebloom into a fierce hug. She let out a sob of her own, and Applebloom returned the embrace, burying her face into her sister’s coat as she mourned over a trio of strangers.

“It’s not fair,” she whimpered.

How can you miss something you never knew? The words 'Mom' and 'Dad' are foreign to her. A part of me still aches when I walk by their old room every day. But for her? She prolly don't feel anything but confusion. That pain prolly isn't as sharp, but it's gotta last longer, and go deeper. I still can't say if it's worse than mine, but I don't want her to feel it either way.

Applejack swayed back and forth as she held her sister in her arms for several minutes. A part of her just wanted to let the moment be, but at the same time, she knew this was the best time to get through to Applebloom. She took a few more moments to think of what to say, and then spoke in a thick voice.

“You may never hear them say it, honey, but I know they loved you from the moment they knew you were in Momma's womb.”

Applebloom pressed her face harder into her sister's coat. Applejack could feel the warm tears soaking her fur as she gently stroked her sister’s mane.

“It's okay to miss 'em, and to want to have known them, but you can't spend all your time dwelling on what might've been.”

Applebloom looked up into her eyes. “Why not?”

Applejack wiped the tears away from her sister's face. “Because it eats away at you. It helps for a little while, but when you realize it's all made up, it just makes the pain even worse. So you wind up wantin' it more and more, sinkin’ deeper into the little fantasy land you've made. What you don't realize, though, is by doin' that, you're not payin' attention to the present.”

Applejack slowly pulled Applebloom away, leaving a hoof on her shoulder. “Don't give all your time to the dead, sugarcube. Not when it means missin' out on the living. We're still here: You, me, Mac, Granny, the rest of the clan, all the friends you have now, and those you’ll have in the future. Our lives are just gettin' started! Do you really think that Momma and Daddy and Grandpa would want you spendin' all your time grieving over them?”

Applebloom had closed her eyes and was nuzzling Applejack's arm. “No...”

“Then move on,” Applejack said. “You can remember 'em and keep ‘em in your heart, but you gotta keep movin' forward. It's the only thing we can do.”

Applejack then swallowed hard, and steadied her voice as best she could. “I want you to promise me somethin'.”

“What?” Applebloom asked.

“If you need to talk to somepony about this, come to me. Don't hold it in anymore. I'll always listen to you, okay?”

Applebloom stared at the ground as new teardrops fell from her face, managing to give her reply in between sobs. “Only... if you promise me... somethin' back.”

Applejack lay down and looked into her sister's face. “Anything.”

Applebloom shut her eyes and grabbed Applejack in a vicegrip, holding onto her as if she would float away.

“Don't die.”

The sun peeked out from the clouds, and the world was filled with brilliance as Applejack's eyes shone with a deep emerald light. She wished with all of her heart that she could keep that promise, not for fear of death, but for desire of wanting to protect her sister from further pain. She wanted to say that without a doubt, she’d never leave Applebloom alone, that she’d always be there for her and protect her, protecting her from the pain and suffering of the world.

The glow in Applejack’s eyes intensified, filling her irises and casting shadows upon Applebloom's mane, the surrounding grass, and the graves of her family. She could see lights sparkling and moving amongst the grass, the shrubs, and strangely, even within her little sister. The luminance flowed from Applebloom’s core, moving around her entire body like a stream. Applejack wanted nothing more than to make this desire into the truth, to defy fate, escape the ravages of time, and make this one wish a reality for her. Above all else, no matter what life threw at them, she'd always be there to love and comfort her sister.

But she knew that she couldn’t.

Applejack blinked, and the lights faded and the world returned to normal. She tried to shake her head, and suddenly realized that she couldn't breathe.

“Applebloom?” Applejack gasped. “You're... chokin' me...”

Applebloom stiffened and pulled away, giving her an embarrassed smile. “Sorry, heh…”

Applejack rubbed her neck and sighed. “I can't keep that promise, sis. We all gotta die someday, but I think I can at least promise you that I won't be dyin' anytime soon. Is that good enough?”

Applebloom looked away, but slowly nodded.

Applejack held her out hoof, spat on it, then stuck it out to Applebloom. She did the same, and they shook hooves, sealing the deal.

Applejack tilted her head towards the gate. “Come on, let's get home. Supper's gonna get cold.”

“Yeah,” Applebloom said. “Let's go.”

Applejack forced herself to look beyond the tombstones. The pain was still there. It’d always be there, but it’d fade and scar over with time. Life was going to go on whether she liked it or not, and she knew that her family wouldn’t want her to waste even a second of it. So on that day, before the graves of her family, Applejack made a vow: She'd become strong for them. She'd become somepony that others could depend on to give the brutal, honest truth, and always do what was right. She'd hold strong to her beliefs in the face of doubt, and most of all, she'd do everything in her power to protect the ones she loved.

Applejack dried her tears, said her final farewells, then walked down the path to rejoin Granny, Applebloom and Mac. The time of mourning was over. She had a goal to meet now, and while it was going to be hard going, she swore she'd never stop moving forward.

Because that’s the only thing she could do.

Applejack walked out of the graveyard with Applebloom, and rejoined Strauss and Norric. None of them said a thing, and they headed back to Sweet Apple Acres for dinner. Applebloom hovered closer than normal to her Applejack, at one point almost tripping her as their legs got tangled together, so she finally acquiesced and let Applebloom ride on her back the rest of the way.

None of them looked back as they arrived at a crossroads and took the left path to head back home. However, Applejack's thoughts couldn’t help but return to the vow she’d made years ago. She felt like she'd upheld most of it, but uncertainty and fear still nagged at her, for while she considered herself to be strong, both physically and mentally, the last part of her vow posed a question that wasn’t easily answered.

How do I know if I’m strong enough?