• Published 27th Mar 2015
  • 6,393 Views, 1,121 Comments

The Poisoned Barb's Tale - ManlyDerp



[Sequel Story] A mother, reborn into the mirrored world of her daughter's bygone years, desperately tries to find purpose in her second childhood. This is Barbara's diary.

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Entry 1, Part 2 (Laughter and Honesty)

“... Stop pouting, Dusk.”

“... No.”

“Stop it this instant, mister.”

“No.”

“...”

“...”

“... Don’t make me read the letter to you again, young man.”

“Barb… no.”

“I’m going to read it.”

“Barb…”

“I’m taking it out of my purse.”

“Barbara…”

“It’s in my claws…”

“No...”

“Ahem.”

“Barbara The Dragoness,” Dusk Shine turns around and snaps at me, damn near roaring. “Don’t you even dare think about it!”

My response is to blink blankly…

… And then I read the letter aloud.

“My dearest, most faithful student Dusk.”

This results in the colt moaning loud enough for even the pegasus guards pulling our chariot to pause and glance backwards; just to make sure everything was alright. Upon discerning that Dusk wasn’t being brutally murdered or something, they swiftly return to paying attention to where they were flying and that was the end of that.

“You know that I value your diligence and that I trust you completely,” I continue to read, fighting hard not to laugh over my friend’s frustrated grumbles. “... but you simply must stop reading those dusty old books!”

“You’re the one who gave it to me…” the unicorn mutters to himself as he drapes himself over the chariot’s edge again…

… As an aside…

… it was actually me who got Dusk the specific book he’s talking about right now, not the Prince…

...

… I choose not to correct him as I instead read further.

“My dear Dusk, there is more to a young pony’s life than studying, so I’m sending you to supervise the preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration in this year’s location,” Pause for dramatic effect. “Ponyville. And I have an even greater task for you to complete…”

Leaning closer to Dusk’s side, I cheekily smile his way as I read the final line as loudly as I can

“Make some friends!”

Though he glares at me at first, I watch in a grin-filled silence as the stubborn colt finally lowers his head in defeat. It would appear as though he has finally accepted his fate... Yay!

“Hey look on the bright side, Dusk,” I offer kindly, trying to at least get him to cheer up a little. I can’t recall anymore if Spike said anything during this part of the cartoon, or if this conversation was shown at all, so I’ll just improvise. I know Dusk pretty darn well, so this shouldn’t be hard. “The Prince arranged for you to stay in a library! Come on now; doesn’t at least that make you happy? New books!”

Dusk remains quiet as he keeps staring out into the distance... After a moment though, he suddenly perks up and turns to me with something akin to a smile.

“Yes, yes it does actually,” he says in what appears to be brighter spirits… only to then push himself closer to my face and ask “You know why?”

‘Because… books?’ Came my mental reply.

Trust me. Around Dusk, that’s always a safe answer.

“Because I’m right!”

… Not this time though, apparently.

“I’ll check on the preparations as fast as I can,” he explains to me, the beginnings of one of his hairbrained schemes forming before my eyes. Uh oh. “Then I’ll get to the library to find some proof of Nightterror Nebula’s return.”

“Then…” I try to cut him off before this got out of hand. “When will you have time to do what the Prince asked of you and make some friends, Dusk?”

From what I can still remember of the show, things just kinda… happened. Twilight goes through the list and bumps into her new friends along the way. I know that my prodding isn’t going to change anything, I know this both because of my secret knowledge and because I know Dusk personally…

… But asking is what a concerned friend would do in the end, so that’s what I’m going to do. Screw the show, it doesn’t dictate my life… just what happens to the lives of the ponies around me.

“He said to check on preparations, Barb,” Dusk was quick to counter my question, proving for me that I really do know him well. As he explains himself, I passively start to feel the ‘sinking’ feeling which signifies that our ride is beginning to descend through the air, preparing to land. Homely cottages and imaginative buildings fly by my field of vision in rapid succession as we enter Ponyville proper. Dusk is too wrapped up in justifying his actions to even notice though; opting instead to continue speaking.

“I am his student,” he points out the obvious for me. “and I’ll do my royal duty… but the fate of Equestria does not rest on me making friends.”

Snort. Famous last words, pony.

Thump

It was a minute later that we finally land softly upon the ground, in the middle of a somewhat empty street, and come to a complete slow stop. Our guardmares whinny loudly as the chariot halts fully; the poor dears are probably beyond tired. I imagine we’re not the only privileged Canterlot group they’ve transported to Ponyville today... This would explain why our landing isn’t drawing any of the passersby attention right now. They’ve already gawked at more then enough other visitors to their lovely little village today to even care anymore. As Dusk and I depart the cart, I spare Ponyville a glance.

It’s so much… bigger than I’d thought it would be! Buildings were closer together and taller, crowds were larger overall, and there were stands literally everywhere; as far as the end of the street and overflowing into the parks even.

… Granted a majority of this radical observation can be attributed to the fact that I’m not even three feet tall yet... but it's still pretty big. Wish I had gotten a better look at it from the sky…

“Thank you, ma’ams,” Dusk suddenly speaks up, returning me to the now. He gives both our guardmares a single nod of his head in gratitude. The two enchanted white pegasi proudly accepts this nod with a powerful huff, and equally proud smiles, before they both gallop off; returning to the blue skies above. I watch them go, but a moment later I bring my eyes forward to the equine crowd around us.

‘Alrighty then,’ I internally scheme, ready to get this ‘show’ on the road. Left alone on the streets of Ponyville, I scan my eyes around for one pony in particular amongst the many. ‘Now… Where are you, Laughter?’

Dialogue and order may have slipped my mind over the years, along with perhaps entire episodes, but I still vaguely remember giggling over jokes. Fluttershy’s tail extensions, Twilight’s mental freakout, Applejack’s “I didn’t learn anything!”; I remember the show better when I have a memory of me or Ashley laughing hysterically attached to it. That having been explained, I can state confidently that one of these aforementioned ‘bits’ is about to take place here and now… at least from what I can recall.

This particular joke involves a certain pink, little… Aha!

...

… Well, dang. That is a pretty pink colt.

Even if I wasn’t searching for him, I think I’d have a hard time not spotting Pinkie Pie’s double in a crowd. Pink coat, with a fuzzy pink mane, a short fuzzy tail, and three colorful balloons for a cutie mark? Pretty difficult to miss, I’d think.

I take in other little details about this stallion as he draws nearer, one of which being that it was actually incredibly hard to tell that he's a stallion at all! If I didn’t know for a fact about the nature of this alternate dimension, I would have totally mistaken him for a she. His colors aren’t the cause of this misgendering, oh no. I’ve grown to accept that the color pink doesn’t instantly mean ‘girl’ or ‘girly’ on this world, and neither does blue mean the opposite. I guess when you have a society that can literally be all the colors of the rainbow, said rainbow doesn’t get tied down by gender norms often.

Anyways, back on subject; Male Pinkie Pie is short and tiny. Like, ‘mare’ short and tiny. Even at a distance I can tell that he’s shorter than Dusk. His eyelashes are pretty long too, and he even has a peculiarly feminine accessory in the form of a trio of tiny jewel shaped piercings on his right ear. This part surprised me quite a bit at first, but I eventually accepted it upon rationalizing it away. He’s not a cartoon character anymore, after all, so why would I think he would need to conform to what little I remember of the show? All the ponies were the same height and weight in that cartoon, for example, while here they are clearly not.

It stands to reason that the cartoon was overall not an accurate depiction of this society.

… Wow. I keep getting distracted here. Wrapping things up quickly, so I can draw Dusk’s attention towards this stallion and cause the snowball effect that leads to a party later (Amazed that I even still remember that after all this time); these piercings are light green, purple, and grey in color, lie on the outside rim of his ear, and comes in different shapes and sizes. Only the green one can be clearly made out at this distance; it looks like a picturesque cut diamond... I think.

These, combined with his body shape, lead me to think that he just might actually be a she…

… but his muzzle is the same boxy shape I've come to associate with stallion physiology though.

That thankfully and quickly put an end to my wild guessing.

… Speaking of moving quickly…

“Er… Maybe the ponies in Ponyville have interesting things to talk about?” I suggest for Dusk, continuing our earlier discussion of how, actually, the fate of Equestria does depend on him making friends. My question comes out strained, as I was admittedly grasping at straws here, but I continue forth regardless as Pinkie Male Pie suddenly stops in front of us. He's smiling quietly, and looking at Dusk queerly, so now's my chance. I take the initiative by waving my arms in front of the earth pony for my friend’s sake, drawing his attention “Come on, Dusk!” I plead, trying hard not to sound antsy. “Just try!”

At first Dusk looks taken aback by my sudden forwardness, and his ears flatten themselves against his head to show this… But then he looks up from me, stares right back at Pinkie Pie male version two point zero, and, for possibly the first time in his entire life, actually appears to be considering talking to somepony new! Oh my gosh, wow! ‘Come on, Dusk!’ I cheer him on in spirit. ‘You can do it!’

“U-um…” the unicorn mumbles a bit at first, his shyness leaking out of every pore, but after a moment he straightens himself out and manages to spit out his greeting completely. “H-hello?”

Yes! Whoo! He did it! I’m so proud of him!

“GASP!”

Sigh… I just wish I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

WHOSH!

“...”

“...”

… I spoke too soon.

With speed rivaling even the fastest automobile, or maybe the fastest pegasus, I had ever witness in person to move before; Pinkamena Diane Stallion Pie jumps about a yard in the air, stays there, and then somehow manages to zoom off past us to parts unknown. Dusk and I simply stare in silence as the pink blur rapidly disappears into the distance.

What also disappears along with him is what little of my safe perception of reality I have left.

"I… I-I always thought that Pinkie’s actions were just exaggerations for a cartoon’s sake! W, w-well; shows what I know, I guess. H-heh..."

Everything has been so real until now though! Everything... I… I-I… I don’t know what to believe in anymore!!

Internal screaming is intensifying as we speak.

“... Well that was interesting alright,” complains Dusk eventually, returning to his ‘I hate everypony’ posture. I guess the hovering earth pony isn’t enough to shake him as badly as it had to me.

Lucky.

I sigh as the two of us begin to head down the road towards our next destination. I’m not sighing over the death of my ‘innocence’ or any of that nonsense. I’m instead sighing over the fact that I knew that the interaction with PinkiMale was going to end poorly, yet I encouraged it to happen still. I made the snap decision that it was a necessary evil in the long run; that it needed to happen for future events to transpire. Things will turn out better later this way, I know they will. I just have to believe in not only Dusk, but also in five other stallions to be able to be the best that they can be tonight. Only then will this day end properly, and only then can friendships begin to blossom between these young ponies.

A self driven Dusk Shine is still sigh worthy though, thus I decide that another one was in order.

"Sigh… Oh well," I muse to myself as I keep pace beside the grumpy unicorn along the open road. "With Pinkie Colt out of the way, things can at last start in earnest. That’s good...

"... Now then, if I'm remembering this correctly; it's time to get a taste of the good old country life."

________________________________

Apple trees stand tall and proudly along the dirt path as the two of us make our way to the bright red barn on the horizon. I have our checklist in claw as I pat along beside Dusk, who is taking in the sight of the large orchard all around us... Hmmm... There are a few rock farms up in Canterlot, and a few smaller potato and pumpkin patches here and there, but no Apple orchards at all… It's in realizing this that I mentally make the connection that this is probably the first time Dusk has ever been on a real farm before, and even more so the first time he’s ever been surrounded by so much nature. This would explain why he’s being so quiet right now; he’s taking in the scenery!

That’s actually kinda adorable when you think about it.

Shaking my head, I resume what I was doing. “Summer Sun Celebration Official Overseer’s Checklist,” I read the title of my scroll out loud as we draw closer to the Apple Family’s main gate; reminding us both what exactly we're here to inspect.

That’d be a good thing to know.

“Number one,” I begin. “banquet preparations: Sweet Apple Acres...”

Upon reading this, I had a thought. My eyes start scrolling further down the parchment, towards the next numbers. I can learn the other girl’s stallion names right here and now if I just peek ahead…

… I decide against this though, and instead keep my eyes glued on item number one for now. It’ll be more fun for me to just wait and see!

Besides, it’s not fair for Dusk to be the only blind person out here today, heh-

“YEEHAW!”

A deep and powerful voice suddenly cuts off my train of thought, and causes both Dusk and I to jump in surprise. We turn on the spot toward its source only to find…

… the second largest stallion I have ever seen before in my two lives.

This is Male Applejack, no question. Blond mane, orange coat, stetson, and three bright red apples as a cutie mark; he looks a lot like how I remember Applejack the mare to look. This is similar to how Pinkie Pie the stallion looks a bit like Pinkie Pie the mare too… Unlike with Pinkie Pie the stallion, though, there's no question here on Applejack’s gender.

He's almost twice to size of the more minuscule Dusk Shine, and thus even taller then that for little old me down here close to the ground. Not since Prince Solaris himself have I felt so tiny in comparison to a pony. I don’t think it would be hyperbole at all to claim that Stallionjack’s hindlegs are as thick as flipping tree trunks! His forelegs aren’t too skimpy themselves either. There's also quite a bit of noticeable muscle around his barrel as well, along with fat, which only serves to prove that he's a stallion who actually uses his strength regularly; not just show it off. If we were to change his coat to red, and his mane to orange, I think we’d end up with a strong candidate for a Big… whatever-his-name-was lookalike here. Big… M? Big… Tack?

… Hey I can’t remember everypony’s name from that stupid cartoon, okay? Applejack’s brother! The big red one? That’s who I’m talking about here… though I guess he’s a she in this world, making her his big sister like Gleam is to Dusk...

Well… whatever. There’s one funny little thing I’d like to point out about AppleColt here while I still have the chance, and it’s that I find it incredibly funny and cute how he still has a bright red hair band on just like AppleFilly did.

I find it funny because, while his mane and tail aren’t long enough in this dimension to warrant such a thing, he got around this ‘hurdle’ by placing it elsewhere on his body...

… It’s around his blond goatee, turning it into a bit of a rattail. Ha! That’s kinda clever… er… Universe. Good job… I think?

THUMP!

With a sickening crack echoing throughout the field, AppleMaleJack promptly ends my mental assessment of him by bucking a tree hard enough to dislodge all of the apples. Just… all of them… wow! I read about how earth ponies are super strong and powerful and junk, but to actually see such a feat in real life is honestly kinda… cool! I thought Applejack’s skills in the cartoon were an exaggeration as well, just like Pinkie’s Pinkieness, but, unlike with the aforementioned pink colt, I can actually believe the incredible feat this time. He certainly has the body for it! Makes me a little curious as to just how big the other Applejack is...

Dusk doesn't seem as impressed by this as me though.

Sigh…” he resumes his sulking, lowering his head to the ground in apparent frustration over needing to converse with somepony again. “Let’s get this over with,” the unicorn complains as he makes his way over. I follow shortly behind, close enough to watch as he takes in a few deep breaths of air to compose himself again. “Alright…” he mutters softly before raising his head again and putting on a (fake) kind smile.

“Good afternoon,” Dusk greets the turned back of XY chromosome configuration Applejack, relying on his Canterlot snoodniess training to sound large and important. “My name is Dusk Shine-?!”

Before Dusk can say anything more to the farmer the larger stallion turns on the spot, wraps Dusk’s foreleg with one his own, and simply… squeezes.

The earth pony squeezes my Charge’s hoof so darn hard that I think I heard bones begin to snap.

Apple I-really-hope-he-introduces-himself-soon Jake then flails my fragile friend around like a boneless chicken as he happily ‘shakes’ his hoof.

“Well howdy-doo, Dusk Shine buddy!” the blond stallion gives out a hearty cheer. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, haha!”

Dusk’s terrified eyes dart my way momentarily, seeking aid, but there was nothing I can to help the poor boy out… I can barely even stop myself from laughing here! As the farmer continues to seemingly try to rip Dusk’s foreleg clean out of its socket, he thankfully and finally introduces himself to us.

“I’m Applejack!”

I’m surprised… though admittedly not entirely. ‘Applejack’ is a gender neutral name, from what I’ve gathered, so it’s not too far-fetched that he got to keep it during the cosmic event that created this place. Everypony else will probably be different, so I’m not too disappointed or anything. There’s always the next one.

Applejack resumes his sales pitch in high spirits, none the wiser to my internal observations. I don’t think he’s even noticed me yet! Meh. “We here at Sweet Apple Acres sure do like makin’ new friends!”

“F-f-f-friends?” Dusk stutters out weakly. This isn’t due to him being nervous or anything… it's just because his teeth have undoubtedly liquefied by this point at the rate Applejack is still shaking his arm! “A-a-actually I-I-I-I…”

“So what can I do you for?” the farmer asks Dusk good naturally with a wink, having finally let go of his arm.

Dusk didn’t get this memo though, and his arm keeps on shaking as a result. Seeing as how his eyes are closed, it falls on to me to reach out and use my claws to stop him before the darn appendage goes flying off to parts unknown. He blinks upon realizing that the ‘friendly’ contact was over and done with, and shoots me a dirty look as I snicker under my breath, but he eventually clears his throat and resumes his official duty.

“Well,” the equally young stallion starts. “I am, in fact, here to supervise preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration.” Dusk gestures his hoof, the one that was still visibly shaking, to Applejack and asks “And you’re in charge of the food...?”

The pony with the green eyes lets out a loud and boastful “HA!” thanks to this. “You bet your purple flank we are, buddy!” He then leans in closer and returns Dusk’s question with one of his own.

“Care for some samples?”

This only ends hilariously from what I can recall.

Dusk, completely unaware as to the consequences of his next few words, replies to the question with

“As long as it doesn’t take too lon-”

Applejack was gone before he could even finish.

Racing to a hanging metal triangle, and gripping a separate equally metal beater with his teeth, the large stallion strikes the two together in rapid succession before dropping them both and yelling at the top of his lungs

“SOUP’S ON, EVERYPONY!”

And then the ground rumbles beneath us.

A literal flood of equines pour out of the woodworks at the call, appearing from behind every nook and cranny and even tree. Against the force of such an impressive ‘army’, neither Dusk nor I stood a chance. We both end up getting swept away in the river of ponies, and carried upon their powerful backs, at a single round, and set, picnic table. After being deposited in seats, Applejack smoothly moves in next to us, as if on cue… I’m starting to think that we were expected. Eh, makes sense I suppose. I would go through a similar song and dance whenever Jason had a potential customer over, so I can’t really blame these ponies for doing the same for inspectors from Canterlot such as ourselves.

Sitting at this table, now the center of attention for this massive group of ponies, Applejack laughs loudly as he smirks at us, waves his foreleg over the gathered crowd of ponies, and asks Dusk a single question that wasn't really one. “Now…

“... why don’t I introduce y’all to the Apple family?”

Dusk grows visibly terrified at this suggestion.

“T-thanks,” he weakly responds as he stands up and begins to draw himself away. “but I really need to hurry-”

No dice, my friend. That apple fritter being shoved into your face right now is asking you to stay awhile. The new stallion who had just placed the item there quickly backs off as he sets it down…

… and allows the rest of his kin to repeat the act with gusto.

A literal pile of deserts starts to form before us as Applejack begins to list off name after name after name. Everything was going so fast that I couldn’t keep track of anything; I heard a Brioche and a Cinnamon Crisp and a Jazz... maybe… Ah! I can’t follow at all!

“... Red Gala, Apple Buck...” Applejack adds, just as lovingly, after a much needed breath of air. I can’t see where he's pointing from where I'm now standing, as a note, so whoever the heck Red Gala and Apple Buck are are as much a mystery to me as they are to you... Though I can hazard a few guesses.

Taking advantage of Dusk’s deer-in-a-headlight open jaw and thousand yard stare, the orange earth pony quickly shoves a nice green granny smith apple into the unicorn’s mouth right before finishing his name listing with “Aaaannnnnd Grandpa Smith over yonder! Hehe. Up’n’attem, Grandpa! We got guests!”

I look over to where the farmer was pointing and was able to, this time, spot an aged green stallion sleeping peacefully in a rocking chair; one that was set up smack dab in the middle of nowhere. With a start the graying pony gets up, mumbles groggily nothings under his breath, and then slowly hobbles his tiny self over to the table and our gathering.

… I was supposed to grow that old with Jason someday…

… Sudden melancholy aside, it's with yet another hearty laugh that Applejack finally ends his sharing. “Why, I’d say you’re already part of the family!”

At this, Dusk immediately spits out his food.

“Bleh!” he yaks, though Applejack doesn't seem appalled at all. With a timid laugh, my purple unicorn Charge makes one last ditch effort to leave this whole situation altogether. “O-okay, well... I-I can see that the food situation is handled, so we’ll just be on our way!”

And he would have gotten away with it too…

“Aren’t you gonna stay for brunch?”

… if it wasn’t for that meddling kid! Ha!

… Okay I’ll be honest with you here, I’ve been holding on to that one for seven years... Seven!

Just… just let me have my fun for once, would ya’? Please?

Disregarding my silliness for a moment; though I can’t see the little pony who had asked this question through the forest of legs surrounding us, I can tell that it was a young colt’s voice. This must be Apple Bloom, or Buck as I heard Applejack mention earlier. Unlike with Big Whatever, I remember Apple Bloom from the show because she was part of that little group with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo; two other main characters out of the ten. They probably haven’t formed said group yet, but that’s besides the point.

The point is that a cute tiny pony is most likely looking Dusk straight in the eyes right now, with big wide peepers himself, and asking him why he’s trying to run away from his happy 'little' family right now.

Though he tries to dodge out of the way…

“Sorry, but we have an awful lot to do…”

“Sigh…”

… electing a round of disappointed sighs from the gathered ponies…

“... fine.”

“WHOO!”

… Dusk isn’t heartless. Not by a long shot.

Oh he's not pleased with this turn of events one single bit, as indicated by his frown and angry eyes, but he’s not the kind of pony to disappoint others. I smile brightly at Dusk as Applejack and the crowd of ponies swamp him, trying to vie for his attention, and as they begin to feed him more of their treats and more of their stories. I'm left by the wayside as this happened, nopony really paying me much mind, but I'm ultimately fine with this. Dusk’s the main star here, not me… though I still hope I can get a slice of that apple pie over there later on here, please and thank you. Maybe if I as-

“E-excuse me, Miss?”

Caught unaware, I end up blinking blankly for a bit before realizing that somepony was actually talking to me. I turn to my right.

I find a little yellow colt, with a bright red mane, standing there; staring at me with giant, mystified eyes.

“Are you a real dragon?” asks the tiny, cutie mark-less Apple Buck in soundless wonder. He's clearly Apple Bloom to a tee; from the colors to the size to even the big bright red bow that's tied neatly around his throat. This is certainly a little boy version of that filly in every aspect.

… Admittedly, even though I say that he’s small and tiny, he really isn’t in comparison to me. We’re about at the same eye level, and probably even the same age…

Remembering this specific detail about myself never fails to sadden me a little... but it has yet to completely dampen my love of children overall. Though I technically am one nowadays, I can still separate myself from their age group and treat them appropriately when the need arises.

Thusly did I then, after smiling gently to him, respond to his innocent question lightheartedly with “Last I checked I was.”

“Cooool,” he whispers in awe, his eyes full of stars. I’m actually quite used to this kind of response, truthfully; often times a foal would approach me out of the blue while I’m out and about in Canterlot and ask similar questions. I always try to answer entertainingly for their benefit. Sometimes they love it, other times they turn into little spoiled brats… but that’s always a risk I’m willing to take. Long ago did I learn the all important lesson that you need to be proud of your body, no matter what. It was a good creed to live by as a ‘big’ women back on Earth, and it has served me here in Equestria just as gracefully so far.

“C-can…” Apple Buck starts to ask nervously, his eyes darting this way and that as if searching for eavesdroppers. Upon the coast apparently being ‘clear’, he asks me fully “Can you really breathe fire, Miss Dragon?”

Hah! ‘Miss' Dragon.

Bless this colt’s heart for being such a dear.

“Hmmm,” I reply slyly, making a show of thinking ‘deeply’ over the simple question. “Well… I don’t know! Let’s see, shall we?”

I then turn my head to the side and blow out a tiny little tongue of green dragonfire for my youthful audience.

Apple Buck’s face swiftly transforms into the image of a little boy who has just witnessed the coolest thing in their entire life.

Holding a claw before my mouth, I giggle a little over the sight. I curtsy to him soon after, with the dress I'm currently not wearing, as well; glad to have put on a good show.

“Again again!” the colt is quick to beg, giggling himself as he excitedly jumps up and down in place. He eventually calms down after a time to tack on the all important “Pllleeeaaassssse?” to his request.

Oh good lord. I think I've just received a fraction of the same force that ensnared Dusk not two minutes ago! In the face of such a cutie, how can I possibly say no? “Hehe, alright alright,” I agree with a laugh, making a pitiful attempt to calm him down by moving my claws up and down. “It makes my breath stink when I do it too much… but I think I can make an exception this time.”

“Oh thank you thank you thank you!” the little colt cheers in jubilation. He's acting like Hearths Warming has just come early this year. Awww. The sight of it is warming my old/young heart.

What can I say? I’m still a mother under all these scales and youth.

Upon agreeing to perform on more time, I swiftly decide that I'm going to make an even bigger flame this time for my lovely little pony. To insure his and everypony else’s safety, I take a single step back and tilt my head at an angle towards the sky. I start to suck in air, and take a big breath, as I-

“Apple Buck.”

Cough cough! I-immediately choke on it thanks to a sudden loss of concentration. Bleh!

As I cough up black smoke, I turn towards the source of this voice just in time to see Apple Buck cringe. He turns as well towards the feminine call a moment later, though he does so slowly.

He discovers a large red pony standing before him.

A large, large pony.

Like, holy fudge; that is a large pony. Solaris is the tallest stallion I’ve ever met. Applejack is the second tallest.

This pony is taller than him, marking her as the tallest mare I have ever seen before, period.

And she was a mare, surprisingly. Her rounded muzzle gave her away. If not for it, though, I think I would have had just as difficult of a time identifying her as a her as I had with Male Pinkie Pie being a stallion! She's just as muscular as Applejack, just as well built, and, no question, just as powerful… if not more! She has a body that can make most guardmares weep in jealousy. Even more shockingly, she looks stronger than Gleaming Shield! This confuses me greatly; she’s clearly Applejack and Apple Bloom’s older brother, I can tell. The yoke around this mare's neck stands as proof of this assumption, and she even looks like him quite a bit if not for the slightly longer hair and the non-square muzzle.

What’s confusing me about this, however, is the fact that her and Gleaming have completely different body shapes, while I remember this gal’s male half and Shining Armor having the same on the cartoon! I know that there’s some discrepancies when it comes from transitioning from a cartoon to real life, but this is still a pretty big one.

… Although, Applejack’s body is a pretty big change as well… Maybe everypony just transitions differently between the two sexes. I guess It’d be silly if everyone came out beautiful looking after a simple gender switch.

That is not to say that this mare isn’t beautiful. Not at all! I may not be attracted to women, let alone ponies, but that doesn’t prevent me from noticing how well she treats herself. Her mane is well kept, as is her tail, and her coat is as clean as can be.

She’s a big hefty mare and she clearly loves being herself.

A pony after my own heart.

“R-red Gala,” Apple Buck sputters out his sister’s name meekly, trying to look small and inconspicuous. “Ah… ah wasn’t botherin’ her none! Honest!”

Red Gala continues to silently stare at her little brother, only moving the wheatstock in her mouth around and doing nothing else.

“... You finish your homework?” the large mare questions in a slow drawl, her voice deep and non accusing.

“N-...” the little yellow boy croaks in response. “N-nope…”

“...”

“... S-... s-should ah go and do it, sis?”

“Do you want to stay up and see the Prince raise the sun?”

“... E… eeyup, Red…”

“Then ‘eeyup’, Buck.”

“... Okay,” the colt finally relents with head hung low. He starts to trot off, only to then stop and look backwards towards me. “Thank you for showin’ me your fire, Miss Dragon! It was really cool!”

With that he speeds off towards the farmhouse in the distance and shuts the door behind him.

Red Gala watches this passively before she looks down at me herself.

“Sorry for him botherin’ you, Miss,” she speaks to me softly.

I wave this off with a passive claw. “Oh he wasn’t a bother at all,” I assure her honestly. “Really. The dear just wanted to see a real dragon. I can understand that; I am pretty rare, after all.”

“Eeyup,” she concurs, turning her head to look at the mosh pit the gathering of ponies has devolved into. She continues to rotate the wheatstock in her mouth silently as she gazes over it with an unreadable expression.

With nothing better to do now but just wait, I decide to pass the time with this giant of a pony here. “You’re Red Gala, right?” I asked. “Are you Applejack’s sister, as well as Buck’s?”

“... Eeyup,” Red Gala explains to me poetically, looking back down. “Don’t think I got your name, sugarcube. You by chance that Dusk fellow’s sis as well?”

“Hah!” came my instant reply. “No no,” I wave her off. “Nothing like that. I’m just his loyal assistant.”

I offer her a claw.

“Barbara The Dragoness.”

She gently places her hoof within it.

“A pleasure.”

We shake… and then that was the end of it. The two of us proceed to turn our heads forward and quietly watch the festivities that are happening before us. Just as I had been earlier, I'm okay with this. Watching Dusk actually interact with ponies is a treat to watch, both because of how awkward he is during most of the exchange, but also because of those rare instances where his face will light up in a “I get it!” moment of clarity. These scant few occurrences brighten up my day, as they show me that he's actually starting to slowly understand ponies besides himself for once.

It's a wonderful sight to see.

… Though a different sight soon takes precedence over the other in my mind.

A sight that I can’t stop myself from asking about.

“... Red Gala?”

“... Eeyup,” the mare beside me answers, apparently well aware of what I'm about to ask.

“... Why is Applejack sticking his entire hoof down Dusk’s throat?”

“...”

At first Gala says nothing, but she eventually sighs and answered.

“He… does that sometimes, Miss Barbara.”

“Barb is fine,” I offer automatically, before asking plainly “Why?”

“Big, Red, or both works for me,” the mare offers me in exchange before placing a hoof on her forehead and sighing yet again. “And to answer your question, Barb; it’s because he’s… hearty.”

I blink.

“... I don’t understand, Red.”

“Ah mean,” she explains further and tiredly. “He gets excited to help ponies out… often times too excited. So excited, ah'll admit, that he... forgets things… Things like hooves don’t belong in mouths… Ugh.

I chuckle softly. “You’re embarrassed by it?”

“... Sigh... Eeyup.”

“Don’t be.”

Though she pauses at first, the big red mare momentarily removes her hoof from her facepalming to gives me a questioning look. Smiling to her softly, I state quite clearly that

“Dusk is worse.

Big Red considers my words for a moment… before snorting and smiling back.

“Ah doubt it,” she counters confidently, her grin never weaning.

“Challenge accepted,” I retort, crossing my arms over my chest as I smirking right back up at her. “I’ve got stories that'll make you laugh so hard that your cutie mark will fly right off your flank, and make Dusk’s cheeks turn just as red as your own, pony.”

“Hah,” Gala chuckles, clearly not believing me. “Prove it.”

My grin only grows larger.

“Gladly.”

Sitting bowlegged on the ground, I gesture with a claw for the mare to take a seat along with me. Folding her own legs, she obliges. Once she's as close to my eye level as she can get, I begin to share this tale.

“Alright,” I start off. “So this one is actually a story Dusk’s big sister shared with me once. She’s Gleaming Shield, Captain of the Royal Guard, so I don’t really have a reason to doubt how truthful it is. Plus it totally sounds like something Dusk would do, so that’s even more reason for me to believe that this actually did happen. I also have proof, but I’ll share that at the end.

“So, to open up here, understand this; Dusk loves stars. He loves them. That cutie mark isn’t just a bunch of stars because he’s good at magic, oh no; it also represents his love of stargazing. He has three different brands of telescopes, an entire room back home full of star charts, and he’s even enchanted his bedroom ceiling to display the night’s sky. Bottom line; he’s in love with the cosmos, you dig?

“Now then; once upon a time, Dusk went to a stargazing convention up in Canterlot. It was a big old meeting of the minds; all the experts in the field were there to share stories and their experiences. I can only imagine that he was literally in heaven that day. The convention even had lectures! Tons and tons of lectures, all dedicated to Dusk’s second favorite subject next to magic; astronomy. I’m told that he managed to go to all of the talks on the first day! For a bookworm like him, it must have been one of the greatest times of his life!

“... All good things must come to an end though.

“On the second day of the convention, Dusk made his way into one meeting room and ended up having to sit behind a girl. Now, this pony loved stars too. She loved them so much that she wore this, I’m told, beautiful dress that was decorated in hundreds upon hundreds of constellations. You can imagine it was a sight to behold.

“Too bad for her though; she made the poor decision to sit in front of Dusk Shine.

“Now, understand that Dusk is not a bad pony; not at all! He doesn't like to interact with other ponies, and instead likes to be with his books, but he is by no definition a bad pony. He wouldn’t hurt a fly!

“A dress, on the other hoof…Well, this one in particular was unfortunately flawed; it had one, only one I say, star more than what the actual section of space it was displaying actually held. No normal pony would have spotted it… But Dusk is anything but normal.

“So, because he felt as though it was his sacred duty… he used his magic to make this single star disappear.

“... The cloth underneath it disappeared as well.”

Placing a hoof over her mouth, Big Red Gala fights hard to suppress a gasp as her eyes grow wide in shock.

“Yes,” I agree with her. “That was my reaction too. Dusk, as inexperienced with sewing at the time as he was, failed to see that these stars weren’t attached to the dress but instead were sown in to it! In using his magic to make the star vanish, Dusk instead ripped a hole in it completely. So shocked was he over his mistake, he ended up doing the only logical thing he could think of doing at the time…”

“... Put it back?” Gala asks me shakily, daring to hope.

I offer her a small smile.

“... Nope… He made the entire row disappear next to compensate!”

This time the large mare does gasp.

“That was my reaction too!” I again agree, laughing a little as I do. “You know what the best part is though?”

“What?”

I grin cheekily.

“That’s not the worst part!

“The worst part is that Dusk, upon making an entire row of this poor pony’s dress disappear, tried to ignore the gown for the rest of the discussion… only to fail miserably. You see, in erasing the row…”

“No,” Red Gala suddenly exclaims, having put two and two together. “He didn’t…

I continue on unabided. “... the constellations were now even more incorrect than they were before…”

“Tell me he didn’t!”

“... so he…”

“N-no!"

“... cut the dress down even further!

“Gasp!”

I nod my head somberly.

“Yes. Sad but true. He kept hacking away at that poor defensively dress for the rest of the discussion. The girl only noticed what had happened once it was all over; when she stood up and discovered that her once gorgeous gown had become a miniskirt!”

“...”

“...”

“... Snort.

This single snort is all it takes for the dam to break open. Soon the two of us were laughing up a storm, all at Dusk’s expense.

S-snort,” Gala again chokes up. “Heh… Ah guess little colt’s will be colt’s; ah can completely see Apple Buck pullin’ somethin’ like that off by mistake!”

Lowering my own chuckling to a more manageable level, I decide that it's now time to deliver the punchline.

“Yes, little colts will be little colts,” I concede with the nod of my head. “... The thing is though?” I playfully question, leaning closer to the large mare. Curious; she leans in closer as well, turns her ear towards me, and allows me to whisper within it…

“... This happened last year, and Dusk is still banned from that convention center to this day!”

“...”

“...”

Our laughter resumes shortly thereafter; this time even louder than before.

“Ah like you, kid,” Big Red tells me honestly after our chortles subside. “Fan of Hoofball at all?”

“Sorry,” I apologize, feeling a bit ashamed. “But not really. Wherever Dusk goes, I go. If the stick legs and pasty skin of his didn’t tip you off already, he’s not much of a sports pony. I don’t get to go out and see the games often as a result.”

“Well that’s a shame,” the green apple cutie mark baring mare says simply, her smile never leaving her face.

Not wanting to seem rude, I offer up a suggestion myself. “Umm… Have you read any good books lately?”

Drawing a hoof to her chin, the earth pony thinks a bit about my question before properly answering it.

“Hmmm. Ever read anythin’ by... Haw Riming?”

The world around me suddenly goes dead silent.

“... He’s Dedicated to Roses?” I title drop one of my favorite Equestrian cheesy romance novels, hoping greatly that she’s read it before. “In which a filly, trying to escape the stress of being bullied…”

“Dresses as a stallion,” Red completes for me, our eyes both becoming wide in realization. “And joins a street gang…”

“Where she becomes the top dog!” I happily chip in. “Gaining infamy!”

And,” my new best pony friend picks up. “The eyes of a lone stallion, who's fallen in love with her male alter ego!”

“He steals her first kiss!”

“She breaks his snout!”

“But in the end she grows to love him too!”

“Now, there’s a problem though…”

“He’s Dedicated only to ‘Roses’!”

“Eventually this filly comes clean with him...”

“Revealing that she’s been a she the entire time…”

“At first he’s sad…”

“And so is she…”

“...”

“...”

“... But then the stallion declares,”

“In a complete show of passion…”

“Stallion, Mare; I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter! For now on, I’m only dedicated to you!

“Stallion, Mare; I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter! For now on, I’m only dedicated to you!

“EEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!”

“EEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!”

“Er, are you two ladies… okay over there?”

With our totally mature and dignified fangirl squealing having suddenly been put on hold, Red Gala and I stare at each other for a moment before turning our heads to Applejack... discovering that everypony present is now staring at us as well.

… Opps.

Standing up and blushing bright red (Gala’s coat covered up quite a bit of her own blush, the lucky B word), the two of us sputter incoherently for a time before settling on a simple reply of

“Eeyup.”

“...”

With a roll of his eyes, not sparing us another thought, the orange pony resumes shoving food into Dusk’s pie hole. Gala and I stand silently next to each other as we watch as things slowly go back to normal.

“... Barb?” the mare asks me after the coast was clear.

“... Yeah?” I ask as I strain my neck trying to look back up at her.

The big red pony smiles kindly down at me as she gently noogies the top of my head.

“Ah think we’re gonna be good friends.”

All I can do is smile back in agreement.

“Heh… Eeyup.”

_______________________________

Well… that was fun!

After a small length of time had passed, Dusk and I now find ourselves back on the streets of Ponyville, ready to head towards our next destination. The scroll and one of my seldom used pencils are in my claws as I check off the first completed task.

“Food’s all taken care of,” I tell Dusk over my shoulder. I glance further down the list and note what was number two before actually looking at the corresponding name. “Next is… weather!”

“Ugh…” Dusk moans from behind me, moving sluggishly. “I ate too much pie…” he winned.

‘And apples, and fritters,’ I mentally add. ‘And… cake, for reasons that escape me. How does one apple up a cake to such an extent? I hardly think there was any flour in that monstrosity. Still wish I got a slice though...’

Shaking my head, I decide that I need to focus on the now for… er… now. Weather's next, huh? Looks like it’s time for Rainbow Dash.

‘Or,’ I muse to myself with a grin, moving my clawed thumb over to read what this now stallion’s name is. ‘Should I say; Rainbow…?’

I stop and stare at the name.

It is not what I was expecting it to be.

‘... Huh… Weird...’

Shrugging, I end up realizing that it really isn’t worth worrying about as I instead look upwards and scan the cloudy skies for the illusive pony. Despite his added girth, Dusk quickly saddles up beside me as he waits patiently for me to list our next target.

“Hmm,” I begin, still looking upwards. I eventually explain, despite how much my brain wants to scream at me about how what's written is wrong, that

“There’s supposed to be a pegasus pony named… Rainbow Dash clearing the clouds.”

Applejack is Applejack and Rainbow Dash is… Rainbow Dash still? That can’t be right… can it?

… No, it can’t really… It can’t be right, because…

“Well, she’s not doing a very good job, is she?” comments Dusk after looking up at the still cloudy skies. And there we have the problem that's been silently bugging me right now. Applejack’s name is gender neutral.

Rainbow Dash’s isn’t.

… At least, it isn’t from my limited knowledge of Equestrian names. It can be short for Dashing, which is considered highly girly in the minds of the Canterlot Elite. A stallion with the name isn’t possible… right?

I honestly don’t know.

… Guess I have one way of checking though...

“He,” I correct for Dusk as I turn to face him.

The stallion gives me an odd look for this.

“What?” he questions me in complete surprise. “But Dash is clearly a mare’s nam-”

WHUMP!

And then a rainbow colored, pony shaped bullet suddenly strikes my poor friend down where he stands before he even had the chance to answer me properly.

R.I.P. Dusk Shine. May your next life be full of stars.

... Letting up on the joking for now, I rush forward towards the mudpuddle Dusk had just been pushed into, thanks his the collision with a flying pegasus, to see if the two of them are okay at all. Once I make it there, and am able to get a good look at this now mysterious rainbow pony... I find myself left with even more questions then before!

Just… Wha?

Straining his head up, getting a better look at the small blue pony now on top of him for himself, Dusk weakly smirks as he turns over to me and utters cockily

“T-told you so…”

He then goes on to completely lose his lunch on the side of the sunny Ponyville road.

… I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that that part wasn’t shown in the cartoon.

I am understandably grateful for this.

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