• Published 21st May 2012
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Mantles - Ponky



Studying in Canterlot, Apple Bloom dons a mask of her youth to counter the city's rising crime.

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4 - That'll Be the Day

CHAPTER FOUR
THAT’LL BE THE DAY

The School Dance was coming up fast. Scootaloo was going with Rumble, the cutest pegasus colt in Ponyville. Sweetie Belle was going with Chip Mint, whose thick brown mane always looked fantastic.

And Apple Bloom? She wasn’t going with anypony. Not because she wasn’t asked, but she would rather sit alone at home than go with the colt that asked her.

“He really ain’t that bad,” Applejack tried to comfort her. “Sure, he’s a little slow in the noggin, but he’s a real nice little stallion.”

“Are we thinkin’ about the same pony here?” Apple Bloom questioned her sister. “Because I was just asked to the most important dance o’ my whole life by Snails! Ya know, let’s-bring-an-Ursa-to-Trixie Snails? Eat-the-carrots-in-the-middle-o’-the-trick Snails? Trippin’ over his own lanky legs Snails? Snails! Ponyfeathers!” She slammed her back hoof against the wall of her clubhouse where Applejack had found her crying, breaking off a sizeable chunk of the wood.

“Apple Bloom!” her sister scolded. “Ya can’t go losin’ yer temper like that now that yer nearly an adult. Look at what you’ve done!” Both ponies turned to stare at the hole. Applejack tilted her head to one side. “That’s actually a pretty clean kick, Sis. You been practicin’ apple buckin’ between projects?”

Apple Bloom scowled at her sister’s attempt to switch topics, landing on her rump with a painful thud. “I’ll be so embarrassed,” she wailed as hormonal tears wiggled in her eyes. “Diamond Tiara will call him my coltfriend for as long as I live.”

“Who’s she goin’ with?” Applejack asked.

“She hasn’t decided yet,” Apple Bloom sneered, adopting her enemy’s snobby voice. “So many colts have asked her, she doesn’t know hooow she’s ehhhhhver going to decide.”

Applejack laughed. “Why’re ya lettin’ that little brat get on yer nerves again? She’s been that way since before you got yer Cutie Mark, remember? Golly, some things never change.” She shook her head, thinking to herself as Apple Bloom continued to weep and seethe.

“I’m not goin’ to the dance,” Apple Bloom said. “In fact, I think I’ll stay right here in the clubhouse until the whole thing’s done and over with.”

Applejack sighed. “Apple Bloom,” she said again in a worried and caring tone, “it’s just one dance. You know Snails has liked you fer years, along with every other colt in Ponyville! I bet some poor little pony is bashin’ his head against the wall right now, wishin’ he woulda asked ya sooner.”

“I wish so, too,” Apple Bloom huffed, though the thought made her smile.

“It would mean the world to Snails if you said yes, and we both know it,” Applejack continued. “You just gotta buck up, quit yer whinin’, and be the kind, selfless pony I know and love so very much.”

“I ain’t kind or selfless,” Apple Bloom said.

“Oh? What about the time ya let Sweetie Belle be my sister fer a day at the Sisterhooves Social?”

“That wasn’t even real. All part of a plan.”

“But you went through with it to help yer friend! And what about the time ya admitted to takin’ Heart’s Desire from Zecora?”

“I prob’ly woulda DIED of exhaustion if I didn’t!” Apple Bloom argued. “And what the hay does that have to do with me bein’ a kind or selfless pony?”

“Stop that right now, you silly filly!” Applejack said, stomping her right hoof. “I don’t wanna hear any more excuses.”

“But—”

“Apple Bloom, you are a good pony,” Applejack said, slow and firm. “I know that when yer faced with a tough decision, you’re gonna make the right choice.”

The silenced mare sniffled once. “How do you know that?”

“Because you’re an Apple,” she answered with a smile. “But more importantly, you are a good pony.”

A bump appeared on Applejack's forehead, just below the brim of her hat.

“You are a good pony.”

As the bump swelled, the hat tilted and started to slide from Applejack's mane. She sounded so distant. Apple Bloom tried to reach out and straighten the hat. Why couldn’t she feel it falling?

“You are a good pony.”

The phrase was muffled now; more bumps appeared, this time on her back. Her hat fell to the ground; springy, pink locks of hair sprouted from where it had been. The bumps above her ribs exploded and covered the mare in tangled feathers. Apple Bloom moved forward to save her sister from suffocation, separating the bizarre feathers enough to stare into their new victim’s huge blue eyes.

“Apple Bloom?” Her voice was so innocent and so scared. Where was its familiar ring? Its bubbly resonance? Where was the laugh waiting eagerly behind every word?

“Apple Bloom?” Her eyes began to glow. "What's happening?"

FLASH.

I am a bad pony.

(/\/\)

Someone bumped against the cushioned chair where Apple Bloom was dreaming. She woke with a yelp and glanced around, ready to karate chop. To her relief and embarrassment, the library’s only other occupants were fellow students of the Arts.

She gave her small, startled audience an apologetic smile before snatching up her satchel and galloping away. After her last class of the day, she had stopped by the library across from the HFAC to browse around, awestruck by its enormous collection. The building was mostly underground, hiding its vastness from passerby. As a filly, Apple Bloom had believed that Ponyville’s Golden Oaks Library held every volume ever written. Now the old tree seemed minuscule compared to the college’s trove.

On a curious whim, Apple Bloom had started reading “Popular Pony Painters of the Pre-Classical Period,” unaware of her emotional and physical exhaustion. The pressures of moving and her first day of college had closed in as she read on a comfortable chair, falling fast asleep before the end of the first chapter.

The storm had died down during her slumber. As she hurried out the library’s front doors and into the remaining drizzle, she wondered what time it was. Sweetie Belle’s schedule kept her away from home on Mondays until sunset, so Apple Bloom had wanted to visit Harper. She had barely seen the minty stallion since their train ride, and they still had a lot to talk about.

She busied her mind with estimating the time of day according to the position of the Sun, mostly to help it wipe away the lingering images of that wretched nightmare. It was a fruitless attempt; her dreams had been infected with that memory for years. There was no getting rid of those pleading blue eyes. There was no forgetting that hollow, laughless question:

Apple Bloom?”

The farm pony jumped. She wasn’t expecting her name to come from outside her head. Still standing just outside the library, she twisted her neck around to see two bright ponies don excited smiles.

“Hey yeah, Bloom, it is you!” one of them said. She had a small, dark blue scar above her right eye that stood out against her otherwise cyan coat.

“Such a pleasure to see you on campus,” the other added in a posh Canterlotian accent, flipping a lock of her blue-and-white mane back into its place framing her burgundy cheek. She had the most beautifully slanted eyes that Apple Bloom had ever seen, although their dark, greyish color was a bit dull. “I thought you would have been home by now, seeing as your classes ended nearly an hour ago.”

“Howdy, Blitz. Hi, Lilac,” she greeted her roommates. Blitz ruffled her wings to shake away some excess rain water while Lilac kept a politely inquisitive gaze. “I fell asleep in the library for a while. Headed home now.”

“So are we!” Blitz shouted at inappropriate volumes. “Come on, let’s get walkin' together!”

She took a step forward with full intent; simultaneously, one wing tried to take off out of habit while the other was still flicking water away. The conflicting forces proved too much for the blue pony and she tumbled to the ground in a heap.

“Whoops!” she said, scrambling back to her hooves as Apple Bloom stifled a laugh. If her eyes were misaligned, Blitz would have reminded her exactly of another clumsy pegasus. Apple Bloom offered a steadying hoof to her new friend, grateful for the unintentional reminder of better days gone by.

Lilac was less amused. “Yes, we ought to make haste. If the storm begins to rage again, my poor mane will be practically defenseless.”

Apple Bloom made sure to turn away before rolling her eyes. There’s one in every group…

“Oh yeah!” Blitz suddenly called out, lifting her right wing to remove a small card of paper she had stored beneath. “I met a friend o' yours earlier today, Apple Bloom. He told me to give you his address, in case you don’t have it, and to drop by anytime!”

She beamed and Apple Bloom surveyed the card. It was Harper’s writing! A smile graced her yellow face as the pony changed her plans.

“Actually, you two head on back without me,” she said, tucking the card into her saddlebag. “I’m gonna go sneak in a visit. Feel free to start dinner, I might be a while.”

“My, my,” Lilac teased with a suggestive leer. “Your first day at college and you’re already staying the night at a colt’s apartment, hmm?”

Apple Bloom blushed, bantering back instantly. “I’ve been here for nearly four days, thank y’very much,” she began, “and Harper and I are just friends. ‘Sides, I never said nothin’ about spendin’ the night. It’s just that we’ve got a bunch to talk about, that’s all, bein’ in the same boat and… all.”

Her syntax failed under Lilac’s unwavering grin. Without another word, Apple Bloom galloped southward, hoping the other earth pony’s accusations were only playful.

“See ya tomorrow, Apple Bloom!” Blitz shouted out, waving goodbye.

She thought of yelling back to reassure her plans of returning that night, but the lure of seeing Harper to share experiences and opinions won out. Mentally repeating the address on a loop, she trotted off the School’s boundaries and skipped to the Mane Street of Cantlerlot. Her excitement wore down a bit as she wove through crowds of scowling ponies, avoiding the stoic guards and cringing at obscene graffiti. The city air seemed thick with sadness and caution, a sensation Apple Bloom was unfamiliar with. It gave her prickling chills as she hurried down the wide road, keeping her focus on the perpendicular street signs in search of Bridle Boulevard.

(/\/\)

Harper Heartstrings froze at the knock, hoping and praying and pleading inside that the hoof on the opposite side of his door belonged to the mare of his dreams.

His hope gleamed unmistakably in his eyes. “You think it’s her, Harper?” one of the front room’s loungers asked.

“No clue,” Harper squeaked, and cleared his throat before approaching the door. His knowing roommates held their breath, waiting to see the “most beautiful mare in the world.” Coming from a little village like Ponyville, they doubted Harper’s dreamy descriptions.

He reached the door and took a deep breath, running a hoof through his spiky mane. After practicing a not-too-excited-but-genuinely-happy-to-see-you smile once or twice, he used his magic to swing open the door.

He was not disappointed. Apple Bloom was perched like a spring at his doorstep, throwing herself around him before he could even start the smile.

“Harper!” she greeted as her lush, brilliant-red mane curled against the curve of his jaw. Her strong, lean forelegs wrapped around the base of his neck and locked their bodies together, close enough for Harper to count eight beats of her racing heart. He nearly melted.

“Hey, you found us!” he replied casually, returning the unexpected hug. “You’re breathing heavy. Did you run all the way here?”

She slid out of the embrace and nodded, closing the door with a swoop of one trained hind leg. “I don’t like bein’ out on the streets fer long, ‘specially when I’m alone.” Her eyes, glowing like molten gold, scanned over the two pegasus stallions gaping behind her friend.

“Who are they?” she asked Harper rather than the stunned gentlecolts.

Noticing their expressions, Harper shot them a dangerous glance to snap them out of it. “Apple Bloom, these are two of my roommates,” he introduced as they realigned their eyes. “They’re both studying Game Design at the School.”

“Game design?” Apple Bloom asked, slightly put off by their wide grins. “Fer what, board games?”

“Arcade games,” Harper corrected, even more disturbed. “In fact, I think they were just about to leave for one of their classes.”

The boys caught on, flapping to their hooves.

“Right now?” The yellow mare checked the clock on the wall. “But it’s nearly half past four!”

“Evening class,” said the blue-grey roommate. “We’re lucky we get to take it together.”

His shorter friend could only nod as they trotted around Apple Bloom and opened the front door.

“All right, have fun, guys!” Harper said, ignoring their wide-eyed looks of approval and exciting hoof-pumping in the doorway. “Be safe!”

He reached around Apple Bloom and slammed the door, nicking the shorter pegasus’s hindquarters hard enough to hurt. A faint yelp pulsed through the apartment’s wall, but neither Ponyvillean paid it any mind.

“Sorry about them,” Harper chuckled as they took seats on a striped couch. “We haven’t had a mare in the apartment yet. In fact, I don’t know if either of them have even talked to a mare before.”

Apple Bloom failed to hold back a laugh. “Harper, that’s not very nice!” she said, tease-punching him in his exposed ribs.

“Youch! Careful with that apple bucker, Missy!” he said with a smile.

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t buck with my front hooves, dodo. And it serves you right, sittin’ so strangely all the time.”

Harper resumed his “strange” position with a grin. “I promise it’s more comfortable than what you’re doing, if you’d only give it a try.”

She let out a hoot. “That’ll be the day!”

They were quiet for a moment, smiling at each other. Apple Bloom took note of how shiny his eyes looked. Harper took notice of everything about her.

“I don’t know what that means anymore,” he finally said, forcing himself to look away from her perfectly rounded ears. “That’ll be the day. It sounds like something’s going to happen that nopony expects. Well…” He gestured toward the window and the greying world beyond. “I sure wasn’t expecting this.”

Apple Bloom was grateful for his segue. “That’s exactly what I’ve been wantin’ to talk to ya about,” she whispered. “We’ve been here for three whole days now. What’d’ya make of all this?”

Harper slowly shook his head. “It’s… scary. Really scary. Three of my roommates are from Canterlot—”

“Three of?” Apple Bloom interrupted. “How many do ya have?”

“Five,” he said. “We each have a little room to ourselves and share a kitchen and this front thing. It’s actually working out really well so far.”

“Where’re the other three?”

Harper shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t really clicked with them yet. Kind of macho colts, you know? Party animals. And I’m not talkin’ a Pinkie Pie Party.”

Apple Bloom shuddered.

Harper winced. “Sorry.”

“’S’fine,” she said, blushing. “What were you sayin’? Somethin’ about yer roommates likin’ to… party?”

He waved a hoof. “Oh, they don’t matter. What I meant was, the first day we all had breakfast together and I asked about the changes in government, I let slip that I was from Ponyville. A couple of them seemed kind of… I dunno, disgusted. But they all had stories about things they’d heard and seen and what Canterlot’s become. And Apple Bloom—” He gulped. “—Sweetie didn’t tell us the half of it.”

“I’ve heard stuff, too,” Apple Bloom admitted, recalling the hushed conversations she had picked up during lunch that day. “All the hold-ups and gang wars and… rapes.” She grimaced at the vulgar word. “But, I mean… everypony seems to blame Twilight. Do you reckon it’s really her doin’?”

Harper cracked his neck and sighed deeply. “I don’t know, Apple Bloom. I don’t want to think so. We had very different views of her back home: you knew her as a friend, I knew her as a librarian-turned-Princess. But any way you look at her—the old Twilight Sparkle, I mean—she doesn’t seem to add up with all the crazy stuff happening around here.”

“I didn’t wanna believe it, either,” she breathed. “I still don’t. But I’ve seen her do some drastic things when under a lot o’ pressure. Who knows? Maybe she finally snapped.”

With a flustered click of his tongue, Harper started to bump his dangling hind legs against the couch. He ran his hooves over each other, sweeping his eyes over Apple Bloom’s mane. She was staring at the ground, deep in silent thought.

“What ever happened that big pink bow you used to wear every day?” he asked, bringing a small smile to her flawless face.

“Sweetie Belle gave it to Rarity, I think,” she remembered. “I wanted to throw the stupid thing away, but I guess Rarity has some kind o’ clothing-scrapbook in the attic o’ Carousel Boutique.” Noticing Harper’s raised eyebrow, she added, “I’m not really sure what that means, but Sweetie was pretty adamant that it be added to her sister’s collection, so I let 'er keep it.”

“I miss it sometimes,” Harper confessed. “You were so cute as a filly.”

Apple Bloom laughed. “Eeyup! I was a looker, wasn’t I? Back in the day.”

"Still are…” Harper barely mumbled.

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Just remembering. Good times.”

Apple Bloom hummed in agreement.

More silence.

“So, how were yer first days o’ classes?” Apple Bloom asked, rearranging herself on the couch.

“Fine,” said Harper. “About what I expected. You?”

“Oh, I loved it!” Apple Bloom’s toothy smile glowed. “I had no idea what to expect, bein’ the first of my family to attend any sort o’ college. It’s so fun!” She had to close her eyes to make more room for her smile. “My teachers are clever and know so much, and everypony around me really wants to be there! The students are so nice and smart… well, most of ‘em anyway.”

“That does sound fun.”

“You know, I thought about you today,” she said, lowering her eyelids in a baiting smirk.

I think about you every day. “Oh? When was that?”

“Right after my first class. I was leaving the HFAC and noticed a big poster up on the wall advertisin’ fer Drum Line auditions! And I thought, ‘Gee, you know who should try out? Harper Heartstrings!’”

His reaction was far from bright. “Thanks, Apple Bloom, that’s sweet of you,” he said, trying hard to maintain a wimpy smile.

She pushed her lips to one side. “Okay, what’s wrong?” she asked, crossing her forelegs.

“Nothing.”

“Don’t even try. I know you, Harper. What’s wrong? Did one o’ yer teachers make fun o’ ya? Does one of your roommates smell bad? Didja not like the cafeteria’s baked potatas? I think they coulda used an older cheese, if y’ask me…”

“It’s nothing like that,” Harper caved. “It’s just… I would love more than anything to join the Drum Line, but I don’t have the time with all these stupid harp classes.”

“Stupid harp classes?” Apple Bloom repeated. “But you’re majorin’ in Harp Performance, ain’t ya?”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to!” His voice cracked.

Apple Bloom blinked. “But… well, why are you doin’ it, then?”

Harper groaned and dropped his face into his lifted hooves. He didn’t dare lie to her; the Element of Honesty’s sister could spot a lie from a mile away. “Because I feel like my mom would hate me for wasting all her hard work.”

“Wasting her… Harper, what in Equestria are you talkin’ about? Your mother loves you to death! And she’s proud of you for a bein’ a musician, not a harpist. You’re an amazing percussionist, and for the millionth time, will you look at your Cutie Mark? You were meant to be a drummer!”

“You don’t understand, Apple Bloom. Ever since I was a baby, my mom has been training me to play her lyre. This very one!” He used his magic to bring a fancy case into the room, setting it on the central coffee table and unlatching its hooks to remove a stunning, silver harp.

“Wow!” Apple Bloom said. “Gorgeous!”

I was thinking the same thing. “We’ve passed it down for generations. Forged in Cloudsdale for the first Summer Sun Celebration, if the family legends are true.”

“Can ya… play it?” Apple Bloom asked.

Harper scoffed. “Of course I can play it. I got accepted as a Harp Major, remember?”

Her eyes gleamed with expectation. “Will ya play it?”

Harper squinted and rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh… I guess I can, if you really want me to.”

“Oh, yes! Oh, please oh please, play it, Harper! I love the sound it makes,” she rambled, wriggling closer to her friend on her belly. “I used to tell Scootaloo that I didn’t like yer mom’s concerts, either, but I really loved ‘em almost as much as Sweetie Belle! Please play it, Harper? Please oh please oh please oh…”

“Fine.”

“Yay!”

“But just one song.”

Apple Bloom nodded, pursing her lips in a tight smile.

Harper balanced the small instrument between his legs and shut his eyes. Apple Bloom watched as his horn began to glow. One by one, the strings of the lyre lit up with Harper’s magic, creating a pleasant hum as they vibrated in place. The buzzes became a haunting melody of quick, harmonic plucks that sent the chills down Apple Bloom’s spine and over her skin. The charming music even seemed to affect the muscles in her lifted neck. She dropped her head gently into Harper’s lap, shutting her eyes as the harp continued to excite the air around her.

Harper hoped his heartstrings wouldn’t snap.

The melody ended, but the peace it brought lingered tenderly above the pair. Apple Bloom didn’t lift her head. It felt heavy and warm, and Harper’s soft coat smelled of mint and fresh pine wood.

“That was real pretty, Harper,” she cooed, nuzzling her nose against his knee.

“Thanks, Apple Bloom,” he managed to wheeze. “My mom wrote it.”

“Lyra’s so talented,” she yawned. “I’m gonna miss her.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

Apple Bloom’s eyes popped open as she realized what she’d said. “Oh, Harper, I’m sorry!” she yelped, bolting up. “I didn’t mean… I didn’t remember we weren’t allowed to… I’m sure we’ll find a way to visit, er maybe she can…”

“It’s okay, Apple Bloom,” Harper said. “Really, it’s fine.”

Apple Bloom hopped down from the couch and stomped a hoof. “No, Harper, it’s not fine. We ain’t allowed to go back to Ponyville! It’s not even part of Equestria! How are we ever gonna get home? What if they forget all about us?”

“We can send letters…”

“That the guards might read or confiscate or… or use against us! Who knows with this place?” She growled with sudden fury and kicked the couch with a back leg. It spun around once, throwing its passenger violently from his place.

“Oof!” Harper landed on his face near the door to the kitchen.

“Ah, horseapples! I’m sorry, Harper!” Apple Bloom called.

“Those darn apple buckers,” Harper grunted.

Apple Bloom's eyes darted off to the side as she forced an innocent chuckle. “They got a mind o’ their own sometimes. Gosh, that looked mighty painful. You sure you’re okay?”

Harper nodded. “Yeah, my face is fine, but I’m still thinking about that Drum Line.”

She pushed the sofa into, raising her voice over a noisy scraping. “What’s there to think about? Just drop whatever classes you need to and try out! You’re sure to make it!”

He aided Apple Bloom with his magic, putting a stop to the grind. “I know that,” he replied in a sullen tone.

“Gee, somepony’s cocky,” Apple Bloom joked. Harper was one of the humblest stallions she had ever met.

He grinned at her tease but ignored it otherwise. “I can’t drop my string classes. My mom would be so disappointed.”

“She would not! How can y’even think that?”

Tears began to build along the rims of his eyes. Apple Bloom instantly regretted her volume, shocked by his seriousness.

“I don’t want to risk it,” he explained in a quavering voice. “She’s been so… fragile. Ever since Bon Bon died.”

Apple Bloom had never known Bon Bon very well. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she suspected the pony held a lifelong grudge against her fillyhood rudeness at the market. “Four bits, lady!” rang through her head as she envisioned the mare’s swirly mane of vibrant pink and blue, much like Dr. Cossitee’s eyes.

“They were good friends, weren’t they?” she questioned reverently.

Harper nodded, running the back of his right hoof over his nose. “The best of friends. She relied on her relationship with Bon Bon since my dad left.” Apple Bloom bit her lip. She had forgotten about that. Harper didn’t notice; he was refusing to look at the mare, embarrassed by his breakdown.

“Cancer, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. Just a couple years ago. Ever since then, my mom’s been really on edge. She’s always had pretty low self-esteem, believe it or not. The strangest little things get her depressed for days. I can only imagine what she’d do if I admitted how much I hate the harp.”

Apple Bloom’s jaw dropped. “You cain’t mean that! You don’t hate the harp, not bein’ able to play it so well!”

Harper sniffed and took a couple deep breaths, regaining his composure. “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t hate the harp. But it’s just… it’s not what I’m supposed to do, you know? I can feel it.”

Apple Bloom poked his flank. “Of course it ain’t, Drummer Boy! Everypony has more than one talent. You can strum and sing and write like nopony’s business, but you were born to play that snare!” She slammed her hoof against his Cutie Mark once more for good measure. He winced in pain.

“Just like you,” he pointed out. “You’re a martial arts master, an incredible impersonator, and the best renovator to come out of Ponyville, but your special talent is painting and you’re following what you love to do. And you’re happy.”

The farmer blushed. “Well, that’s not exactly what I meant. And karate didn’t come easy, lemme tell ya. But… sure, if you wanna think about it that way.”

A slow, thoughtful nod accompanied Harper’s rise to his hooves. “You know what, Apple Bloom? You’re right. I shouldn’t live my life trying to please my mom. The only way for me to happy is to follow my heart and do what I know is right.”

Apple Bloom’s face cracked a triumphant smile. “Exactly! And I think you’ll be surprised at just how pleased yer mom’ll be when you do that.”

His nod quickened. “There’s already enough doom and gloom in this city. I should be doing everything I can to make my time here the best it can be.”

“Yeah!” Apple Bloom hopped into the air.

“I shouldn’t hold anything back. I’ll drop my harp classes. I’ll try out for the Drum Line! I’ll confess my love for the mare of my dreams!”

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” She bounced again with every exclamation.

“I love you, Apple Bloom.”

“Yeah! Yeah! Wait, what?”

She had pranced halfway around the room by the time the words registered. A painful knot formed in her stomach as she faced the dry-mouthed colt.

“I said I love you, Apple Bloom,” he repeated. His face was set in a softly serious expression, though she could see the tremor of his knees.

“You… I…”

Apple Bloom was speechless. She had absolutely no idea. The sudden news flew through her heart and mind like a fascinating, irritating insect.

She wanted to apologize, to say she didn’t feel the same way, to try to maintain their friendship as well as his vigor to redirect his life. But she couldn’t begin that chain—because some strange little voice in the back of her head said maybe you do feel the same way.

“I… I…”

Her front hooves started to canter in place while the room’s discomfort soared.

“I… I gotta go,” Apple Bloom finally said, snatching her satchel from the ground with her mouth and bolting out the front door without a second look.

Harper didn’t move for nearly a minute. Without blinking, he turned in place until he faced the kitchen’s wall. Six times he slammed his head against it, leaving a deep pock mark where his horn had struck the wood.

(/\/\)

Apple Bloom didn’t stop at the end of the hallway, or when she stumbled back onto Bridle Boulevard. She galloped through the hazy streets of Canterlot, past groups of puzzled ponies and pairs of royal guards, aimlessly fleeing from something that couldn’t hurt her. The steady, powerful thumps of her own hooves against the cobblestone dulled her mind to the point that she almost forgot about Harper’s confession—until she skidded to a stop at a towering set of familiar gates.

The Canterlot Gardens, shrouded in a blanket of dirty fog, lay empty and overgrown beyond the bars of the iron fence. Sputtering like a racehorse, Apple Bloom approached the chained gates and rested her forehead against their cold metal. She was above the Gardens from this angle, and her eyes darted from the misshapen rows of dark green hedges to the distant statues of Victory, Friendship, and a ceramic thing that had replaced Discord.

I love you, Apple Bloom.

You are a good pony.

Apple Bloom?

I said I love you, Apple Bloom.

Her memory whipped her with one jarring quote after another. Why was this happening? Why had any of it happened? Why couldn’t she have innocently adventured with the Cutie Mark Crusaders for all eternity, when her only problem in the world was finding her special talent?

She felt a growl tear at the flesh of her throat. "Why?" she asked aloud. It wasn’t fair! It didn’t make sense! Twilight? Harper? Pinkie Pie?

"Why?" she asked the overcast sky, half-expecting it to answer with a bolt of lightning or sudden torrent of rain. Neither came.

“Why?” she asked again, leaning into the cruel, uncaring gate.

Nopony heard the questions, or her quiet, tired sobs.