• Published 23rd May 2012
  • 1,273 Views, 54 Comments

Quest for the Silver Crown - Lycan_01

Applejack and her friends journey into the Everfree Forest to find the cure for Winona's illness.

  • ...

Friends and Foes

The trio of ponies and their zebra companion had not been journeying for long before they came across their first real obstacle. After they had traipsed through the foliage for about an hour, they soon found their path blocked, or rather, their path non-existent. The ground in front of them disappeared into a large sinkhole, about twenty feet wide and an unknowable depth. The forest to the left and right was too thick for them to go around it – the trees were densely packed, and vines hung from nearly every surface like verdant spider webs. They either had to find a way over the chasm or back up quite some distance in order to find another path around.

“Well this is gonna slow us down…” Applejack grumbled.

“I can just teleport over,” Twilight shrugged. “It shouldn’t cost us too much time.”

“And I can fly!” Rainbow proclaimed proudly.

“Yeah, I know that, but what about Zecora an’ me?” the orange earth pony asked.

Applejack nearly lost her hat as a grey blur streaked past her, leaving her hair flowing in the sudden breeze. The three ponies turned just in time to see Zecora run towards the edge of the sinkhole, a long stick grasped in her mouth. The zebra leapt up before reaching the edge, and jabbed the tip of the stick down into the dirt right on the ledge.

To everypony’s stunned amazement, Zecora proceeded to pole-vault over the sinkhole.

Once she had catapulted herself into the air, she spat the stick out of her mouth to reduce her weight, and sailed towards the other side. Just before touching down, the zebra alchemist tucked her legs in and cut a flip, then finally touched down in a low crouch.

“Whoa…” the three ponies said in unison, staring.

“Zecora, that was amazing!” Rainbow Dash proclaimed. “I didn’t know you could do that!”

Zecora smirked, casually rising to assume a more relaxed stance. “There is much about me you do not know.”

“We really need ta hang out with her a lot more…” Applejack muttered.

“Agreed,” Rainbow and Twilight both chimed.

“Alright, well that takes care of Zecora…” Applejack shrugged. She looked across the sinkhole for a moment, before turning to look back at Twilight and Rainbow Dash. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it upon seeing Rainbow.

The pegasus had a long length of vine grasped between her teeth, and her expression was one of cheerful delight.

Applejack stared, her expression growing dubious. “Er, Rainbow, whatcha got that there vine for?”

“Ptoo!” Rainbow spat out the green vine and grinned. “I have an idea! Check it out!” She then gripped the vine in her teeth again, and trotted over to the sinkhole. With a flick of her head, the vine lashed out, and the end of it snapped tightly around an overhanging branch with the sound of a whipcrack. “Ta-daaaa!” the blue pony exclaimed, her voice muffled by the vine still in her mouth. “Oo ‘an ‘ing acro’ wi’ ‘is!”

Applejack stared doubtfully for a moment, before simply turning to Twilight and placing a hoof on her shoulder. “Le’s just teleport.”

Twilight gave a shrug. Her horn began to glow, and in a brilliant flash of light, she and the earth pony both disappeared. A split second later, they magically blinked into existence on the other side, a few feet from a slightly startled Zecora.

“C’mon Dash, git on over here,” Applejack waved across at the pegasus.

Rainbow sat there for a moment, seeming to be contemplating something. After a moment, she grinned, reached up and grabbed a firm grip on the vine with her hooves, and took a few steps back.

“She ain’t gonna…” Applejack blinked.

“Yeah, she’s gonna…” Twilight sighed.

Zecora shook her head. “To just what depths will her obsession grow?”

The answer came a few seconds later, when Rainbow Dash got a running start and leapt into the air. “Yahooooo!” she howled, releasing her grip on the vine with her teeth while still holding taught with her hooves. The vine swung her all the way across… and then all the way back.

Dash was grinning quite gleefully as she rocked back and forth on the vine, swinging like a blue pendulum. It seemed she was quite enjoying herself. At least, until Applejack coughed and snapped her out of her revelry. “Er, Dash? Ya know ya can fly, right?”

Dash sighed. “Just let me have my moment, please,” she deadpanned. When Applejack just rolled her eyes, the pegasus regained her grin. After two more swings, she released her grip on the vine, flapped her wings, and casually flew across.

“Well, that took us a bit longer than it shoulda…” Applejack grumbled as Dash landed with the group.

“Sorry, couldn’t resist,” the blue pony smiled sheepishly. “Besides, it was only like ten seconds…”

Applejack glared. “Yeah, but it was ten seconds we coulda used to be helpin’ Winona!”

Rainbow Dash recoiled slightly, her ears falling back. After a moment, she looked down at the dirt. “Yeah… You’re right. I’m sorry…”

Applejack continued to glare for another second or two, before her gaze softened. A faint smile appeared on her face. “It’s fine. I shouldn’t have been so snappy. Besides… watchin’ you swing around like that was kinda funny, ya silly pony…”

“Oh whatever,” Rainbow smirked. “Like you could do any better.”

“Matter o’ fact, Ah can. Ah’m perty durn good with my lasso, and swingin’ round like Darin’ Do would prolly be easy as pie,” the orange mare bragged, tilting her hat as she turned to walk away.

“Oh, well why don’t you put your bits where your mouth is?” Rainbow quipped with a grin, trotting after her friend. “After this is over, we’ll have a rope-swinging contest.”

“Fine, lasso versus vine,” Applejack replied with a smirk.

Twilight and Zecora remained standing still, watching their friends playfully banter as they trotted off. “Do you agree with the observation,” Zecora whispered to Twilight, “That they and married couples are akin?”

“Pretty much,” Twilight shook her head with a smiled. “But that’s to be expected from best friends. Bitter rivals one moment, sharing smiles and laughs the next... Anyway, we’d better catch up,” she said, trotting after her friends. Zecora nodded, and quickly raced to catch up.

“So then we had ta call fer Fluttershy ta come make sure nobody was hurt too bad…” Applejack said as she stepped over a fallen branch amongst the tall grass. The group of friends had been walking now for about thirty minutes, and they were telling jokes and stories to pass the time while they blazed a path through the Everfree Forest. “Thankfully, nobody had more than a few bruises. Still, that put an end ta their ‘Cutie Mark Crusaders Gator Wrangler’ plans.”

“I can’t believe your sister and her friends tried to wrestle Gummy…” Twilight said, trying to suppress a giggle.

“I can! Hah hah!” Dash exclaimed as she flew overhead, not even trying to hold in her laughter. As she ducked under a heavy tree limb, she added: “Though, I can’t believe Gummy actually won!”

“Fun fact: ‘gators’ can come in many styles,” Zecora observed. “In my homeland, we call them crocodiles!” she said, her voice taking on a jokingly mysterious tone. She then smiled playfully, and said: “And here you can find, without looking far, a creature called an alligator gar.”

Rainbow Dash quirked an eyebrow. “Alligator gar? What’s that?”

“It’s a carnivorous fish,” Twilight answered factually. “They have scales like armor, and long tooth-filled mouths, just like an alligator.”

“Yup, Ah been told them ‘gator gar are some pretty nasty critters,” Applejack added. “Ah’ve even heard stuff about ‘em being able ta breathe out of water, though Ah dunno if tha’s true or not.”

“That fish sounds awesome!” Dash proclaimed.

“You may think that ‘gator gar are awesome now…” Zecora looked up to Dash, her expression and tone dark, “But if one manages to bite you? Ow.”

“Pffft,” Dash waved a hoof dismissively. “What are the chances of us stumbling upon some alligator gar while looking for a flower?”

Rainbow Dash kept her hooves over her face, unwilling to look at her friends as she idly hovered a few feet off the ground. “Nopony. Say. A word.”

“A word about what should none of us say?” Zecora asked with a smile. “Do you mean this swamp that now blocks our way?”

Sure enough, the group of friends had been trotting along, only for the wilderness to suddenly transform from a dense forest to a boggy bayou. The solid ground gave way to brackish water which stretched out for quite some distance, though random trees, rocks, and patches of dry land were scattered all around the mire. Vines and moss hung forlornly from the mangrove trees, though since the trees were more spread out due to the water, the bayou was much better lit than the normal forest. The opposite shoreline was a few hundred feet across, where the water gave way to tall grass and twisted trees.

Splash, snap, splash!

A large insect had flown too close the water’s surface, only for a pair of large, crocodilian jaws to suddenly burst forth from mire, snap shut over the bug, and then splash back into the dark water.

“Oh great. Gator gar,” Applejack deadpanned flippantly.

Dash groaned and shook her head. “I told you not to say anything…”

Meanwhile, Twilight had her guidebook hovering near her face, and was observing the swamp from near the water’s edge. “I wish we weren’t in such a hurry. This place would be fascinating to study!” she said. She then let out a small sigh, and asked: “At any rate, how are we all going to get across?”

“Carefully,” Zecora smiled. Twilight slightly raised an eyebrow.

“Lookie there,” Applejack pointed at a large rock in the water near Twilight. She then gestured at another rock a few feet from it. “There’s enough rocks an’ stumps an’ patches of dirt scattered around that me an’ Zecora should be able ta hop, skip, an’ jump our way across. It’ll take awhile, but we should be able ta get across eventually. Meanwhile, Dash can just fly on over, and you can teleport.”

Twilight smiled sheepishly. “Right, uh, I can’t teleport over. With all that tall grass, I can’t see where I’m going, and I’d rather not warp myself into a tree or rock.”

Applejack winced. “Yeah, that’d be pretty bad. Guess you’re hoppin’, skippin’, and jumpin’ with us.”

Zecora trotted closer to the water’s edge. “Just be careful while you jump, hop, and skip. Trust me, you do not want to take a dip,” she said with a smile, despite the grave nature of her warning.

“Right. Welp, might as well get this on over with…” Applejack sighed. After a few deep breaths, she galloped over to the edge, hopped into the air… and landed safely on the nearest rock. She then jumped to the next rock, and then an old log. “Ah, shoot. This is nothin’ to be worried about. Y’all come on ahead.”

Zecora followed after the blonde earth pony, skipping straight to the water’s edge. Her movements were slightly different from Applejack and the other pony’s; even with her cloak on, it was noticeable that she moved with controlled precision, yet relaxed fluidity. The zebra’s movements could almost be described as organized chaos, making her seem even more strange and exotic.

Easily she hopped onto the nearest rock, and landed in a relaxed position. To land a jump like that and make it look so easy, though, had to take amazing muscle control and physical training. Twilight, ever observant, took notice of this. Her own hopping, skipping, and jumping was delayed as she watched her zebra friend progress across the swamp.

“Psst, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash suddenly hissed over the unicorn’s head. Twilight looked up to see a slightly confused blue pegasus looking at her from a few feet in the air. “Shouldn’t you be going too?”

Twilight nodded. “Sorry, got distracted. Well, here goes nothing!” she said. As she trotted towards the edge, she used her telekinesis to pick wrap her saddle bags in purple energy, essentially making them weightless. While it did take up some of her concentration, it also made hopping, skipping, and jumping a whole lot easier.

The quartet of equines found traversing the treacherous swamp to be relatively easier. Rainbow Dash idly flew overhead, ready to catch somebody if they slipped. The other three just kept hopping, skipping, and jumping along, using rocks, stumps, fallen trees, and other objects to avoid the water. Things seemed to be going rather well.

At least, until the gator gar attacked.

Without warning, one of the carnivorous fish suddenly burst forth out of the water. True to its name, it looked almost like the head of a crocodilian creature melded with the long, silver-scaled body of a fish. Jaws wide open and eyes burning with murderous intent, it flew straight at Zecora’s throat.

The zebra became a blur of motion and flowing fabric. In the blink of an eye, Zecora leapt up, spun around, and bucked the wicked fish with enough force to send it sailing several yards through the air before it forcefully hit the water.

The three ponies all just stared. “What?” Zecora asked, once she had regained her balance and noticed their shocked gazes. “Why do you all look upon me so?”

“Dadgum, girl, you could prolly teach me a thing or two ‘bout buckin’…” Applejack observed in awe.

“That. Was. Awesome!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “You gotta show me how to-“

The conversation was interrupted by the gator gar bursting out the water again, ready for round two. And this time, be brought friends.

Three gar leapt forth, intent to make a meal of the ponies. Zecora and Applejack both managed to buck their attackers in the teeth, although Zecora certainly did so with more style. Twilight, though, lacked the physical prowess or strength to fight back, so instead she tried to duck. And in the process, she lost her concentration, and as a result the telekinetic grip on her equipment broke. Suddenly weighed down much more than before, the purple unicorn let out a scream of panic as she lost her balance and fell towards the water.

Rainbow Dash, true to her nature, immediately flew in to try and save her friend. But before she could get to Twilight, the unicorn disappeared in a flash of light just inches from the water’s surface. “Uh oh, where’d she go?!” Dash exclaimed, skidding to a halt in mid-air.

“We’ll find her in a minute! We kinda have other problems right now!” Applejack yelled, bucking another alligator gar in its face as it tried to chomp on her flank. The water around them was now swarming with the carnivorous fish; hopping, skipping, and jumping across was about to become much harder.

“Where am I?” Twilight asked nopony in particular. She was standing in a patch of muddy marsh, surrounded by tall grass and a few trees. “Huh. I guess I must have freaked out and teleported without thinking about. Smart move, Miss Sparkle!” she chided herself. Frowning, she around at her surroundings to try and ascertain her location. “Well, I can’t have gone too far. Maybe I can-”

Twilight finally heard the serpentine hiss coming from right behind her.