• Published 19th Jun 2012
  • 1,757 Views, 155 Comments

Cutting Ties - fic Write Off

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Sins of the Sister

The first light of morning played gently off of the Apple family’s breakfast table. All four of the farm ponies were awake, seemingly unfazed by how early it was. Granny Smith took small bites from an apple tart while Big Mac and Apple Bloom dug in to a freshly prepared fruit salad. Winona lay curled up under the table. Applejack was the only one of the group not seated, electing instead to pace around the kitchen. She put out an ember that had strayed from the fire under the stove as she circled about. Apple Bloom looked up from her plate inquisitively, wiping a bit of grape skin from her mouth before speaking.

“We’re goin’ to market today, ain’t we, sis?” she asked. Apple Bloom already knew the answer, and she was only just managing to hide the excitement in her voice. Applejack had agreed earlier in the week to let her sister have another shot at being a salespony, and Apple Bloom was sure that this time she’d be more successful. She looked up at her big sister, her eyes wide with expectancy.

“Sugarcube,” Applejack began slowly. She stopped her walking and turned to look at her sister. Apple Bloom’s smile faltered slightly, knowing that Applejack always prefaced bad news in this manner. “Sugarcube, ah caint take ya’ to the market today. Ah’ve gotta’ attend to some things that came up in town,” she admitted, hanging her head a bit as she finished the sentence. Apple Bloom’s entire disposition changed after this revelation.

“But, sis, y’all said we were gonna’ sell some of the harvest today! What’s more important than that?” she asked forcefully, slamming a hoof on the table for emphasis. The sudden noise caused Granny Smith to jump in her chair and knock over her glass of apple juice. Apple Bloom watched, wincing as the glass fell to the floor and shattered. Winona jumped up and started barking, equally surprised at the turn of events.

“Apple Bloom!” Applejack scolded. “Y’all know ya caint go ‘round startlin’ Granny like that.” Her voice softened after this. “But, just try to understand, ah really caint cancel these other plans. Ah’m sorry. Maybe you cain come along next time?” Applejack asked, smiling.

“But that’s not fair,” Apple Bloom retorted, climbing onto the breakfast table to be eye to eye with her sister. She never liked to have Applejack looking down at her. “Y’all almost never let me come to the market with you, and when you finally do, we have ta cancel. What’s so important, sis’?” she asked genuinely, her eyes fixed on Applejack’s.

“Ah...” Applejack began, her eyes inadvertently darting away from her sister. “Ah have to go deposit some bits in the Ponyville branch bank,” she said, her voice faltering slightly. Apple Bloom jumped on this.

“Y’all are a terrible liar, sis! Ah cain see it in your face, and why couldn’ you just go the bank some other time anyway?” she asked interrogatorily, surprising her sister slightly. Applejack hardened her face and turned to her brother.

“Mac, I ain’t got time fer this. Cain you just make shore y’all start harvesting the north field this mornin’?” she asked evenly.

“Eeyup,” Big Mac responded, giving Apple Bloom a look to try to calm her down. She rarely attempted to go against Big Mac.

“All ah’m sayin’ is that somethin’ stinks in the country of Equestria,” Apple Bloom added. Applejack stood still for a moment. She sighed deeply before grabbing a pouch full of bits from the counter and throwing it in her saddlebags. She opened the front door and began to canter down the dirt path outside. Big Mac turned and glared at his little sister.

“Have fun!” Granny Smith yelled from her spot at the table; oblivious to the details of the event that had just transpired.

Applejack never turned at the fork that would take her to Ponyville. She kept following the path, mentally preparing herself for the next few minutes.

Just keep a level head, and everythin’s gonna’ be alright, she told herself. You haven’t had any trouble before, and nothin’s gonna’ change today. Her heart began to beat slightly faster with each hoofstep she took. The scenery around the path was laden with tall trees and heavy underbrush, but she easily picked out her destination. She could see the old house standing off from the path, only a few hundred feet away. Her heart was racing, but she moved forward calmly, her mind running through a thousand scenarios all at once.

Applejack saw two pairs of hoofprints leading to the decrepit home’s door, and she knew she was running late. She increased her pace, and she was soon standing just outside the once—beautiful farmhouse. She tried to swallow, but her mouth had gone dry. She blinked a few times and then pushed open the door leading inside, the hinges squealing as she did so.

The house was stark, though that might have been because Applejack could barely make out anything inside. The tall canopy of trees afforded little light for windows to illuminate the home, and she was sure that there wasn’t really much to look at regardless. The silence inside the house was broken as the sound of hooves drew closer to her. After a moment, two large stallions appeared from the darkness, each smiling widely at Applejack.

“Gentlecolts,” she addressed them. The two muscular pegasus ponies looked at each other and sniggered.

“Hardly,” the one to her left replied. His black mane was slicked back, and he wore a brown jacket over his shining blue coat. He had a heavy accent, one that Applejack didn’t recognize, but had not intention of questioning.

“Yeah, hardly,” the other colt added. He was a deal bigger than the blue colt, standing at least as tall as Big Mac. His coat was gray, and he had a short brown mane. His eyes never pointed the same direction, but one of them always seemed to be trained on Applejack. The pair of colts both concealed their cutie marks; Applejack figured it was to make identifying them more difficult.

“Bucky, go stand by the door,” the blue colt instructed. His accomplice nodded and circled around the lone mare, stopping a few feet behind her in front of the home’s entrance. He unfurled his wings and began to gnaw at a few stray feathers.

“Caint we just get this over with, Salvatoro?” Applejack asked, her calm demeanor not reflecting her inner panic. “Ah’ve got yer money, so let’s just do this.”

“Heh, whatever you want Ms. Applejack. Drop the bits halfway between us, and I’ll come and collect them,” Salvatoro explained. “Even a pony like you can understand those instructions, right?” Applejack’s legs tensed up. She had to hold herself back. She could easily take Salvatoro down, but the addition of Bucky made her chances of doing so seem slim. She withdrew the bag of bits from her saddlebags, holding the simple pouch in her mouth. After taking a few tentative steps forward, she dropped the bag unceremoniously and retreated to her previous position. The smile on Salvatoro’s face was gut—wrenching. She had to fight every urge she had to run and buck him straight in the jaw.

“There, was that so hard?” he asked.

“Yeah, was that hard, Applejack?” Bucky chimed in from behind her, earning himself a scowl from Salvatoro.

The blue pegasus began to walk forward slowly, his gaze never drifting away from Applejack’s. His brown eyes were cold, impassive. He picked up the pouch from the center of the floor without breaking eye contact, and took a few calculated steps backward. Salvatoro then opened the bag and began to take a mental count of the money enclosed within it. Applejack looked on, her heart beating so hard she feared it must be making audible noise. After a few tense minutes of near silence, Salvatoro looked up from his task.

“Lady, do you take me for an idiot?” he asked, his voice resounding with anger. His wings had flitted out during the outburst. Applejack had half a mind to answer the question truthfully, but she bit her tongue.

“Ah don’t understand what you mean,” she said, her voice emotionless.

“Of course you don’t,” he replied smugly. “I don’t know if you thought Bucky would be doing the counting or something, but you must think I’m a mule if you want me to believe that this is enough to cover your flank. Where’s the rest of my money?” he asked, his voice changing to an almost polite tone.

“It’s all there, ah counted it this mornin’” Applejack replied, angered at the suggestion that they were the ones who were being cheated, “Four hundred bits worth of ten bit coins.”

“Ah, but you forget, Applejack, you showed up late to this meeting, and I’m afraid that, as you know, time is money. Now, Bucky and I can never get back the thirty minutes that we spent waiting for you to show up. You can’t really put a price on that, now can you? I think it’s fair to say that a bit for each minute will suffice, for now. So, thirty bits, multiplied by two since there are two of us, comes out to—”

“Sixty bits?” Applejack asked in annoyance.

“Good, you can at least do some math, it seems. That’s more than I gave you credit for,” Salvatoro spat. “So, how would you like to pay for that?” he asked, his smile growing wider.

“But ah only brought enough bits to cover today’s payment!” Applejack yelled, stomping her hoof. She narrowed her eyes at the blue colt across from her. “Y’all ain’t gonna’ get another bit out of me.” Salvatoro straightened up a little at the change of the conversation’s tone.

“I may have phrased it as a request, Applejack, but I wasn’t really giving you an option. I guess you need to have it spelled out. Give me the rest of my money.” Salvatoro still hadn’t looked away from the green eyes of Applejack.

“Ah ain’t payin’” she answered.

“And I really thought you were going to make my morning easy, Applejack. It’s a real shame. You’ve never given me any trouble in the past.” Salvatoro finally broke the lock between the two pony’s eyes. “Bucky, maybe you could help show Applejack here the error of her ways?” Applejack’s eyes widened. She spun around in time to see the grey colt’s powerful back hooves extending to meet her face. Her legs buckled and she fell onto her side.

Applejack had no idea how much time had passed when she finally came to. Her entire body was sore. She touched her face with her hooves, and immediately cringed when she felt her nose. Applejack could tell that her coat was caked with blood around her snout, and she knew she must look terrible. She staggered back onto all fours, managing to regain her balance after a few seconds. Gazing through one of the grime covered windows, she could see that it was a little after midday. She felt sick. Her insides were all wound up from stress, and she wanted nothing more than to get back home and rinse herself off.

Applejack found her hat near where she had fallen, and put it back on. She felt safer for some reason, like the father who used to wear it was actually there with her. She looked around for her saddlebags, finding them near the doorway to the farmhouse. They were a little tattered where they had been ripped open, and their contents, which had consisted of nothing more than an apple pastry and some water, were now missing. Dejected, she set off for home, not knowing where else to go.

“Ah jus’ don’t get why Applejack was actin’ so funny this mornin’, do you Big Mac?” Apple Bloom asked. The two of them were in the northern field of Sweet Apple Acres,. Big Mac was doing his best to make up for Applejack’s absence by working faster than usual, and his normally red coat was more of a splotchy maroon color as a result of his sweat. Apple Bloom trailed behind him picking up any stray apples.

“N—Nnnope,” Big Mac replied between bucking trees. He was panting heavily, and Apple Bloom wished she was big enough to help her brother more. The pair had begun work almost immediately after Applejack had left, and they hadn’t stopped since. It was surely afternoon by now. Apple Bloom looked around, but she couldn’t see her sister anywhere.

“Y’all think she’s alright, don’tcha?” she asked.

“Eeyup,” Big Mac answered.

“Do you have any idea where she might be?” Apple Bloom asked, stopping in place to look up at her brother. Big Macintosh similarly stopped what he was doing to turn and frown at his little sister.

“Nnnope, and we’re never gonna’ finish if ya’ keep asking these silly questions. Applejack is a big mare, and she cain take care of herself. Nothin’s gonna’ happen, I—”

“Mac, look!” Apple Bloom shouted, jumping and pointing at the crest of a hill behind her brother. “Ah cain see her from here. Hey, Applejack!” she yelled at her sister. Applejack didn’t seem to have noticed. Apple Bloom ran towards her, her short legs pounding away despite how tired she was. She was almost to her sister, just a few more yards. Apple Bloom jumped and wrapped Applejack in a tight hug, happy to see her after the awkward morning.

“Ow! Get off Apple Bloom!” she yelled, throwing her little sister off of her. She hadn’t been paying attention and was caught of guard by the filly’s sudden hug.

“S—sis?” Apple Bloom said softly after a moment, her eyes growing wide. She was about to mumble something when she noticed the blood around her sister’s snout. Her mouth fell open involuntarily. She couldn’t take her eyes off of the splotches that matched the hue of Big Mac’s coat. She looked up and saw that Applejack’s mane was dirty and matted with sweat. “Sis, what happened ta you?” Apple Bloom turned to face where her big brother was standing a ways away. “Big Mac, I think AJ’s hurt, come quick!” The burly bronco looked up, before running up the small hill to meet up with his two sisters.

“Ah’m fine, hey, stop looking at me like that, Big Mac,” Applejack demanded weakly. She looked tired, but she was trying not to show it.

“What happened at the bank, sis?” Apple Bloom asked, her voice quavering. She looked completely shocked at the situation.

“It sure don’t look like you went to the bank, AJ,” Big Mac added.

“Are y’all accusing me of somethin’?” Applejack asked, her voice gaining back some strength. She stood up a little taller. “Ah,” she stopped to cough deeply, and Apple Bloom thought she saw her sister wipe something away from her mouth, “ah’m fine. The last thing ah need if fer y’all to start questionin’ me all the sudden like this. Leave me alone.”

“Applejack, talk to me, yer brother,” Big Macintosh begged.

“Ah need to be alone fer a bit, alright? Let me be,” Applejack said definitively. She began to trot off into the eastern field.

“Aren’tcha gonna’ go after her, Big Mac?” Apple Bloom asked, sounding a little delirious.

“C’mon Apple Bloom, let’s get back ta work. Yer sis’ll come around,” he answered simply. He began to plod off to the section of trees where they had stopped working.

“But ya’ saw how she looked, didn’tcha? She’s in trouble and she needs our help,” Apple Bloom asserted while trying to drag her brother in the direction her sister had bolted off in.

“It don’t matter how much she needs our help; she has to want it.” With this, Big Mac scooped up his little sister and placed her on his back, still walking back to their harvesting spot.

Applejack didn’t want to think anymore. She hadn’t stopped thinking since early that morning, and she could add her brain to the list of her sore muscles. She was agitated at everything. She was mad at herself for getting knocked out. She was mad at Bucky and Salvatoro for their actions. She was mad at her family for trying to help her when she could obviously handle herself fine. But most of all, she was mad at the fact that she wasn’t in control. She hated not being in the driver’s seat in her own life.

She ate a few apples on her way through the orchard, the fruit being the only nourishment her stomach had received all day. She was feeling lightheaded, but she didn’t want to sit down. She had to do something, anything to take her mind off of her situation. She looked around and saw a number of empty buckets placed out under the trees in preparation of Applebuck season. Applejack smiled slightly for the first time all day and walked near the base of one of the trees. She turned around and, leaning forward on her hooves, kicked her legs powerfully back at the trunk of the tree. Nothing happened.

Applejack tightened her expression and kicked her legs back again, this time trying to put her entire body into the motion. Her front hooves slipped in the dirt, and the farmer fell to the ground with an audible thud. She was livid now. She got back onto her hooves, and imagined Salvatoro was standing behind her much the way she had been standing behind Bucky hours earlier. She braced her front legs again, this time taking a moment more to set herself, and kicked the tree with the entirety of her being. A second later, she heard the consoling sound of apples dropping into the baskets. Applejack grinned.

She moved to the next tree and repeated the process, and she did so for ten trees more. Her mind became set on its task, and soon she was alone, distanced even from herself. Nothing mattered but what was happening at that moment. It was bliss for Applejack. She hadn’t felt this way in ages. She didn’t have to consciously think about anything, her mind was on a sort of autopilot.

It was in moments like this that memories would come to Applejack. She never spent mush time reminiscing, but obviously her brain felt it was important to do so. As she proceeded down the line of trees, her thoughts drifted backwards in time, fixing themselves a few years ago before harvest season. Applejack kept bucking, but her brain played memories like a movie as she continued.

Losing their parents had been tough on Applejack and Big Macintosh. The emotional high of welcoming Apple Bloom to the family had been overshadowed by the toll of saying farewell to mom and dad. They still had their grandmother, but she was too old to work anymore. It meant that Applejack and Big Mac had to assume their parent’s roles almost overnight. Donning the hat worn by her father, Applejack had taken over as head of Sweet Apple Acres, and she and Big Mac worked well together. The first harvest had been a huge success, and the Apples had felt that their luck might just be turning around.

Then came the winter

Applejack could only run the farm on intuition, and she hadn’t thought to set aside extra money to get through the non—planting months. Times got real tough real quick, and soon there had been nothing left to keep the farm afloat. Applejack had tried to get a loan from the banks, but they turned her away because of her age. She didn’t know where else to turn. Apple Bloom cried constantly, not even a year old yet, and Big Mac joined her in tears more often than not. Something needed to be done.

Applejack had thought that the pegasus who had landed in her yard was a gift from Celestia herself. He saw the conditions of the family, and he claimed that he could help them. The loan sounded great, and Applejack knew that she could easily pay it off with time. Soon there was food on the table again, and it looked like nothing but better days lay ahead.

That year flashed through Applejack’s head in an instant. Her life had been shaped in those months, for better and for worse. She stopped her work in the orchard after the memories washed over her and looked up at the sky. The sun was nearly setting, and she had to get back to the farmhouse before dark or risk getting lost. She set off in the direction she had come from. What had transpired in the morning was nothing more than a distant recollection.

Applejack never told her family about what had happened, and the other three didn’t ask. Big Mac had managed to instill in Apple Bloom the idea that her sister needed to keep some things to herself, and so she managed to keep her curiosity at bay. Granny Smith, of course, saw nothing wrong with the situation. Applejack had healed up within a week, and life continued on as always.

The sight of her sister had been too jarring for Apple Bloom to ignore, however. She knew not to pester Applejack, but she had to talk to somepony to see if maybe they knew about what was going on. She decided to seek out the smartest pony she could think of, hoping that maybe they could quell her fears.

The door to the library was open when she arrived, so Apple Bloom ventured inside without knocking. The inside of the library was a bit of a mess; various books littered the floor, and a number of different pieces of paper were strewn about. Twilight Sparkle was standing over a podium at the opposite end of the room, engrossed in an old—looking book.

“Hey Twilight, whatcha’ readin’?” Apple Bloom called across the room. Twilight jumped at the voice before turning around and smiling at her guest.

“Oh, it’s just some magic literature, it’s not really important,” she answered. Twilight motioned for her to come closer. Apple Bloom did so, and soon the two ponies were standing directly across from each other. “So, what brings you to the library today?” Twilight’s face lit up at that moment. “Oh, are you checking out a book? That would be great! I’ve got a whole lot of books I think a filly like you might like! Oh, nopony’s checked out a book in ages, this is wonderful!”

“Uh, Twilight?”

“And you can even read here if you want. I know that it can get pretty noisy around town, so I’ve set up a nice reading room, and I can even have Spike make us some tea if you’d like that!”


“And maybe you’re special talent has to do with books! You should bring the Cutie Mark Crusaders over to have a reading day, and maybe Rarity and Applejack and Rainbow will want to come too! Does Applejack even read? I mean, I know she can read, but it’s not good to go for long periods without at least reading something.”

“Twilight, ah’m not here to check out a book,” Apple Bloom yelled when the bookish mare finally paused to take a breath. Twilight frowned slightly. “But, um, maybe I cain get one some other time?” she added in a softer tone, returning the smile to Twilight Sparkle’s face.

“That sounds great, Apple Bloom. So, why are you here then?” Apple Bloom was silent for a moment before answering the question.

“Twi’, ah’m worried about Applejack,” she admitted. Twilight looked puzzled.

“What do you mean? Is she sick? I haven’t heard anything about her in a while.”

“No, it’s nothin’ like that,” Apple Bloom assured. “It’s just... well, she’s been actin’ differnt lately. She lied to us about where she was goin’ one mornin’, and then she left the house with a bagful of money. She came back later, and,” Apple Bloom paused for a moment, not sure which details to share or conceal, “the money was all gone. She even had a story, but it didn’t really add up too well.”

“Is Big Mac aware of all this?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, but he told me to just let things run their course,” Apple Bloom replied. “Ah’m just real worried is all. You know my sis doesn’t lie about anythin’, so that’s what’s got me a little on edge.” Twilight stayed very silent for a number of moments, her appearance one of a pony deep in thought.

“I don’t really know what to tell you, Apple Bloom. That doesn’t sound like your sister at all. Will you keep me posted on everything that’s going on? I’ll try to see if there’s any way I can help,” she promised.

“Ah definitely will, Twilight,” Apple Bloom responded.

“Good. Now, while you’re here, maybe you’d like to look at a few mystery novels? They can be really fun,” Twilight beamed as Apple Bloom sighed.

Weeks passed without incident. The Apple family was still focused almost totally on Applebuck season, and the three siblings worked hard to collect as many of the tantalizing apples as possible before the season was out. They worked daily, getting up early and then going off to the field, coming back at sundown tired and drenched in sweat. These were the weeks Apple Bloom loved the most. School was out, and she was helping out her two favorite ponies. She’d almost forgotten about the weird day a few weeks back.

Apple Bloom got up the next day energized, ready to tackle the next portion of the east field. She walked downstairs carefully and took her seat at the breakfast table. Big Macintosh was already present, spooning grits into his bowl. Apple Bloom was still half asleep, but she noticed her sister silently slinking out of the kitchen from the corner of her eye. It took her a moment to register this.

“Big Mac, where’s Applejack goin’?” Apple Bloom asked, yawning after finishing the question.

“Don’t know,” he admitted. Apple Bloom blinked.

“You’re just lettin’ her leave? What about what happened last time?” she shouted, getting up from her seat.

“Applejack is a full—grown mare, she cain take care of herself. She got better last time, and maybe now she won’t get hurt. Ah ain’t one ta tell her what ta do,” Big Mac replied, his face still impassive.

“What, so if ah just left right now you wouldn’ worry or nothin’?” Apple Bloom questioned her brother.

“You’re not yer sister, AB. You’re still just a filly. Applejack can do as she pleases. Ah caint stop her anyway,” he conceded. Apple Bloom agreed internally. Big Mac was a pushover when it came to dealing with Applejack. She figured she might have a shot at stopping her big sister though, and besides, Twilight had told her to keep an eye on her.

“Uhhhh, big brother, ah have to go to tha library today. Twilight said she had a real cool, um, mystery... novel... thing,” Apple Bloom lied. “Ya’ think maybe we cain take the day off?”

“Well, without you an’ yer sis, ah caint get much done. Might as well just take the day off. What am I supposed ta do, though?” he asked.

“Ah don’t know, talk to Granny Smith or somethin’. She’s got loads of stories you’ve probably never heard,” Apple Bloom said, already halfway out the door. Big Mac sighed and looked at his grandmother, who seemed very interested in the toast on her plate.

“Well, ah guess it’s just you and me, Granny,” Big Mac said.

“Yep, it is best to chew the peas, Manny,” the aging mare answered slowly, thinking that her grandson must have gone crazy to say something so ridiculous.

Apple Bloom caught up to Applejack easily. She stayed in the woods off of the main path, trying to evade her sister’s gaze when she occasionally checked behind herself. Applejack had on her saddlebags, which had certainly seen better days. Apple Bloom didn’t see any money on her, but it could be hidden in the bags. She tailed her sister for what felt like half a day, though it couldn’t really have been more than an hour or so. Apple Bloom would catch a glimpse of her sister’s face every now and then, and she was sure that Applejack seemed worried about something.

The canopy above Apple Bloom grew thicker as her sister continued on. Applejack’s pace began to slow, and she mumbled something to herself that was out of earshot for her sister. After a few more seconds, she looked to her left and then walked into the woods. Apple Bloom watched as Applejack walked up to and then entered a creepy farmhouse that she had never noticed before. She swallowed, wiped a little sweat from her face, and followed her sister’s hoofprints.

She wasn’t going to actually venture inside the home; that would be too risky. Apple Bloom did put her ear up to the door, however, and was able to make out some of the conversation inside. She strained and tried to listen to as much as she possibly could from her position.

Applejack was standing in front of Bucky and Salvatoro as she had many times before. Salvatoro was garbed in a finer jacket than during their previous encounter, but Bucky looked as dull as ever. Applejack had been preparing what she would say in this situation for weeks. This was her time to stand up.

“Ms. Applejack, I see your pretty face healed up quite nicely. It’s a pity we had to do anything to it last time, but you really gave us no other option,” Salvatoro began.

“Spare me the pleasantries, Salvo. Let’s get down ta what we’re both here for,” Applejack spoke back at the pegasus. His words had hardly registered with her. She was singularly focused.

“Well, it seems somepony is a little tense today. I’m only trying to be friendly,” he replied evenly. “But, you always have been one for business. Yes, let’s get down to it then. Bucky, get the door.” The gray colt nodded and made to start towards the house’s entryway, but Applejack held a hoof up in protest.

“Ah don’t think that’ll be necessary, Salvatoro. Ah said it last week, and ah think you mighta’ misheard me, so here it is again: ah ain’t payin’.” She smiled confidently at the ponies across from her, who looked genuinely surprised for a few seconds before Bucky finally spoke up.

“Should I kick her in the mouth again, boss?” he asked, each of his eyes trained on a different pony.

“No, no, I don’t think you should do that Bucky,” Salvatoro said. His expression was indiscernible. “Ms. Applejack here doesn’t want to pay anymore; that’s fine. She doesn’t have to give us anymore bits.” The room grew silent for a moment; the only sound was the heavy breathing from the towering grey colt. “You’re free to go, Applejack,” Salvatoro said, his face still unreadable.

Applejack hadn’t been expecting things to go like this. She was sure there would be some sort of scuffle between the three of them, but was content at least that she wouldn’t have to hide any new cuts or bruises from her family. She backed up, still not trusting the other two colts that much. She reached behind her and opened the home’s door before trotting out into the warmth of midday.

Apple Bloom hadn’t been able to understand everything that had been said. She could comprehend a bit of speech from her sister, but the only other thing she could get was that there were two other colts in the house. The clearest statement she had heard was her sister’s assertion that she wasn’t paying, but what did that even mean? She assumed it had to do with the bag of bits from almost a month ago, yet there was no way that she could tell for sure. Apple Bloom did know, however, that she had to go to Twilight Sparkle’s library, if for no other reason than to solidify her alibi.

“I’ll admit, Apple Bloom, that really doesn’t sound good at all,” Twilight stated after hearing the foal’s retelling of the story. “You didn’t actually see anything though, did you?” she asked before taking a sip of tea. Apple Bloom had approached Twilight under the guise of spending some time reading, but she soon brought up the events of the morning. The pair was seated in the library’s reading room, which, though cramped, was cozy and welcoming. It was nice to sit next to Twilight on the couch and sip tea, surrounded by a few shelves of exciting looking books. Apple Bloom felt safe talking in here.

“Ah was only able to listen at the door, Twi’. Mah sis was pretty close by, so she was the only pony ah could hear clearly,” she said. “Do you know what she might have meant about payin’?” Apple Bloom asked, looking up at Twilight Sparkle with her big eyes. The librarian wanted to help her, to at least be able to offer some comfort to the filly, but she was at a total loss.

“I really can’t tell for sure. I’ve got a number of theories, but that’s all they are at this point. I wish there was something more I could tell you, but,” Twilight looked down, “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, don’t be, Twilight. Y’all are a really good listener and all that. Ah know you’re tryin’ ta help me out as best ya can,” Apple Bloom responded, putting a hoof softly on Twilight’s shoulder. “Yer guess is as good as mine, right now.” Twilight smiled a little and leaned forward to hug her.

“Be safe, Apple Bloom. I appreciate you tailing your sister, but please, don’t do it again, alright?” she asked quietly. Apple Bloom nodded in agreement.

The days all run together when you do the same thing for weeks at a time. Applebuck season was always like one long day for the Apple family, each session of work only broken up by a short rest. Every morning followed the same pattern, and the rest of their waking hours deviated very little. Occasionally something interesting would break up the monotony; Big Macintosh might buck a tree too hard and knock a weak trunk over, or Granny Smith might cook up a weird family recipe for lunch. They family was confident they would be able to harvest all of the trees this year, but it would still take time.

Their task was made easier when they walked into the east field a few mornings later. Applejack and Big Mac stood opposite each other, and after a moment of setting themselves, each pony kicked the tree behind them. Apple Bloom prepared to run and pick up any stray apples, but there didn’t seem to be any. In fact, no apples seemed to have fallen at all. The three siblings looked at each other, an unspoken question resounding in each of their heads.

“What’s goin’ on?” Apple Bloom yelled to her brother and sister. “Are the apples not ripe or somethin’?”

“Nnnope,” Big Mac answered, pointing one of his long legs at the top of the tree he was under. Apple Bloom tried to see what he was pointing at, but she couldn’t see anything. It took her a moment to realize what that meant.

“Land sakes, the trees ain’t got any apples in ‘em!” Applejack yelled, her eyes wide in bewilderment. She craned her neck to look around at the other surrounding trees, and each had similarly barren branches. “Big Mac, go around an’ count up the trees that’re missin’ fruit,” Applejack instructed. Her brother nodded and began to canter through this section of the orchard, his eyes fixed on the trees.

“Sixty, exactly sixty trees are missin’ apples,” he called back after a minute of counting. “Sure is an odd number, ain’t it?”

“What in... how could this happen? Do y’all think the soil’s bad out here or somethin’? This field hasn’t given us any problems before,” Applejack said, her voice ripe with suspicion.

“Sis, it looks like somepony mooched the apples off of us. The branches are all snapped where there should be fruit. Besides, you’ve been through this field before today. Hasn’t there been apples here until this mornin’?” Apple Bloom asked, her face taut in confusion.

“Yeah, yeah you’re right AB. In fact, ah think I saw these trees just yesterday doin’ fine. Consarnit! Who would do a thing like this?” Applejack spat, stomping a hoof forcefully in frustration.

They couldn’t really have done this, could they? Applejack asked herself internally. Salvatoro’s got money coming in from all over Equestria, and I already paid him back at least four times over. He doesn’t need my measly loan. Applejack decided to write this off as a weird coincidence. Colts would sometimes sneak onto the farm and steal apples. That wasn’t uncommon.

“Might just’ve been some kids or somethin’,” Applejack said after a moment. “No use getting too worked up about it. Let’s move on to the next section of the field and keep goin’,” she suggested. Big Mac followed without a word, but Apple Bloom stayed behind for a moment. She knew that a few school ponies might take an apple or two, but even if her entire class from Ponyville Elementary visited the farm, they couldn’t finish off sixty trees worth of apples.

She shook herself after a moment and trotted to join her siblings, who had already resumed Applebucking in the next field. She made a note of the day’s odd happening and refocused her mind on helping out.

The season was almost over. The Apples had faced a few setbacks, but this Applebuck season was altogether one of the best they’d ever had. Apple Bloom was a little bit happy that today would be the last day of actual harvest. It was fun to work with the family, but it got to be tiring after so long. After today they would start sorting and storing the harvest, and then they’d start shipping out their bigger orders before selling the rest of the crop in the Ponyville market.

Breakfast was the same as it had been for what felt like months. Granny Smith had made up various fruit dishes and pastries, and the four Apples were all happily digging in to their respective plates. Applejack was shoveling chunks of melon into her mouth, stopping only occasionally to drink from her glass. There wasn’t much conversation. The Apples always said that a good meal was accompanied only by the sounds of chewing, and this was certainly a good meal.

“Sis?” Big Macintosh’s asked in his deep voice, causing the three mares also seated at the table to look up at him. “Ah know it’s askin’ a lot, but do you think ya’ could let me off of work t’day?” He looked down at his plate, not wanting to make eye contact with his sister.

“Mac, this ain’t an office or nothin’, of course you cain take off. Apple Bloom an’ ah were gonna’ finish up the last few trees today anyway, so it’s no big loss if ya’ wanna’ do somethin’ else,” she smiled widely at her brother, who returned the expression. “If ah may ask, what’s the occasion?”

“Well,” Big Mac looked down again, his already red cheeks growing a little brighter, “Miss Cheerilee wants to see me, an’ I haven’t had a chance to get over to her all summer.” He looked genuinely embarrassed, which was in stark contrast to his natural demeanor.

“Wait, are you still seein’ my teacher?” Apple Bloom asked, cocking an eyebrow. She giggled a second later. “Aw, that’s real sweet, Big Mac. Heh, she asks about you sometimes in class.” Big Macintosh’s ears perked up at this. Apple Bloom proceeded to clear her throat and try out her best impression of Cheerilee. “‘How’s you’re brother doing, Apple Bloom? Is he still working hard out at the farm?’” She accompanied this by fluttering her eyes, eliciting a laugh from her older sister. “‘Oh how I wish he would sweep me up in his hooves and kiss me like in those romance movies.’” Applejack was now laughing deeply, having to gasp for breath between chuckles.

“Hey, she does not say that,” Big Macintosh retorted, his face now noticeably redder than usual.

“Wouldn’t ya’ like it if she did, though?” Apple Bloom asked, barely stifling her own mirth. Her brother was shooting her daggers.

“Aw, lighten up, Big Mac. Yer sis is just havin’ a little fun is all. Shucks, I didn’t even know you two were a thing,” Applejack admitted.

“Well, it’s not really official. Look, cain ah just be on my way?” Big Macintosh asked, sounding only a little annoyed as opposed to angry. He got up from his place at the table and made his way out of the house as quickly as possible.

“Shore thing, Cassanova,” Apple Bloom called after him, educing more laughter from Applejack.

“I cain hardly believe Little Macintosh has a fillyfirend; seems like just yesterday he was playin’ with yer dolls, Applejack. Remember that?” Granny Smith asked, giggling to herself.

“I definitely do, Gran.”


The rest of the morning passed uneventfully. Apple Bloom was happy to just spend some time with her sister, and the two of them talked for a while, electing to work at a leisurely pace in the field. Applejack asked a lot of questions about Cheerilee, and Apple Bloom felt like her sister was almost being a little protective of their brother. Her position as head of the farm often led her to step into the role of ‘big brother’, regardless of age or gender. Applejack has always been a leader, and Apple Bloom wouldn’t have it any other way.

As the last apples fell from the last tree in Sweet Apple Acres, the two sisters lay back under one of the tall apple trees and rested. Applejack let her little sister wear her hat, and the two of them started talking about whatever came up. Their conversation was cut short, however, when the dinner bell sounded from the house.

“AJ, there’s no way Granny made dinner this early, right?” Apple Bloom asked, holding the hat up over her eyes. Applejack removed the Stetson from her sister and put it back on her own head as she got to her hooves.

“No, it’s hardly even noon now. She must need me for somethin’. Probably a package ah gotta’ sign for,” she said. “C’mon Apple Bloom, let’s head back and see what’s goin’ on.” The two ponies set off at a quick canter towards their house. It was only a five minute trip or so, and soon enough the sisters burst through the kitchen door and into their destination. Apple Bloom immediately wished they hadn’t.

“Applejack, your brother, he...” Granny Smith stammered, her legs shaking more fiercely than usual. She pointed at the colt’s hulking figure, though he couldn’t have been missed. Big Macintosh lay where the kitchen table would normally have been, though Granny Smith must have moved it. The first thing Applejack saw was that he was breathing, which allayed her first round of fears. She wasn’t ready to bury another Apple any time soon.

Her eyes then started picking up details. Her brother had a deep gash on the side of his head, but it looked like it had stopped bleeding. His side was dotted with purple bruises in the shape of hooves. Applejack counted at least fifteen before stopping. One of Big Mac’s eyes was swollen, and he had a few small cuts on his back hooves that he must have received from trying to fight back.

“Big Mac!” Apple Bloom screamed, her eyes wide in terror and her mouth agape. She galloped over to her brother’s head and was trying to wake him up. “C’mon, you caint just lay there, Mac, you have to do somethin’!”

“Wha..” Big Macintosh breathed, his eyes shooting open for a second. “Am I home?” he asked, coughing after he got the question out.

“Yes, of course you are,” Applejack answered anemically. “Tell me how you feel.”

“’Bout the same as I look, I guess,” Big Mac answered, forcing his face into a half smile. It did little to ease the three mares around him.

“What in the hay happened to you?” Apple Bloom shouted, her heart pounding as she phrased the question. She was standing right next to her brother, but she had lost any regard she had for controlling her volume.

“Never did get to Cheerilee’s,” he began, taking a few deep breaths. He rolled over and finally sat back on his hooves. “Ah hope y’all know ah’m not really in that bad shape. This guy hurts a mite,” he gestured to the cut on the side of his face, “but ah should heal up fine.” Applejack frowned.

“Well ah’m glad you’re all right, Mac, but please, tell us what happened to you,” she said sternly. Big Mac grimaced.

“Ah don’t know if Apple Bloom should hear it,” he answered back starkly.

“Hey, ah’m a part of this family too, and I deserve to hear what happened!” she contended. Applejack looked between her two siblings before letting out a sigh and nodding.

“Alright, ah guess. Ya’ see, ah was walkin’ to Cheerilee’s place, it’s outside of Ponyville, so I took a shortcut on a little trail between here and there. Ah didn’t even get halfway before ah heard somethin’ russlin’ in the bushes nearby. Ah tried to pick up my pace, but it was no use. I heard some colt say somethin’, and then a pile of ponies jumped on me. One of ‘em caught me in the head with somethin’ sharp, and ah kinda’ blacked out right then,” the colt explained, pausing occasionally to cough or take a breath. The silence in the room was tangible for a minute.

“Then how’d ya’ get back here?” Applejack asked quizzically

“Ah cain answer that,” Granny Smith said, stepping forward a little. “Right before ah rang that dinner bell, I heard a carriage comin’ up to the house. I figgered is must be some package or somethin’ for you, so ah went to go get a look at it. Right as I opened the door, ah saw some colt pushin’ Big Mac out of the side of the wagon before they got the heck out of Dodge,” she recalled.

“Well, I’m glad everypony’s alright. Big Mac, I cain call for Nurse Redheart and have her out here in a jiffy, do ya’ want that?” she asked, looking over her brother again. He got onto his hooves after a second before shaking his head.

“Nnnope. Ah’m really fine. This cut here needs to be washed out, but there ain’t nothin’ else wrong with me,” he contended, walking around to show that his legs were all still working. “Ah just want to know what all of this was about,” he admitted, his voice dropping. “Ah mean, those colts could’ve killed me if they wanted to,” he said grimly, receiving a gasp from Apple bloom. “What’re they after?” he asked genuinely. His youngest sister stepped forward, unable to hold herself back any longer.

“Applejack,” she began, “do you think that this has to do with—”

“Highwaymen!” Granny Smith yelled. “This is just like what happened back when my daddy ran this farm. First y’all tell me a field’s worth of apples are missin’, and now Big Mac’s been attacked; there’s only one logical conclusion.” Applejack looked nervously at her grandmother, beads of sweat beginning to form on her brow. “Us Apples,” Granny Smith began, “are under a curse!” Applejack exhaled at this.

“Now Granny, I really don’t think that makes much sense at all,” Big Macintosh said, trying to understand his grandmother’s claim.

“Aw, ponyfeathers! An evil presence doesn’t want us to have this land! It’s tryin’ to force us away somewhere else, and there’s only one thing to do about that,” she explained. She grabbed Apple Bloom and slung the filly on her back, taking creaking steps out into the living room. “C’mon, little Apple, we need to prepare for the warding ritual!”

“What? Granny, wait! Ah have to talk to Applejack,” Apple Bloom cried as her grandmother took her away from the kitchen.

“There’s no time! Go get your bunny suit from upstairs and meet me back here in two minutes,” the elderly mare yelled. Big Mac and Applejack had to laugh at their eccentric grandmother. Applejack was really happy she wouldn’t have to try to explain everything to Apple Bloom.

“Big Mac, ah might need your help with somethin’” Applejack began. Her brother smiled and then nodded. “Well, ah know you’re not in very good shape right now, but just listen to me, alright? Now, missin’ apples are one thing, but attacking you is somethin’ different entirely,” she continued, dropping off at the end of the sentence. She looked completely lost in thought, which was rare for Applejack.

“Sis, what do you wanna’ say?” Big Mac asked simply. Applejack sighed and looked into her brother’s eyes, trying to calm herself for what she had to tell him.

“Ah know why bad things have been happening to the farm.”

It hadn’t been easy to retell everything to her brother, but Applejack had managed. To her surprise, Big Mac reacted pretty impassively to the whole thing. ‘Everypony makes mistakes,’ he had said. ‘I can’t fault you for yours.’ The two of them had agreed to work on a plan in the morning, being that Granny Smith’s “warding ritual” had meandered into the kitchen while they were talking.

The entire Apple family joined together to help do various odd things at their grandmother’s command, and before long, they were eating supper and heading off to bed. They had to resume work the next morning, and nopony was looking forward to the dull task of counting and sorting apples.

Applejack was able to drift off to sleep easily. The past few weeks she’d been having trouble with the feat, but tonight was different. She easily got into her dreams, though she never could remember them the next day. It was relaxing for her. The warmth of her bed helped relieve some of the stress she had built up in her muscles, and soon she was dead to the world.

Something wasn’t right, though. Applejack could hear a faint noise in the background of her mind. It sounded familiar, but she couldn’t recall where she had heard it before. She tried to focus on it in her sleep, and soon she was able to hear it as Winona’s barking.

Applejack’s eyes shot open. She could clearly hear her dog barking at something downstairs. That was never a good sign. She rolled out of bed, having to take a second to scramble onto her hooves before shooting towards the staircase. The room felt stifling, and Applejack wondered if she might be having some sort of fever dream brought on from overwork.

She reached the landing and immediately wished her previous thought had been true. Winona rushed to Applejack’s side, before turning and pointing back at the kitchen where she had come from. Bright orange light spilled from the room’s entryway, and Applejack was overcome by a storm of realization.

They were really trying to burn her house down.

Applejack sprang into action, reacting on nothing but instinct. She rushed back upstairs and threw open the other Apple’s doors. She stuck her head into each room and yelled.

“Y’all need to get up right now, there’s a fire burnin’ right downstairs,” her panicked voice screamed. Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh got up almost immediately, Apple Bloom stopping to grab a few things before leaving her room. The three siblings helped Granny Smith out of her room and downstairs, before immediately turning and running through the front door of the house and into the cool night, Winona trailing close behind. The entire first floor was engulfed in flames within minutes.

Applejack didn’t know how long it took for help to arrive. Big Macintosh had run to the city as quickly as he could while the three mares sat and watched their house being consumed by orange flames. Windows cracked, and soon bits of fire licked at the second floor. Apple Bloom was crying, covering her face to try to prevent her sister from seeing. Granny Smith had no such compunctions against public tears. Applejack could see the thin lines of moisture on her grandmother’s face reflecting the blaze. Their entire life was burning in front of them.

Big Mac returned with the firecolts a while later. The inferno had taken hold upstairs, and even with magic, it took half an hour to fully extinguish everything. A black husk of a house stood before them. The firecolts came back after walking around and told Applejack that the fire was likely caused by magic. They suggested that the Apples get in contact with the Ponyville authorities, and then apologized because there was nothing else they could do. They left after asking if the family needed a ride somewhere.

Applejack didn’t know how long they had sat there before the silence was broken. Apple Bloom was hugging Big Macintosh, the two of them both sobbing and wiping at their eyes occasionally. Granny Smith sat by them, doing much of the same. Applejack just stared ahead at the wreckage, oblivious to anything else but what she felt she had caused. She should have just paid the colts what they were asking. She must have known, at least internally, that this wouldn’t be a clean break. She didn’t notice the hoof on her shoulder for almost half a minute before finally turning around.

“Applejack, Dear, I’m so sorry,” the voice said soothingly. Rarity still had her hair in curlers, but she looked immaculate given the situation. She opened her hooves to hug her friend, but Applejack frowned.

“Rarity, you’re gonna’ get terribly dirty if ya’ hug me in the state ah’m in now,” she said coldly. Rarity looked shocked at the comment.

“Nonsense!” she said, wrapping Applejack in an embrace. The farmer relented and let her friend hug her. It did feel sort of comforting, in a way. “I’m so sorry that this happened to you, I can’t even imagine,” Rarity continued, looking genuinely empathetic. “I heard the fire carriage on its way out here, and well,” she paused for a moment. “I wanted to offer you a place to stay, at least for tonight. I couldn’t bear the thought of you four having to go through this alone, and I’ve got a full guest room at the shop,” she said, smiling knowingly. “Please do let me offer you my home.”

Applejack was silent. She hadn’t come to terms fully with the situation, and she hadn’t even given a thought to her sleeping arrangements. She didn’t know what else to say. Rarity was being so kind in her offering.

“Thank you,” Applejack answered.

The walk to Rarity’s was surreal. None of the Apples really felt like any of what they were experiencing was a part of reality. It was like a waking dream, but nopony knew when they might snap out of it. Until reaching the dress shop, the five ponies hadn’t said anything.

“I hope you don’t mind, but the girls are all here. We wanted to be with you for a little while tonight,” Rarity admitted. Applejack nodded, and Rarity opened the door to the shop. The light from inside was blinding, and Applejack had to blink heavily for a few seconds before being able to see her friends inside. The Apples and Winona all walked in, with Rarity directing everypony but Applejack to the guest room. She returned after a moment, and soon the six friends were seated in the shop’s main room. Applejack looked to the other five mare’s faces, each showing a variation of compassion or sadness. As if on cue, the others got up and walked towards Applejack, enclosing her in a group hug.

“Thank’s, y’all,” she said as the other five returned to their seats. “It’s been a real tough day for the Apple Family.”

“I’ll say,” Rarity began. “Is Big Macintosh alright? He looked terribly beaten up.” Applejack crossed her front hooves uncomfortably.

“Look, this is a really long story. Ah’m not shore this is the place to get into it,” she explained.

“Well, I’d really like it if you did,” Twilight Sparkle said as five heads turned towards hers. “AJ, your little sister’s been coming and telling me about things out on the farm. I know that you’re going through something, but nopony can help you unless you share it with us.”

“Yeah, Applejack, talk to us,” Rainbow Dash said, the group now turning to face her. “We’re all here because we care about you, but we can’t do anything if you try to handle this alone.” Applejack sighed. She was tired of trying to solve everything on her own. The pain of admitting her faults was finally outweighed by the thought of getting her friend’s help.

“If y’all really need to hear the truth, here it is. Ah took out a loan back when ah had just started runnin’ Sweet Apple Acres. We needed the money badly, and ah couldn’t get it from anypony except a Pegasus who had actually sought me out. He said he could get me the money without asking any questions, and ah agreed to pay him back in installments. Ah’ve been payin’ back that loan for years now, and ah just couldn’t keep givin’ him my money every three weeks the way I had been. I told them I wasn’t going to pay them anymore. Then the trouble started.” Everypony but Twilight Sparkle gasped at this.

“So wait, you’re in debt to the mafia?” Rainbow Dash asked, genuinely surprised at what Applejack had shared with them.

“Ooh, the mafia like in the movies? Wait! Do you know Al Capony? Or Jimmy Hoofa?” Pinkie Pie asked, bouncing up and down where she was sitting.

“Pinkie Pie, honestly! Can’t you be serious for a moment?” Rarity said while glaring at the bouncing mare.

“Oop, yeah, I’m sorry,” Pinkie Pie answered, literally wiping her smile away and replacing it with a frown.

“Well, Pinkie, ah think the colts I’m dealin’ with are based out of Las Pegasus, to tell you the truth, by that’s just a guess,” Applejack said. The focus in the room shifted back to her.

“So, what exactly has been happening?” Fluttershy asked softly, finally speaking up.

“You know, it started with them roughin’ me up about a month ago. That got me real angry. Ah guess it was enough to make me finally want to get them outta’ my life. Ah wanted to get rid of that cloud they keep hangin’ over me. After ah told them that ah was breakin’ away, they stole from my orchard, beat up my brother, and now,” Applejack paused. “I don’t even have a home anymore. Ah just don’t want,” Applejack paused again, putting her head down into her hooves. “My family shouldn’t have to suffer because of my mistakes,” she mumbled. Her body was shaking, and her friends could hear weak sobs coming from under her hooves. Rainbow Dash knew that the situation must be almost hopeless to get Applejack this worked up. She’d never seen her cry once in the entire time she’d known her.

The other five mares let her cry for a few seconds, not really sure how to proceed at this point. Tears were running out of the eyes of Rarity and Fluttershy, and Twilight was just barely holding hers back. Within moments Applejack shook herself a little bit and put her head back up. Her eyes were red, and she had to sniff once or twice before continuing.

“Normally ah’d meet with the colts tomorrow to make my payment. Ah think they’ve been trying to scare me into coming back,” Applejack revealed. “Ah caint see any other reason for what they’ve been doin’.” Nopony spoke for nearly half a minute.

“What are you trying to say, Applejack?” Rarity asked, finally breaking the silence. Applejack looked around at her friends, a genuine smile growing as she met all of their eyes.

“Ah’m sayin’ that maybe ah should surprise them and actually show up.”

Familiar tension was building up internally for Applejack as she waited for Salvatoro to emerge from the shadows of the farmhouse. She knew he was here; he and his cronies didn’t even try to conceal their tracks. He had brought more ponies for this occasion, though Applejack wasn’t sure why. It was only a matter of seconds before the blue Pegasus emerged into the dim light afforded by the home’s windows. He was flanked by two ponies on each side, Bucky and another Pegasus to one, a unicorn and an earth pony to the other.

“I have to say, Ms. Applejack, I wasn’t sure if you’d actually come to see me today. I hope you don’t mind, but I brought a few of my friends here to see you beg for my mercy. I’ve gotta’ teach them the art of it somehow, you know?” Salvatoro laughed, before gesturing around at the interior of the abandoned farm home. “I will tell you that I looked around this place before you got here, and really, if you don’t mind termites, spiders, and whatever else might come out of the woodwork, you could live here. It’d be a step up from that old shack you called a house, am I right?” The four ponies behind him guffawed stupidly, until Salvatoro gave them a sign to be quiet. “You’re awfully quiet today, aren’t you? What’s the matter, did you burn your tongue on something?” Applejack was fighting to resist her instincts. She had to keep herself from hitting the colt; he was trying to get a reaction out of her.

“Salvatoro, you’ve taken so much from me for years. You’ve taken every extra bit ah make. You’ve taken away our security. And now, you’ve taken away the only place we have to live. Ah wish daily that you had never landed in my front yard that night in winter. But ah cain’t change that now. I cain only tell you this: ah refuse to let you win,” Applejack ended with an air of finality. Salvatoro seemed to be at a loss, the conversation taking a turn he really hadn’t anticipated.

“I know you farmer types can be pretty thick, but do you have a death wish or something, Applejack? I can have you killed where you stand if I so much as stomp my hoof! I’m holding all the cards right now, Applejack. There’s no way I can’t win,” Salvatoro boomed, raising his voice to a level that even surprised one of his goons.

“And ya’ see, ‘til yesterday, I might’ve agreed with you. But the game is different now. I’m not alone anymore,” Applejack replied calmly. Immediately after she finished her statement, her five friends burst through the door to the farmhouse, flanking Applejack with varying degrees of readiness and anger on their faces.

“Wait, this is your big plan?” Salvatoro asked, a grin creeping across his face. “What is this, the Technicolor dream team?” He started laughing, and his accomplices followed suit.

“Is that one actually pink?” The Unicorn cried between bursts of laughter.

“That one’s got a rainbow in her mane!”

“Is the yellow one crying?”

“Hah, well played Applejack. I can always use a good laugh on the job. I must tell you though, this,” Salvatoro gestured at the six mares across from him, “little display is not exactly intimidating. Not only that, but I really don’t have the time to put up with jokes like this. I’m afraid that you’ve just made your life less valuable than our loan, which of course is a nice way of saying that we will most certainly not be seeing each other again. Ray,” he turned to the unicorn colt, “would you like to do the honors?”

“Most certainly,” the brown stallion answered. “Sorry about this, girls, but orders is orders.” His horn began to glow a faint red.

“Oh no you don’t!” yelled Twilight Sparkle. She had each of the five colts in individual force field bubbles before the other unicorn could even remember what spell he was casting.

“Uh, boss?” Ray said, looking over at Salvatoro. Both were suspended in a glowing orb of purple energy, unable to move around or do much of anything. “I think we might not have given that purple one enough credit.”

“Alright Twi’, I think you can let Salvatoro go for right now,” Applejack instructed as Twilight released the leader of the colts from the spell. She then turned to Fluttershy. “All yours, pardner.” Fluttershy tentatively stepped out in front of her friends, cautiously taking a few steps forward towards the blue Pegasus sitting across the room from her. Her face was in an uncharacteristic scowl, and only the other five mares could have known the implication.

“Wait, you’re sendin’ her up against me? Oh, this is too rich! I thought I was in trouble for a moment,” Salvatoro laughed, though it sounded uncomfortable.

“You threaten my friend, your fun will end!” Fluttershy screamed, her face growing red as she stomped closer to the prone Pegasus. “You probably think you’re pretty tough, don’t you?” Fluttershy asked, staring directly into Salvatoro’s face. He didn’t respond. “ANSWER ME WHEN I’M SPEAKING TO YOU,” she yelled. The colt’s eyes dilated as he fell backwards.

“Uh, no, no, I’m not tough,” he stammered out.

“You think you can just beat people up and take advantage of them because they’ve fallen on hard times? You think that’s right? You think that because you let other ponies do your work for you, you’re the leader? You need to change your attitude this instant, mister,” Fluttershy commanded, no longer yelling, but talking forcefully right into Salvatoro’s face. “My friends and I here care about Applejack very much, and we don’t take kindly to losers like you who think that it’s ok to push her around. Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to hit mares, or were you just not listening when she taught you that?”

“I don’t know!” Salvatoro yelled, putting his hooves over his head in defense.

“You don’t know, do you? It sounds to me like there were a lot of lessons you missed out on. You probably didn’t have any friends growing up, so now you feel the need to surround yourself by a bunch of ponies who you can control, am I right?” Fluttershy demanded, her eyes fixed on Salvatoro.

“Yes, it’s all true,” he said, pulling his hooves away from his face.

“Well, mister ‘tough guy’, we’re not falling for your tricks any longer. My friends and I are going to leave now, and if I ever so much as hear that you’re thinking of coming to Ponyville to harass disadvantaged ponies again, I won’t think twice about flying to Las Pegasus, or wherever you may be, and putting you in your place. Do I make myself clear?” Fluttershy asked, now standing directly over Salvotoro and staring into his eyes.

“Yeah, I—I’ll,” he had to pause to sniffle, “I’ll change, I promise. Just please don’t kill me,” Salvatoro begged, tears now running from his eyes in earnest. Fluttershy stepped away from him and turned around, walking towards the still—open door of the house.

“Let’s go, girls,” Applejack said, leading the group outside. The door closed behind Pinkie Pie, and after a minute the force fields around the four other colts disappeared. Salvatoro was still curled into a ball between them, crying silently and occasionally wiping a stray tear on his jacket. Bucky kneeled by the colt’s side.

“Should I get you a tissue, boss?”

“Alright now Rainbow, just pull on the rope until the structure is standing up, alright?” Applejack asked, directing her friend as best as she could.

“You got it, boss,” Rainbow replied, chuckling. She grabbed onto the rope attached to the top of the frame and flew up with it, easily raising what would soon stand as support for the side of the Apple Family’s new home. A few days had passed since the fire, and Applejack had suggested getting an early start on rebuilding, being that winter was just around the corner.

“Are you sure this is how it goes, Applejack? These drawings have this step in the process laid out differently,” Twilight Sparkle said as she looked over the plans she had helped draw up. Pinkie Pie bounced over behind her and read from over Twilight’s shoulder.

“Oh, now you see the problem is that you have the map upside down, silly,” Pinkie giggled, turning the map around in Twilight’s hooves. “There, much better.”

“Well, Pinkie, that’s not actually how these drawings go, I had them right last time,” Twilight responded, turning the architectural paper back in the correct direction. Pinkie Pie seemed positively perplexed.

“But that doesn’t even look like a house! Where are all the walls and stuff?” she asked as Twilight sighed.

“This is just the structure of the house, Pinkie. You have to put this up before you can build the walls and everything else,” she explained. Pinkie didn’t seem to understand.

“Okey Dokey Loki!” she said, happily bounding off in another direction. Twilight exhaled in relief.

“Alright Rainbow, bring the frame a little more in my direction,” she called to her friend. Rainbow Dash nodded and began to push the frame in the specified path.

Fifty feet or so away, Rarity had set up a makeshift workroom, complete with bolts of fabric, a sewing machine, and her tailor’s tools. She had insisted on replacing the Apple Family’s wardrobe after they had decided to rebuild the house. ‘One simply can’t ignore the need of clothing, you know.’ She was currently trying to help Big Macintosh find a good saddle that would fit his figure.

“Here, this would look stunning with your coat, Big Mac. I know that fashion isn’t your top priority, but there’s no rule against looking good while you’re working,” Rarity said as she ran a hoof through her mane, “I certainly manage to do it.”

“Eeyup,” Big Macintosh replied. Apple Bloom was sitting on one of Rarity’s stools between the two different groups, taking a break from sorting apples with Fluttershy.

“Here, let me put this one on you. No, that’s not... Here, let me adjust it. No, I insist,” Rarity giggled as she slid the saddle onto Big Macintosh.

“Hey, don’t get any ideas, Rarity. He’s a taken colt,” Apple Bloom reminded the fashionista as she fawned over Big Macintosh. Her cheeks grew very pink.

“Oh, no no no no no, Apple Bloom! I would never dream of doing something like that; I apologize if you felt that way,” Rarity lied, chuckling uncomfortably. “Now, uh, let’s get you into a new work outfit,” she suggested to the colt.

Spike had come along with the group too, and was helping Granny Smith cook up enough food for all of the ponies out working. They had a basic kitchen set up from what they could throw together, and before long the tantalizing smell of cooked apples wafted through the entirety of Sweet Apple Acres. Granny Smith slowly made her way to the bell they had mounted on a tree nearby, and she rang it a few times before yelling out to the ponies scattered around the farm.

“Soup’s on, everypony!” That was all any of them needed to hear. Within a minute, nine ponies and a dragon were sitting around and complimenting the cooking duo between mouthfuls of warm apples. Applejack stood up as the eating began to wind down, and cleared her throat.

“Ah just wanna’ say thank you to all y’all for comin’ out and helpin’ us rebuild our house. Ah know ah speak for the Apple family when ah say that we’re all mighty grateful. Y’all have saved the farm once, and ah caint tell you what it means for y’all to do it again.” She looked at all of her friends; her closest allies time and time again. She had to keep herself from choking up to continue.

“ It’s been rough at times,” she turned to look at Apple Bloom, “especially on a lot of the ponies close to me,” she turned back, “but ah think it’s safe to say that part of my life is gone, and ah can finally get back to ranchin’ the way ah’ve always dreamed of. After all of this, ah feel like only brighter days can lie ahead,” she said, smiling wide as she finished.

“Now, who’s ready for seconds?”

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