• Published 1st Aug 2019
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Sharing the Nation - Cast-Iron Caryatid



Wherein dragons begin to flood into Equestria for some unknown, completely mysterious reason.

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Chapter 2

— ✶ —

Twilight was looking for a way to avoid knocking on the door of a pony she’d been avoiding. Unfortunately for her, the door opened anyway. Twilight managed not to have a heart attack, though her surprise did leave her sitting there staring at Applejack for longer than appropriate.

One would be forgiven for thinking that Applejack was just a regular pony. Out of all of Twilight’s friends who had transcended their mortal forms, Applejack was the one pony whose everyday appearance hadn’t changed at all. This was almost certainly because she hadn’t wanted to be a demigoddess in the first place, let alone embraced the physical transcendence that had followed for each of them as a matter of course. Twilight wasn’t fooled, however; she had seen Applejack during the fight with Astri, and there was almost certainly something else underneath her skin.

Kind of like a fuzzy peach, but she wasn’t going to say that out loud; not with the look that Applejack was giving her.

Right, Applejack hadn’t wanted to be a demigoddess and it had been Twilight who had forced the issue. She’d also pointed the press and nobility at her as a sort of hazing for new immortals which she had been kind enough to pass on to Applejack after Luna had done it to her. That little exploration into slightly malicious hoof-pointing had resulted in a shifting of the local topography to keep the assorted public at a distance and had necessitated a change in name for the orchard from Sweet Apple Acres to Sweet Apple Mountains. Twilight wasn’t sure the knee-jerk reaction was actually helping, since it was now impossible for anypony in Ponyville to actually forget about the imposing landmass overlooking the city that drew the eye almost as much as Canterlot.

“…Hello, Applejack,” Twilight said, trying for a smile and not quite managing it.

Applejack’s answer was silence, her lips pressed into a thin line. It said as much as a buck to the face would have.

“Look, Applejack… I’m sorry for what I did. I don’t think it’s any excuse or consolation, but I think it should be clear by now that I was… not well at the time. That said, I’m the one who put myself in that situation, however unknowingly, so it’s all on me… and maybe Celestia a tiny bit… and I apologize.”

The only change in Applejack’s expression was a single raised eyebrow.

Twilight shuffled in place where she sat and tapped her front hooves together. “Well, I mean, Celestia is the one who taught me to remanifest and that’s where it went bad, so, yeah, tiny bit her fault. Mostly me, though.”

Applejack scrunched up her mouth, raised her hooves and—hugged Twilight. “Shucks, Ah don’t blame ya. You did have some points. ’Sides, you can undo it now that you’re better, right?”

Twilight stiffened. “Not… as such. No—let me rephrase that. Yes, I can take the stars back and I will if you want me to, it just… didn’t help much of anything when I did it to Rainbow and actually running your magic dry in that situation isn’t something I’m comfortable trying on a whim.”

“Ah’m gonna be honest,” Applejack said, still holding her. “Ah’m not happy about that. Ah ain’t got no need to live forever.”

Twilight wilted a little. “If it’s any consolation, it’s not like you’re immortal immortal. I’m a hundred percent certain we can end it if it comes to that. Killing alicorns is something we’ve had to figure out; immortals I myself made should be easy.”

Applejack pulled out of the hug, holding onto Twilight by her shoulders and looking her in the eyes. “Well, that’s comforting.”

“You know how I feel about it,” Twilight said, just a little sour and terse as she looked away. “I’m sorry I can’t muster up much empathy for talking about your desire to die someday.”

Applejack stepped back and let out a great, heavy sigh. “Fine, we might as well bury it for now, but Ah ain’t changing my mind.”

“Right. Great. Now come help me rebuild the palace; you kind of left a mess…”

— ✶ —

It took some convincing on Twilight’s part, but Applejack eventually caved to her request for help dealing with the massive tree that the farm mare had wrapped around the Ponyville Palace to prevent it from coming crashing down on the city. Originally, Twilight had had ideas about integrating the tree into the palace as an homage to her old home, but even after putting some significant effort into it, she still hadn’t come up with anything sensible.

Frankly, the biggest problem was so integral to the project that it was probably a lost cause straight out of the gate; it was a tree, and a giant one, at that. That meant that it had giant branches and a plethora of leaves. At the moment they weren’t so bad, but it would need to fill out in order to survive, and having all that hanging over the city was a mess and danger they didn’t need, let alone the little issue of blocking out the night sky. More and more, Twilight was putting her effort into finding someplace else to do a tree motif; they did still need to build a proper library for the city, after all, and with Applejack’s help, a small copse of trees should be entirely doable and more true to the inspiration.

That was, of course, if she could actually get Applejack into the city with any regularity.

“I can’t believe you haven’t come up with a solution for this yet,” Twilight grumbled as she walked with Applejack back in the direction of Ponyville. “You can’t possibly have Apple Bloom walking this every day to go to school?”

Applejack didn’t seem to agree. “If Ah made it easier, it’d make the whole thing pointless. Nah, Rarity has Sweetie Bell taking a pegasus carriage to school now, so they just swing by and pick Apple Bloom up.”

Twilight gave her a long look. “You do realize that picking up Apple Bloom is probably the only reason Sweetie Belle is taking a pegasus carriage to school in the first place, right?”

Applejack had to stop for a moment. “…Ah do now. Consarn it.”

“Really,” Twilight continued. “I’m sure it helped when everypony was beating down your door, but there’s been time to adjust. Anyone intelligent would just send pegasi, and I’m betting that annoys you even more. You were already a decent walk out of town to begin with; I doubt much would change if you put things back to how they were.”

Applejack looked like she was considering it, but shook her head. “Can’t. Already got all the paperwork done and bought all new crates, labels and signage for the Sweet Apple Mountains name.”

“I wasn’t aware you had all that to begin with,” Twilight said, somewhat baffled, then it hit her. “Rarity?”

Applejack nodded. “Rarity.”

Twilight shook her head, somewhat amused, but still insistent. “I’m sure there’s something we can do about it. I doubt it makes sense to have your house and barn at the summit like you have it now anyway, moving everything uphill to store it. Maybe just move the house down here next to the town, if that’s possible? I don’t actually know what you can do.”

Applejack gave a moody grunt. “Not like Ah can just rearrange the land all willy-nilly or float rocks all over the place. Ah just grow things like any earth pony; it just happens mountains are one of those things now.”

“Well…” Twilight gave it a little thought. “Even so, I think you might still be able to do it with the right process, but I’ll admit there are probably easier ways. I know you won’t want to just build a new house, so I won’t even mention that, but we can ask the forepony overseeing the palace construction if he has any ideas.”

“Ah suppose it wouldn’t hurt to look into it,” Applejack allowed, but her expression soon changed to a frown. “There’s just one problem with that.”

“Hm?”

Applejack motioned with her hoof at the pair of dragons loading a cart outside a tall wooden gate. “This ain’t Ponyville. Shoot, I was sure we were on the right road, seeing as there’s only one road to begin with. Ah didn’t reroute that gall dern thing, did Ah?”

Twilight couldn’t help but snicker as she motioned for the guards to raise the gate. “You haven’t been in town in the last week, have you? Yeah, it’s looking like we might have to change the name…”

As the two of them walked under the gate to enter the city proper, the meaning behind Twilight’s comment gradually became clear. Everywhere they went, there were dragons. It wasn’t a whole lot of them; just one or two per road, small ones ranging from Spike’s size to Big Mac’s and even the occasional wagon-sized young adult. Most of them were either cagey or strutting, and a few of them were even in the middle of arguments. They didn’t exactly fit in, but they were very much a presence in the city.

“What in tarnation…” Applejack absently declared as they made their way through the freshly cobbled streets towards the center of the growing city.

“You have no idea,” Twilight said, craning her neck to look back at Applejack. “This actually isn’t even the brunt of it; Canterlot Mountain and its surroundings are practically infested, and they don’t get along any better with each other than they do ponies. It turns out there’s a whole network of crystal caves up there that they just love, though, and of course, it’s close to the Celestias, so they all just have to be there.”

“The princess?” Applejack asked, cocking her head in question as they walked past a particularly knobbly-kneed young dragon hunched over a bag of quartz and eyeing every passerby. “What does this all have to do with her?”

Twilight gave her an incredulous look. “Wow, okay. Don’t take this the wrong way, Applejack, but we really need to get you coming back into the city more often or at least get you the paper delivered. Rarity already has the land purchased to give you a place of your own nearby—has since before the whole mess with Astri, actually—but I doubt you’ll use it much.”

Applejack grunted noncommittally.

“Anyway, about Celestia,” Twilight said, getting back on topic. “Have you at least looked up recently?”

Applejack was not amused. “Har-de-har-har. So, what, dragons like rainbows and came to show their appreciation for the new decorations?”

“Well, the short version is: before us, there were four alicorns of equal power, and that’s pretty much how it’s supposed to be, as far as we can tell. Looking at it like that, Celestia has been pulling close to double duty this whole time, so after Harmony sacrificed herself protecting Luna from Astri, she took it on herself to balance the scales. She took what remained of Harmony’s essence into herself and equally portioned the result back out into two new alicorns—hence the celestial changes.”

“Not far off what Ah woulda guessed,” Applejack remarked. “’Cept apparently we got two Celestias now, if Ah understood that right. Ah’m mighty thankful that we got two instead of losing the one we had, but Ah’m still not seeing the dragon connection.”

“Yes, well, there wouldn’t be one—” Twilight bit out, “—if Discord hadn’t had something of the same idea and put some of himself in the Seed of Harmony while Celestia was poking me at six in the morning asking questions about ancient history. He put his draconic essence into the seed, and Celestia took the seed into herself; I don’t think either one knew what the other was doing, if it helps.”

“Aw, son of a biscuit eater,” Applejack cursed. “Ah’m surprised we got dragons in the city and not candy cane rainbows.”

Twilight waved the idea off with her hoof. “No, no, nothing like that. Discord’s crazy chaos magic came from his connection to the stars that make up the desert of dreams, which I’d already reclaimed when he broke free. At the end, all he was was a twisted half-dragon of a sort, but that’s causing enough problems.”

“Huh, so we get a couple’a part-dragon princess, maybe they feel it some from the sun or whatever it’s called now and suddenly Equestria seems like a nice place to make home, is that it?”

Twilight rocked her hoof back and forth. “Pretty much that, but an order of magnitude more complicated to end up at the same place, yeah.”

— ⭗ —

The Celestia whose regenesis had given her the form of a rainbow ring around Equestria—Corona, she was calling herself for now—was not having a great day. It was one of a series of not-so-great days, but she was adamant to not let it show. Instead she took a deep, calming breath and reached for the teacup that was just in the process of being set down next to her.

The teacup was, unfortunately, not there when her hoof reached where it should have been. It was replaced, instead, by a short “Eep!” and the sound of shattering porcelain. A quick glance revealed one of the castle staff cowering beside her throne wearing most of the tea service and blubbering apologies.

This was one of the reasons she refused to let her mood show. She was, after all, not the only one who was not having a great day and any sharp movements, let alone the heinous crime of actually showing her displeasure would only make it worse for everypony else.

It had started when Celestia had burned down the Everfree fighting an ancient dragon that had followed Twilight and Luna out of the depths of Equus. Well, ‘burned down’ was downplaying it a bit; she’d turned it into a molten crater and still failed to kill the damn thing; it had been all she could do just to chase it off to a nearby canyon. Her little ponies had been understandably alarmed over the whole ordeal, but it had not been the first time she’d had to do such things to protect them and her actions would have eventually passed from threat into legend.

Then Twilight had pulled back the curtain and revealed to her little ponies that alicorns were not ponies after all, but mere avatars of celestial bodies. In truth—goddesses whose gifts ponies relied on simply to live and thrive. This, too, even coming as soon as it did after Celestia’s feat of destruction was not the end of the world. She had spoken true when she’d admitted that ponies had been ready to know the truth for some time, so she could hardly begrudge the fact, save for the timing.

Now, though, she feared that her new draconic essence might be the last straw. Previously, the palace staff had become timorous over the things they had seen her do. Their fears, such as they were, had been rooted in the knowledge of what she was capable of, and knowledge could be tempered with time and experience until they once again saw that she was their benevolent ruler and began to trust in her once more.

That was no longer the case.

Now they were simply terrified of her.

Instinctually.

This, she supposed, was karma and she would bear it. Truly, it would be the height of hypocrisy for her to complain, for at the very least she would not have to bear it alone.

— ✶ —

“Wait, if you took back what was letting Discord cause all that surreal hoey, doesn’t that mean you’d be the one to watch out for with the candy cane rainbows?”

“Uh… No—I mean, I don’t think… Huh.”

— ⭗ ✹ —

Corona couldn’t help but slam the heavy golden door shut as she returned to her chambers. The booming sound managed to get a wince out of her counterpart who had been reading on one of the sofas they had stolen from Luna. The entrance and the reaction were both quite out of character for them, but then, they were finding that after two thousand years of relative sameness, changes like suddenly shrinking to half their original size were having an effect on their confidence and demeanor. The irony was not lost on them.

“Shall I take your energetic entry to mean that the castle staff has not warmed up to us over the course of the day?” the other Celestia asked.

She took a moment to calm herself before shaking her head. “No,” she said, making her way over to her own seat. “Eight more of the castle staff have left, including three guards. I fear that at this rate, we shall have to begin hiring dragons.”

“Would that be so bad?” the other Celestia asked. “We do seem to have an excess.”

Corona was of a similar mind, but there were drawbacks. “True, but it might be early for that yet. Things are still up in the air, and very few seem actually inclined to behave, let alone serve tea.”

“Mmh.” The other Celestia turned a page in her book and made a thoughtful sound. “How about Parhelia?”

Corona blinked. “For a name? It’s a candidate, though it’s more of a collective name for what the two of us are. What about Prominence?”

The as-yet unnamed alicorn shook her head. “Too egotistical. I still say Corona would have fit me just as well. It’s a bit odd for a rainbow, isn’t it?”

“Coronas can have multiple colors,” she defended, though she wasn’t technically a rainbow either. That was a lost cause that she wasn’t even going to try to fight, however. “I’ll let you have Corona if you come up with something rainbow-related that’s not so meteorological, but coming up with something for you has to be easier. Aura?”

“I don’t hate it,” the other Celestia demurred. “But you’re right, there should be something more apropos that isn’t Nova or Flare. Are you sure you don’t want to be Dawn and have me be Dusk? They don’t have to be allusions to our celestial bodies.”

“We both agreed that it would be too close to Twilight’s name,” Corona reminded her. “For paired names I’d rather we be Aurora and Eos if it weren’t for auroras actually being Luna’s thing. I still don’t know where they got the idea that the sun caused them.”

“Actually,” the other Celestia said, picking up a different book with her magic and flipping pages by the dozen until she came to what she was looking for. “The science looks valid. It’s an interaction with Equus’ magnetic field, so we could probably have done it too, if we’d thought of it. Now, it’d be just me, I think.”

“Oh,” Corona said, processing that. “So it’d be me that’d have to be Eos?”

The other Celestia rolled her eyes. “Quite—and we’d have to ask Luna if she’d mind, which is a conversation I don’t think we want to have. Let her have her auroras; they go well with Twilight’s nebulae anyway.”

Corona’s eyes brightened up. “Actually, wasn’t there one that was paired with Luna from somewhere? Ah, yes, Sol. Hrm, not quite what I was thinking.”

“I’ll tell you what,” the other Celestia said, eyeing her counterpart. “I’ll be Sola if you use Suna”

Corona frowned. “What’s Suna? I’m not familiar.”

“It’s ‘sun’ with an ‘a’ on the end,” the other Celestia informed her cheekily.

Corona puffed up her cheeks in a pout of annoyance that made her more adorable than she’d been in nearly eighteen hundred years. “This really is harder than it should be,” she grumbled, throwing herself down stomach-first on the bed. “At least we have one down.”

“Actually, isn’t corona a beer company?” the other Celestia helpfully chimed in.

The alicorn previously known as Corona cursed. “…This was so much easier two thousand years ago.”

“Yes, I’ve found that being born with a name and letting the meaning come afterwards does have that effect.”

— ✶ —

“So… yeah, the whole thing is kind of a mess,” Twilight said, finishing up her explanation for Applejack. “At the moment, things could go any number of ways—especially with the dragons, since they all have their own individual situations and problems. They aren’t all following some great plan, so far as we can tell, so it’s impossible to turn around and plan around them.”

“Well, it’s no skin off my back who buys my apples so long as they’re paying,” Applejack says, watching as a tall pink dragon walked by.

Twilight winced. “They… might not be?” she admitted. “I’m not going to say they aren’t a hoof-full to make behave, even if they do end up having some ingrained respect for the Celestias, which we can’t prove one way or the other. The thing is, with the amount of earth pony magic you radiate just going about your business, you might not notice even if they were actively trying to put you out of business; the apples would just pop right back before you even noticed.”

“Ah… don’t know how Ah should feel about that,” Applejack grumbled. “Ah’m as far from greedy as Rarity in one’a her moods, but that ain’t right.”

“Now Applejack, be reasonable,” Twilight chided. “Pillaging the countryside is their culture, and if we need to subsidize this aspect of it so that these fine, upstanding citizens can be comfortable in our society, then we’re obligated to include and accommodate them to the best of our ability. It’s the pony way.”

“Please tell me you’re not serious,” Applejack drawled.

“Not in the slightest,” Twilight confirmed with a smile. “Although…”

Applejack grimaced. “Twilight…”

“Hey, don’t look at me!” she objected. “I’m staying the hay out of it, but from what Luna tells me, there are some leanings in that direction.”

“Let me guess—with Corn Subsidy at the head of it?” Applejack asked rhetorically, to which Twilight gave a look that said all it needed to. “Sometimes Ah wonder why we have laws against name discrimination at all.”

“Yeah, well, the problem with stuff like that is that it’s never as simple as it looks,” Twilight said. “Half of what the government does is spend taxes on public works, so it’s really easy for the ponies arranging things to corrupt the process, sometimes even without compromising the end result. As much as ponies are supposed to be able to bring grievances to court over stuff like that and alicorns are actually allowed to pass judgement on gut feelings alone, I don’t envy Luna’s job right now even if she is going into it with the intention of being heavy-hoofed. What’s worse, is that Corn Subsidy might actually have a point…”

“On his head?” Applejack asked, dripping scorn. “’Cause sometimes it embarrasses me that he’s actually an earth pony and Ah wouldn’t be too put out if it turned out he was actually a unicorn just pretending.”

“You do realize that in this situation, you’d be the one getting the subsidy, right?” Twilight asked, to which Applejack scoffed.

“Please, Twilight, Ah wasn’t born yesterday,” she said, shaking her head. “Ah know perfectly well how much they’d like to spend a pittance of somepony else’s money t’get cheaper apples for themselves—though honestly, much as Ah have pride in mah apples, Ah’m not sure Ah see them going to all the trouble just for them.”

“Well, you don’t just grow apples,” Twilight reasoned. “Though I doubt that your earth pony magic is going to have a huge effect on your pigs, cows and chickens. The thing is, though, if they have their way, it won’t necessarily matter what exactly you are growing.”

“Uh, care to explain that one, Twi?” Applejack said. “It doesn’t sound like Ah’m gonna like this.”

“The legislature is still up in the air, but there’s been some talking about classifying you five as something akin to alicorns, which wouldn’t be a terrible idea, exactly, except that back when Equestria was founded, Celestia and Luna weren’t in it for the profit. They came out of it with a lot of judicial power and prestige, but as far as raising the sun and moon went, after the whole hearth’s warming thing, Ponies wanted to be assured that they would all benefit equally and Celestia wouldn’t be able to hold the daylight hostage in order to browbeat ponies. It’s one of the only things that could actually get an alicorn called up on charges of treason.”

Applejack looked like she’d bitten into a rotten apple. “So, what—Ah’d have to go out t’all the farms and help them grow whatever they want? Carrots? Pears?”

Twilight noted the particular vehemence with which Applejack said ‘pears,’ but chose not to mention it. “Would that be so bad?” she asked. “You’d hardly be doing it for free, and the other farms wouldn’t be allowed to just abuse it in order to rake in bits hoof over fetlock.”

“Ah’d say that’d probably only make it worse,” Applejack retorted. “Ya’ll’re talking about the regulation of an entire industry, possibly only in a small part of Equestria since there ain’t no way Ah’m traveling around the country the whole year-round to work on other ponies’ farms. Do you have any idea what kind of mess that’d be? Shoot, Twi, mah special talent is running mah family’s farm, not… global agriculture.”

Twilight frowned. “You do have a point, which is, again, why I’m glad it’s not my job anymore. Rarity actually enjoys making sure everyone ends up happy with a deal and Luna enjoys tearing down the ones that don’t cooperate; I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“Fair enough, Ah suppose,” Applejack said. “Though before recently, Ah would’ve assumed you’d be right up there with Rarity.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Twilight said, kicking a piece of gravel off the cobblestone road. “And the more and more I listen to Luna talk about what she’s doing, the more I realize that I never really listened to the lessons that Celestia was actually trying to teach me when I was her student. I like… systems, I guess, is a way to put it? I like things to make sense and be logical, even if that logic is strange and twisted at times. You’d think that I could put my skills to writing laws and investigating corruption, but it just frustrates me to no end to have ponies actively working against what I’m trying to accomplish, especially when those ponies are ostensibly supposed to be on my side to begin with.”

“Well, Ah suppose it’s for the best, then, that the Elements of Harmony walked off, became an alicorn, sacrificed themselves and then became a different draconic alicorn, ’cause—” Applejack seemed to just then realize what she was saying. “Err, sorry, that came out way worse than I meant it to. Just, you know, yer not exactly sounding very element-of-friendship-y and all. Sorry.”

“Thanks, Applejack,” Twilight retorted with no small amount of sarcasm. “Really touching. Look, I’m just… not a people pony, and I think that’s okay so long as I don’t build a tower and shut myself inside of it forever—more the latter, since I am planning on building a tower, obviously.

“Even if I were still the bearer of the element of magic-slash-friendship-slash-whatever, I don’t think it’d be unreasonable to not pursue a career that puts me in conflict with ponies. If there’s anything I have learned about friendship is that you can’t force it; it’s great if we can resolve a conflict with friendship and we should always try to, but it’d be naïve to expect that to be your whole job and mold everything around it.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Ain’t that basically what ambassadors do?”

“You’d think so,” Twilight grumbled sourly, not wanting to get into her experiences that said otherwise. “Thankfully, I’m the alicorn of the stars, not some nebulous concept like friendship.”

Applejack’s expression didn’t change one bit. “Aren’t nebulae your thing?”

Twilight whapped Applejack upside the head with her wing rather than dignify that with a response.

“Ow—hey! Careful of mah hat!” Applejack complained, fumbling around with her mane and iconic headwear. “Ah reckon Ah deserved that.”

“Yes, you did,” Twilight agreed with a hint of indignant petulance.

— ✶ —

“Come to think of it, how much’a that mess with the princesses is actually public, anyway?” Applejack asked as they neared their destination. “Ah wouldn’t want to let something slip if you’d rather it not get out.”

Twilight shook her head as she led Applejack around the temporary fencing around the collapsed palace. “You don’t have to worry about that; it’s pretty much all out in the open now. They were going to keep it hushed up for a bit like you’d expect, at least until things calmed down, but like when I took over the stars from Luna and her ethereal mane began to resemble the moon like it always should have, neither Celestia looks entirely like Celestia any more. It was only a day or two before any hope of subterfuge was rendered moot.

“Maybe if the rainbow-maned one had been out in public that day instead of the one that looks like her head’s on fire, then they could have played it off, but they probably wouldn’t have regardless since it would mean that only one of them would be able to go out. They’re being pretty tetchy about keeping things between them fair.”

“Fair’s good,” Applejack mused, not too fussed about the situation. “Not sure obsessing over it’s a great idea, but Ah ain’t never had a twin or a little sister who tried to—ah, actually, forget that second part. Anyway, Ah’m sure they’ll work it all out sooner or later; they are Celestia, after all.”

As they entered the blockaded area, Applejack’s eyes were drawn to the ruined palace hanging at an angle, wrapped in the winding trunk of a giant tree stretching high above the city. Most of the fallen rubble around the site had been removed, but there was still a lot of work to do. “Hooey, ain’t that a mess.”

“Less of one than there would have been if it had fallen across the city,” Twilight reminded her with melancholy appreciation. “It’s a miracle everypony managed to get out relatively intact. You saved a lot of lives. From me.”

“Yeah, Ah did,” Applejack said, prompting a hurt look from Twilight. “Which is why you don’t need to keep thinking about it. Nopony got hurt—not permanently, anyway—except for, well…”

“Harmony,” Twilight filled in.

Applejack nodded. “Right, but that weren’t your fault either. She made her choice, and the way I hear it, it was one she was looking for a chance to make in the first place. Point is, there’s no use dwelling on it. Fix what you can, and move on.”

“Yes, well…” Twilight shook her head and gestured at the ruined tower. “Case in point.”

Applejack nodded and turned her attention back to the tower. “So, what is it y’all actually want me to do? It’s not like Ah can just un-grow the darned thing. Doesn’t look too healthy, so it might be I could get what branches there are to come down with a good buck, but Ah imagine you could do it just as well and with more precision to boot.”

“Probably,” Twilight confirmed rather diplomatically. The truth was, since the project had been changed to simple demolition, Twilight could have erased the whole thing overnight the way she had the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, but both Luna and Rarity had objected. Their reasons were… reasonable… but Twilight expected that at least part of it had been to force her to talk to Applejack. “…But,” she continued. “The real danger is the tower itself falling apart. Crystal is hard, sure, and the type Luna used has plenty of compressive strength, but it’s not ductile. I’m going to be having words about that with certain ponies, even if she did yell at them already; Ponyville might not be prone to earthquakes, but it is prone to alicorns and demigods, which are arguably worse.”

Applejack tapped her hoof to her chin as she gave it a thought. “Well, growing the tree out to support it is something I can do. Hay, Ah can make the tree completely swallow it up if y’all don’t mind having to cut through it.”

“That sounds good to me,” Twilight said. “I’m sure we can find a use for all the excess wood, even if we just burn it next winter. Normally, we’d have to consider the effect that would have on the market, but there wasn’t a palace to heat last winter, so it should be fine. In fact, we might have issues with the sudden increase in population as it is, so it might turn out that we have to have you make even more. I’ll have to have Rarity look at the numbers and get back to you on that; if we’re going to need a bunch of firewood in six months, we’ll need to start drying it out… now, actually.”

Applejack looked like she wanted to object, but couldn’t come up with a proper reason to. “Well, Ah guess if y’all need wood and nopony else has it, Ah can fill the order so long as that’s all it is. Ah’m saying this now and you can tell Rarity, ridiculous ‘demigoddesshood’ or not, Ah ain’t about to let anypony claim mah work as a public service and tell me what to do—period.”

“Establishing a price is probably the best thing you can do to head that off, actually,” Twilight suggested. “Rarity would know.”

“Yeah, probably,” Applejack agreed and then turned back to the project at hoof. “So, that’s the wood, but what’re you doing with all the crystal rubble?”

“Well, conveniently enough, we’ve had a recent influx in customers interested in exotic crystals who find it incredibly amusing to get the chance to eat a pony palace…”

— ✒ —

Spike had barely shut the door when a feral turquoise blur snatched the grocery bags out of his waiting claws.

“Did you get it? Did you get it? Did you get it?” Ember chanted as she searched the bags, tossing aside vegetables, pastries and even some choice emeralds in search of her prize, which she eventually found, causing her slit eyes to light up in glee. “You got it!”

‘It’ was a bag of rubble that had once been part of either Twilight or Luna’s thrones, and she was already shoveling fistfulls of it into her mouth, making all sorts of indecent sounds as Spike distractedly cleaned up the mess she’d made in her mad pursuit of her request.

Spike tried not to stare, but soon enough he was just standing there holding a mango and watching her go at it like a starving manticore. “Has anyone ever told you you’re kinda w—”

The fact that she actually stopped to glare at him stopped Spike’s sentence in its tacks better than any words could have.

“…Nevermind.”