• Published 22nd Dec 2011
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Over the Edge and Through the Wood - JarOfHearts



a human gets cut off from his group while traversing a mountain. finds himself in a strange land

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Night and Day

Chapter 3

Night and Day

Edited by: CosmicAfro

Troy strode past the tiny ponies and took a seat next to the glowing ember pit and began to warm himself. He had some experience with animals and if his time with cats had taught him anything, it was that it was best to let them come to you. He had situated himself so he could keep an eye on the little ones while managing to not look directly at the trio of stroke inducing cuteness. From what he knew, animals became more skittish if they knew you were watching. Although, these ponies were intelligent, so would that be considered disrespectful? There was just no knowing in this kind of situation.

Whatever, just play it by ear.

Troy removed the fish from the fire; he had skewered it lengthwise to cook and easy access. It had actually smelt pretty ripe back when he was preparing it. Though now that the previous scent was dissipating, it actually began to smell pretty appetizing.

Troy began to eat, trying to make it appear that the pastel-colored ponies didn't bother him in the least. In his peripheral vision he could see that the group had not moved from the spot where they fell from when he opened the door. He decided it was best to focus his attention on eating his hard-won dinner.

I've had some decent luck today, let's see if it lasts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The three terrified fillies were rooted to the spot where they stood. Behind them the weather had turned for the worse, the pitter‐patter of rain was accompanied by flashes of lightning. In front of them was a large altar, next to it blazed a roaring fire, its warmth was quite inviting, as was the shelter the castle offered. There was only one problem, and it was the creature illuminated by the bright embers, basking in their warm glow. It sat next to the blazing inferno and chewed away on something that had been roasting on the open flames, and was thankfully ignoring them for the moment.

Sweetie Belle risked a glance at Scootaloo, who kept her gaze firmly on the beast, watching for any sign of movement. Apple Bloom was looking from the beast to the storm outside, what had been a simple rainstorm had quickly become a massive downpour. She didn't want to go out in that kind of weather. Especially considering they probably wouldn't be able to get back at the rate it was coming down. Lightning split the sky as a massive crash of thunder swept through the castle.

Their ears flattened at its passing, even the monster gazed up through one of the many broken windows to take notice of the maelstrom that raged beyond the walls of its castle. After the thunder subsided the creature shifted its attention to three of them, immediately freezing them in place as if its gaze petrified them. None of them moved for what seemed like ages, neither the ponies nor the oddity at which they stared, and every second that passed seemed to linger longer than it should. Nature intervened to break the silence as a sudden gale blew through the open doors of the castle, sending a cascade of freezing rainwater down upon the little ponies.

The three fillies leaped into the air with shared screams as they bolted forward into the castle. They whirled around, only to be greeted by another gust of wind, chilling them to the bone. The three were soaked and cold, Apple Bloom's ribbon lay flat on her head, Scootaloo had to shake her head repeatedly to work her short mane out of her eyes. Sweetie Belle shivered where she stood, looking as pitiful as can be. They gazed outside as another bolt of lightning lit up the heavens.

"Hey," the soaked unicorn whispered, "what do we do? We can't go back out there, not in that."

"Well what should we do," the pegasus tried to keep her voice low, but soft echoes still rung out through the castle walls. "That thing could eat us at any time and... and‐"

Scootaloo stopped mid‐sentence, the thing was staring at them again.

"Ah' don't think it wants tuh' eat us." The two fillies turned to face Apple Bloom, "Ah' mean, it could have a second ago, but it didn't."

They looked back at the creature; its gaze had never left them. It took another bite of something, none of the girls could see it well enough in the gloom to identify what exactly it was eating. Another gust of wind swept what little warmth the young ponies had left in them out into the night. The three sad-looking fillies shook violently from the cold.

"W‐well, I see t‐two options at the mo‐moment," Sweetie Belle managed to choke out between shivers, "we go into the storm and freeze to death," she took a tentative step forward, "OR we go and sit at that fire and hope that... thing... doesn't eat ponies."

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo looked at each other then to the raging tempest outside, where the odds were not in their favor. The outside world would mean dealing with the monsters of the night and one of the worst storms any of the fillies had ever seen.

The pastel-colored ponies began to approach the fire; they took slow unsure steps, inching towards the creature and the blazing warmth by which it sat. As the trio shuffled forward all of their gazes were locked onto the figure that basked in the glow of the blaze, and at the same time it was carefully watching them. Finally, the girls reached the fire and were close enough to warm themselves, they stood in place ready to run if the monster made its move. However the beast just sat there eating what the terrified fillies could see was a fish, stuck on a stick. Sweetie Belle gagged, there was another one cooking on the flames and it scented the air with a terrible smell. The smell of charring flesh. The weird-looking monster picked up the ex‐fish and took a bite, having finished off the other stick of meat it had been eating previous.

A gale blew through the open doors of the castle and sent another shiver down the backs of the crusaders, they were beginning to warm up, but were still soaking wet. The strange animal gazed from them to the door then back to them. It watched the little creatures shiver for a moment, then stood.

Scootaloo and Apple Bloom immediately bolted in different directions, hiding behind the stone pillars that held the roof aloft. The earth pony and the pegasus pony paused for a moment. They listened for any movement, any noise at all, but the only sounds they could hear were the rumblings of the storm raging outside. After a minute they poked their heads out and to their horror, Sweetie Belle was still standing next to the fire, shaking like a leaf. The poor filly was so scared, she was rooted in place. Even from their hiding spots they could see the pink and marble unicorn shaking in fear. The beast looked at the frightened little filly for a moment, then took a sideways step. Sweetie Belle stood stock still as the hulking shadowy mass began to circle her, her eyes glued on the towering monster.

Apple Bloom's mind raced, what should she do? What COULD she do? If she attacked that thing she would be done for, that was certain. The creature was almost behind Sweetie Belle, it hadn't gotten any closer, but was sure to pounce any second. She thought desperately on what she should do to save her friend, if there was anything she could do to save her friend. It was right behind the terrified unicorn, she was still staring right at it, unable to tear her gaze away. It was now or never, Apple Bloom closed her eyes and charged forward between the beast and its prey and turned to where she knew the monster would be. She bent down with her front legs and lowered her head, ready to charge the monster when it attacked. She knew this would probably be her last moments, but she would never abandon her friend. Apple Bloom knew she couldn't, an Apple would always stick to their friend. To the very end. She opened her eyes, believing that this would be her final moment, she gazed fearlessly into...

...its back.

It had turned around and was walking towards the entrance, it's strange hoof‐wear leaving a soft THUD‐UMP, THUD‐UMP in its passing. The earth pony slowly slumped to the floor, her heartbeat pounding like a drum in her ears.

"Whew." Apple Bloom started at the sudden noise to her left.

She turned to see that Scootaloo was standing next to her, looking every bit relieved as the farm filly felt. Apparently the prepubescent pegasus had charged out to defend their friend in a similar fashion. They shared a brief smile, then returned their attention to the creature. It strode onwards, nearing the open entrance. When it reached the ancient frame its not‐claws lashed out and grabbed the thick metal doors. It pulled them together then heaved the old iron forward, closing the portal to the outside world. The metal let out a resounding thud that echoed through the hall.

Scootaloo swallowed the knot in her throat.

"Nowhere to run now."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Troy shut the doors to the castle, and turned to face the tiny creatures that stood by his fire. He noticed that the two who had run off were back. Seriously, was his standing up really enough to scare them away?

Hey, they're more defenseless than most humans, at least we have fists. And knives. And GUNS.

Uh, hello? They have freaking hoofs, that's like having clubs permanently glued to your arms. Not to mention that they could probably kick a field goal with one of my kidneys at the fifty-yard line. Wait a second, who am I talking too?

Your fairy godmother.

Har De Har.

Troy shoved his self‐argument aside, he could deal with his rapidly developing insanity later, this called for his full attention.

He slowly circled the ponies again, keeping his distance as to not frighten them. Again. He took his seat next to the fire, tossed the bony remains of his fish‐on‐a‐stick into the fire, and waited for the critters to do something. They seemed to shy away from the fire for a moment; Troy realized that if they were strictly herbivores, as their appearance suggested, then the fish might not have been a great choice for dinner.

After a moment they came closer to the warming spirals of flame, and began drying themselves. Small wisps of steam flowed from their colored coats as they switched sides periodically, drying half of their bodies at a time. Troy had examined them when he had opened the door and in every spare moment he had as he kept trying to classify these odd creatures. They certainly looked equine, sort of. While he hadn't been entirely sure before Troy had no doubt in his mind now, these things could talk, albeit in another language. He had heard them whispering to each other and seen them exchanging glances. While their bodies were definitely more horse‐like, their expressions were disturbingly human. He also noticed several discrepancies between regular equines and these critters.

First, their color was outrageous, but anyone with a working pair of eyes, hell with ONE functional eye could see that. Usually in the animal kingdom you had two choices, be camouflaged or be poisonous. Whether you were a predator or prey you had to blend into your surroundings, or be poisonous enough to kill anything that ate you. So that question had to be addressed sometime in the near future, however if they were this afraid they most likely either weren't toxic enough at this stage of development (they did look pretty young) to take him down or the colors were just a bluff. No real reason to run when you can murder somebody by just touching them, or failing that, bleeding on them.

Second, their ankles were as wide as their hoofs. A horse’s hoof had a cone-like shape because it was sturdy and allowed for more leverage. (probably?) Troy had ridden horses when he was little so he knew a thing or two, but when it came to the mechanics he was lost. Though, compared to the third problem this was like a small bump on a road filled with pot holes.

Thirdly, their heads. These things looked someone had stuck a muzzle on a cantaloupe. While most equines had a head that sloped up in a uniform fashion, theirs didn't. This was likely due to the large skulls needed for the equally large brains required to properly understand language. This probably meant that their jaw strength was less than that of the average horse. When humanity's heads began to enlarge they lost their biting power, before then they had the same kind of bite strength that chimps and gorillas had. The only problem here was why, what had prompted the enlarging of the brain? The human brain had increased in size so it could properly utilize the hands he was gifted with, and this expansion started when humanity became bipedal. For what possible reason could these little balls of cuteness need language?

The creatures had dried themselves by now and were lying by the fire, staring back at him. This lasted for several minutes. The possibility of awkward silence was kept at bay due to the constant roar of the storm and the occasional rumble of thunder. Troy decided to be the first one to break the relative quiet.

Let’s go with the classic ice‐breaker, The Polite Cough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The three ponies tensed as the creature lifted its alien appendage to its mouth and made a soft chuffing noise. After a moment it returned it's foreleg to its resting place on top of its hind leg. It had such a bizarre way of sitting, it looked painful.

It let out a grunt then some kind of elongated growl, then was silent once more. Another moment passed, it looked at each of them, not getting the reaction it wanted it made some gurgling sounds. Sweetie Belle stood up to back away; her fear was getting the better of her. This immediately got the thing's attention as its eyes locked onto her expectantly. It paused for a moment and when it was apparent that its desired action was not forthcoming it chose to act first. It raised its not‐claws and patted its broad chest, at the same time it made a noise that was neither a grunt nor growl. Foreign syllables passed its lips each time it pounded on its front.

Scootaloo leaned over to Apple Bloom, whispering into her fellow filly's ear, "What's it doing?"

"Ah' don't know, Sweetie Belle ya got any ideas?" the farm pony craned her neck to look at her friend

Sweetie Belle's eyes were locked onto the creature and began to grow wide with understanding.

"I think it's trying to talk." the unicorn stated with a note of surprise. She knew from what her sister had told her that diamond dogs and other animals could talk, but it never occurred to her that something this alien could.

"Ya' really think so?" Apple Bloom directed her attention to the unicorn filly then to the monster. It made sense and at the same time it didn't, it was talking, but not in Equestrian. She knew from school that any creature that talked could speak in pony tongue, so why didn't this thing speak it too?

Scootaloo watched as the beast tapped its chest again in the same motion, speaking louder than before. It kept saying the same thing, but slower and louder each time. She listened for a moment trying to form similar sounds, but the noises this thing made were too foreign for her to imitate. However, her attempt got the beast's attention.

It began to nod it's head rapidly while it's lips drew back to reveal a row of teeth, it took the fillies a bit longer than they would like to admit to realize it was a smile. It tapped itself again and made the noise again.

After a moment’s pause, "It's a name."

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo turned to their friend, whose voice was barely audible, in a whisper that would make Fluttershy proud.

Sweetie Belle took a tentative step forward, turning to her friends with a thoughtful look. She listened carefully as it said its 'name' for the umpteenth time, trying her hardest to decipher the alien syllables. She took her time as she slowly mouthed the foreign bits of sound over and over trying to get them to sound right. She took a deep breath, and tried to repeat the stranger’s name. However, it was a fruitless effort; she just couldn't quite make the same sounds as this... thing could.

The creature seemed not to mind and nodded rapidly. Another repeat of the tapping motion, but this time instead gestured towards the trio with its long lanky fore legs. It took a moment, but the ponies realized the meaning of the gesture.

"I'm Scootaloo. Scooooo‐taa‐looo," the pegasus reared up and pounded her tiny ribcage, her fear beginning to dissipate.

The monster struggled with the name, it couldn't get the sounds right and just ended up spouting gibberish. The girls laughed, and the beast even smiled.

This was getting interesting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Earlier that day

"Spike?" Twilight called out for her assistant as she finished her fourth book for the day.

No answer.

"Spiiiiiiiiike?"

"Hub‐WUH?!?"

The exclamation was immediately followed by a crescendo of various crashes and thuds. Twilight rolled her eyes as she trotted upstairs to see what exactly the little purple dragon was doing. She found him lying under a pile of books next to an overturned stepladder. The purple pony let a well‐practiced sigh pass her lips, "don't tell me, you fell asleep on the stepladder."

The little dragon looked around in dazed confusion, "whu, huh, uh... no!... kinda... maybe?"

Twilight rolled her eyes and began picking up books and placing back in their correct locations. "See, THIS is precisely why you can't stay up so late, Spike!"

The purple and green reptile let his chin fall to his chest and twiddled his thumbs, "But, Twi. Pinkie was throwing that huge party last night and I really wanted to go, you know she throws the best parties. I mean, you were there too."

"Spike." The horned librarian said in a no-nonsense tone. "We both left for the party at a reasonable hour and came HOME at a reasonable hour. That's not the problem. The problem is that you snuck back out in the middle of the night, lied to Pinkie and stayed up all night. Now you're tired, unable to focus and close to hurting yourself."

Twilight lowered her head to Spike's eye level. "That's why you're in trouble mister."

She let out a hearty sigh and then motioned to the stairs. "Bed, your chores will be waiting for you tomorrow, and then some."

Spike tried to speak, but the purple mare was having none of it and silenced him with a glare before he could get a single word out. The dragon youth hung his scaled head and slowly made his way up the staircase. Halfway up the stairs he let out a long yawn, and his eyes began to droop. Bed was sounding like a better idea by the second.

Twilight shook her head, what could have possessed Spike to sneak out like that? It wasn't like him, though Pinkie hadn't ever held an 'all nighter' before. Well, except for the summer sun celebration, but that was a special occasion. She would have to talk to the pink mare to find out what happened that night. The lavender unicorn let out a heavy sigh, what was next on the agenda?

The major portion of her studying for the day had been taken care of a bit early, it was only noon. She didn't have anything slated for the half-hour after lunch. She rarely had unscheduled breaks, but it was a welcome change of pace. After scrounging around in the kitchen she made herself a dandelion sandwich accented with some alfalfa leaves. The young mare carried her meal into the library, and set it down next to the latest installment of Daring Do. The purple pony munched on her meal absentmindedly as she opened the book and began to read. Though 'read', would not be the most accurate of descriptors, more like devoured. Fitting, as she finished a page with each bite of sandwich.

Twilight only stopped when she heard the chiming of the clock on her wall. Was it really one 'o clock already? She closed the book after placing one of her favorite Daring Do bookmarks inside, she had already burned through a third of the book. Smiling she went to check her list for the day, but before she could take three steps there was a sudden knocking on the door.

Twilight mentally shrugged and cantered to the door, swinging it open with her magic. There stood Applejack, the most honest friend the young unicorn could ever ask for. The orange farm pony took a quick look inside before turning her attention to the purple mare.

"Hey Twi, ya' haven't seen mah' sis around here have you?" the young farm mare asked with irritation clear in her voice. Applejack's gaze never seemed to stay in the same place for less than a moment, moving from the library to down the street and back again.

"She WAS 'supposed to be back at the farm after lunch, but she never showed."

"Applejack, I ha‐

"She's probably off doing somethin' with her friends tryin' to get their cutie marks again."

"Appl‐

"That's all fine an' dandy, but she's got chores to do."

"APPLEJACK!"

The farm pony jumped slightly at the sudden outburst, Twilight leveled her gaze at her friend, "No Applejack, I haven't seen the girls today. Have you checked the park, Rarity told me they were planning a picnic. Maybe they just lost track of time."

"Ah' DID, but they weren't there, just a basket an' some paper plates. There was some hoof prints leading into town though so they got to be 'round here somewhere."

Twilight cocked her head to the side, "They wouldn't just leave a mess like that... probably."

Applejack, who had been looking back into the street, turned to her, "Ah' know, they probably got caught up in some crazy way to get their cutie marks. Again. But usually everypony and their grandmare knows when they're up to something like that. Ah' talked to every pony I could find, an' they all said they ain't seen neither hide nor hair of the girls."

The purple mare's ears perked up, that was definitely odd. She quickly made a quick to‐do list in her mind, even if it was for some silly way to get their cutie marks, when the girl's activity went dark like this it was a clear sign of the calm before the storm.

"Alright Applejack, have you told anypony else about the missing girls?"

"Ah checked with just about everypony Ah could find on my way here. It not much, but Ah've been blusterin' about trying to find the silly fillies 'fore they get themselves in a heap o' trouble. Again."

"OK, in that case, you go find Rarity and tell her what’s going on. Once that's done, find Rainbow and get her to fly around Ponyville, maybe she can spot them from the sky. As for me, I'll grab Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, we'll look around the park area. If you can't find them in two hours’ time, meet up with us at the park."

The farm pony nodded with a relived grin beginning to take hold on her features. "All righty then, ah' better get a move on."

Applejack turned to leave then paused for a moment, then angled her head to face her friend, "Hey, Twi? Ya don't suppose they got in over their head this time do ya?"

Twilight raised an eyebrow, Applejack wasn't what one would usually call a pessimist. "Why would you think that?"

The orange pony looked unsure as she dug at the ground a bit with her hoof and lowered her head with her ears flopping back.

"It's just... I got this feelin' in mah' gut..."

She paused and mumbled something under her breath. After a moment of silence she shook herself, and raised her head trying to lift her spirits and gave a gentle smile.

"No, no point in worryin' bout that just yet. It's probably nothin'." With that the earth pony galloped towards the Carousel Boutique. With her Stetson fluttering in the wind, but miraculously never once threatened to leave its perch upon the blond mane of which it sat.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Applejack made her way to the Carousel Boutique, pausing only to catch her breath.

Ah' gotta find the girls soon, the longer they go unsupervised the worse this is going to end. Rarity might have some idea where...

The farm pony face‐hoofed, of course they could have just been at Rarity's this whole time.

The cowpony opened the door with its usual jingle and trotted inside. She looked over the frilly dresses that her friend held so dear, for the life of her she couldn't imagine why anypony would enjoy torturing themselves with such heavy cloths and such. She mentally shrugged, different strokes for different folks.

"COOOOMIIIING," the voice of the marble white unicorn floated out from the back of the shop.

Rarity walked out from behind one of the displays.

"Oh, Applejack! I didn't expect to see you here. Finally got a taste for fashion have we, hmmm?" She raised an eyebrow as she continued to beam. Applejack could already see the cogs turning behind Rarity's eyes, and quickly moved to intercept the seamstress's train of thought.

"Nah, sorry." The unicorn’s features drooped a little. "Ah, was wonderin' if you've seen Apple Bloom and the girls. They come through here recently?"

The fashionista raised a hoof to her chin and thought for a moment before turning back to the orange earth pony.

"They were here earlier to get the picnic basket for lunch, why?"

"What about after that? Yah haven't seen 'em since?" The cowpony asked quickly.

Rarity shook her head.

"Sorry Applejack, I haven't seen them since lunch. Why? What’s going on?"

The orange mare explained the situation, how the girls had disappeared, and how nopony seemed to know where they were. Rarity raised an eyebrow that seemed to say 'Aren't you over overreacting?'

"Girl, this is serious. You know what kind ah' trouble those fillies can get into."

"I suppose you're right, I happen to know a stallion or two who might be willing to help look. Where should we start?"

"The tracks ah' found led teh' town. I looked 'round the school house and Library, an' no sign of them." The farm pony paused for moment.

"Ah' got nothin'."

The marble white unicorn let out a tired sigh, then with a practiced flick of her neck straightened out her mane into perfect curls.

"In that case, why don't you check out Quills & Sofas. It's close to the center of town so the proprietor might have spotted the girls. After that you should go back to Sweet Apple Acres, they might have gone back to their little fort. I'll find some helpers and look around town hall and see if we can find them."

The farm pony reared up with a huge smile, "All right then, after I git Rainbow that'll be mah' first stop." Applejack turned to leave, but stopped as she remembered the rest of Twilight's plan. " Oh, and 'fore ah' forget, Twi said teh' meet up at the park in a few hours."

"Sure thing, now let's hurry. Though I think you are jumping to conclusions Applejack, there is no way of telling what the girls are up too. We shouldn't assume the worst of them, simply because they disappeared."

"Well last time they pulled somthin' like this mah' brother got engaged to Cheerilee and almost had a weddin' on a feather‐bed at the bottom of a hole." Applejack deadpanned.

"Point taken."

Applejack flew out the door and broke into a gallop as she headed towards the fields where Rainbow tended to take her naps.

Rarity locked the shop up and cantered out the door, locking it and flipping the elegant 'open' sign over before she made her way to the town square.

Hours of vigorous searching later...

Twilight was pacing back and forth, along with Applejack. The four other mares were siting, lying down or in some other state of rest, tired from searching the town. All except Pinkie Pie who was happily chasing a butterfly. Fluttershy was conversing with a little bluebird perched on her wing. After a moment the bird flew away chirping something only the gentle pegasus could understand.

"I'm sorry Applejack, the birds haven't been able to find them, but Mister Walters said he would keep looking," The canary yellow mare said with minimal volume.

The farm mare stamped at the ground with growing frustration.

"That was the LAST lead we had! We looked everywhere, EVERYWHERE! Where in the hay are those fillies!"

The orange mares pacing began to pick up speed.

"The girls are in a heap o' trouble. Ah' Just know it."

"I'm sure they're fine, we just need to figure out where they are," Twilight’s voice reverberated with calm; however she was starting to feel anxious as well.

"Well, we know where they AREN'T," The cyan mare bolted upwards, her wings bringing her aloft with practiced ease. "ANYWHERE! We’ve literally looked through all of Ponyville and we couldn't find them!"

The five of the girls slumped slightly; Pinkie was still bouncing after her butterfly when she came to a stop. Mid‐bounce naturally.

"Hey, why don't we ask those guys?" the pink party mare pointed at two colts that were walking along the path.

"I don't see why not," Rarity sighed as she gingerly removed herself from the lovely couch she had been lying in. "it's not like we can know less than we do now."

"Just wait until you hear those two, you might change your mind." Rainbow Dash grumbled as she identified the colts as Snips and Snails.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"That was AWESOME!" Snips shouted. Snails had his head held high and his chest puffed out. The brown colt rarely got praise like this and he was going to enjoy it.

"I never knew that re‐shelling snails was such an ...involved process," he said to his friend with newfound respect.

"Yah, it not easy, everyone is different. And sometimes they have trouble getting out so you gotta‐"

"Hey! You two!"

Before Snails could finish his story the both of them were now face to face with six mares with varying levels of distress.

"Have either ah' you seen Apple Bloom or any of 'er friends?” Applejack shot out.

"Uh, yeah. They said they were going to Zecora's place." Snips chose his words with apparent care. Looking back, goading those girls on might not have been one of his better ideas.

There was a collective sigh from most of the mares present.

"Well that's a relief," Rarity seemed to relax slightly, letting the tension seep out from her haunches.

"RELIEF?! That means they took off into the Everfree forest!" Applejack shouted, nerves getting the better of her. Who could blame her, the Apple family knew the dangers of the forest better than anypony after living right next to it for so long.

"Calm down dear, at least we know where they are now. They're probably still with Zecora doing... whatever it is they do on Tuesdays," the marshmallow white unicorn reassured her anxious friend.

"Ah' know. Ah', she took a deep breath. " ...Ah' know. But this is mah' sis we're talking ‘bout here." The Apple adorned pony hung her head. "Ah' just can't shake this feelin' like they're in some kinda fix."

"Sweetie Belle is just as much my sister as Apple Bloom is yours," Rarity reassured with a certain gentleness in her voice. She walked over to the farm pony and gave her a bit of a nudge. "But if we don't keep our wits about us, how are we going to help anypony?"

Applejack sighed, "Ah' know, it's just you'd think those silly fillies would have told somepony where they went."

"YEAH! I can't imagine why those girls would be so, er, un‐responsible" Snips chimed in. As long as they didn't make a connection between the girls and what they did, well really what HE did, they would get out of this Scott free.

"Hey, weren't they goin' to get Rainbow Dash before they went into the forest?" Snails interjected, a completely innocent albeit blank stare adorning his face. Snips looked at his lanky companion in horror.

All eyes were on Rainbow Dash in an instant. "Hey, don't look at me. I haven't even seen the girls all day!"

"Yeah, that’s really weird, wonder what happened," the stubby green unicorn chimed in, sweat darkening his coat.

"Well, it's probably cuz you kinda ragged on them about needing an adult and when they were going into the forest. Remember?" Snails reminded his friend who was now sweating enough bullets to supply a regional militia.

"Whut." The orange farm pony’s tone was flat and unamused. Her glare was less flat and more seething. The other mares simply wore looks of concern.

"I... I have no idea what you’re talking about!" Snips voice raised an octave with his eyes darting from side to side, looking like he had just followed the shortest game of tennis on record.

"Sure ya do! Don't ya remember how you said since we been into the forest loads of times, goin' into the Everfree was no big deal?" The oblivious unicorn continued, completely unaware of the hole he was digging for his short companion.

"WHAT?" Rarity exclaimed, her look of concern replaced with one of shock.

"I... ah, um... uhh...err," Snips desperately racked his brain for any way to back out of this, but none presented themselves.

"I'm sure they're fine, though that comment about being babies needing help going into the forest was kinda cold, dude. Just sayin'." Snails nodded sagely, or more accurately, attempted to nod sagely. It was more of awkward bob than a nod. "Probably why they were so steamed when they left."

"WHAT!?" Applejack and Rarity exclaimed simultaneously.

Snails snapped his attention to the two mares and promptly lost all feeling in his legs from his hooves to his haunches. The pure white unicorn's fur was standing on end and the look on her face could have curdled milk into an exploding cheese that would have impressed Discord himself.

The farm pony was even worse; her face was turning shades of red that no healthy creature could ever hope to match. The shades became simultaneously brighter and deeper. Rainbow could swear that Applejack was literally glowing with rage.

"Are you suggesting‐" Rarity paused, trying to keep her voice level.

"Are yah'll telling me..." the sole present Apple mare growled in an almost otherworldly tone. "That you shanghaied MAH' SISTER into going into the Everfree forest. One of the most DANGEROUS places in all of Equestria, not only without supervision but without TELLEN' ANYPONY?!" By the end the mare was screaming at the top of her lungs, a look of the purest rage born from the love and concern she had for her sister painted her visage.

"Uh...kinda?" Snips replied, smiling at the elder Apple sister. He knew lying was out of the question, rumor had it that Applejack could spot a fib at fifty paces.

Of course, that was the wrong answer.

Applejack leaned back as she drew in a deep breath. While at one time such a breath could have been calming, meditative even, this breath had the sole purpose of unleashing the greatest tongue lashing ever uttered in the lands of Equestria.

"Why you low down cotton pickin' plow buckin' walleyed sod spittin' holly huckin' little‐"

Applejack's voice suddenly cut out like a mic coming unplugged, not seeming to realize this as she kept shouting noiselessly. Twilight sighed as her silencing spell took effect, and watched as the mare continued to scream what the librarian suspected were some very unkind words. Still, the silent rant continued, and had it been heard by anypony, they would have testified that no greater words born of righteous fury had ever been uttered in this world and most likely would never be again.

Rainbow, though tempted to let the quivering pair of idiots in front of her get their comeuppance, knew better than to let the cowpony do anything more than shout at them. She had never seen AJ this angry and quite frankly wouldn't be surprised if the farmer tried to kick the boy's flanks up and down all of Equestria.

"You guys might want to beat it. If Applejack gets her hooves on you there's no telling what she'll do."

Snips and Snails fled in absolute terror, screaming all the way home.

The girls only could look on with a mixture of confusion and concern. "Uh... Applejack, I don't mean to be rude, but... wasn't that a little much?" Fluttershy watched as the unicorn-shaped blobs faded into the distance.

Only once the two troublemakers had disappeared from sight did Applejack stop her silent tirade. She slowly took a deep breath. And then another. Finally, after she calmed down she turned and tried to say something to Dash, but no sound came from her mouth.

Applejack turned to twilight and gestured to her throat and the live‐in librarian released her spell.

"You alright?" Rainbow asked as she fluttered in front of the farm mare.

"As much as Ah' can be." Applejack fumed.

"And what does that mean?" The multicolored mare landed as she spoke.

Applejack's irritation was clear on her face and it looked like she was going to rise to Rainbows poorly chosen words, But after blowing her top she simply lacked the steam to do so and let out a heavy sigh.

"Ah' mean as much as Ah' can with Apple Bloom still unaccounted for." She let out another sigh, her anger cooling like a doused flame and her head dipping low. Rainbow relaxed a bit and concern for her friend was plain on her face.

One last breath and one last sigh and Applejack raised her head to address the mare in front of her with a tired smile.
"Ah'm alright."

Rainbow gave a nod and a playful smile. "Alright, as long as you sure you're not gonna maim somepony."

"Maim Somepony? Ah' don't recall cuttin' THAT loose." Applejack returned the pegasi's playful demeanor for a moment, before turning a tad somber. She removed her trademark Stetson and turned to address the rest of her friends. "Ah'm really sorry about all that, I just... lost my temper." She hung her head and shame and fidgeted with her hat. "Ah just got so mad, Ah couldn't believe that those two would put the girls in such a heap of trouble. Ah would never be able to forgive myself in any of em' got hurt."

Who's to say they haven't already.

The orange mare shook away the dark thoughts that began to invade her mind. The girls were going to be perfectly fine until there was evidence to the contrary. She looked at her friends and motioned towards the woods as she replaced her hat.

"Come on ladies! Those fillies ain't gonna save themselves!" She called out as she bolted forward.

"Applejack, where are we going? We don't know where they are." Twilight called out as she quickly raced after their friend with the other elements of harmony in tow.

"First stop is Zecora's place. Apple Bloom made it there once, they might have made the trip without a hitch and jus' lost track ah' time." The element of honesty's visage was one of relentless determination. "And if'n things did go off-kilter then Ah' want somepony who knows the forest like cut of their mane. And Zecora's just the pony‐"

"Zebra," Pinkie Pie corrected.

"‐Zebra," the orange farm mare amended, "fer the job."

As the group galloped down the trail Twilight pulled up to Applejack's side.

"Are you sure you're alright after all that?"

AJ gave her a quick nod. "Ah' think I just needed to let off some steam, Ah' am sorry ya'll had to see me like that, it's just...

...It's my sister Twi."

"I understand Applejack, and you don't have to say sorry to me. Let's just find those fillies."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Back to the Future! ...er, present.

"Whoa, this is heavy!" Troy exclaimed softly to himself, He was genuinely surprised by the weight of the stone he had picked up. The stone itself wasn't much larger than his fist, yet he had to pick it up with both hands.

The young hiker (and recently self‐proclaimed adventurer) hefted the rock to a large rectangle of stones he had been arranging into a perimeter around his designated sleeping area.

He had some marginal success with trying to communicate to the tiny ponies, and by 'marginal success' they were now more curious than afraid. Trying to get them to say his name had been a good attempt, but they just couldn't make certain sounds and he was fairly sure he horribly butchered their names as well. Though, it was good for some laughs on their part. The large round eyes followed his progress as the flames of the fire pit began to burn lower and lower.

Troy stopped to admire his handiwork, the frame was big but not too big for the emergency blanket. The plan was to create a lip around his sleeping bag, the blanket would keep any water out of sleeping arrangements and simultaneously keep the stone floor from wicking away any heat that the sleeping bag might fail to trap. Most people don't realize this, while heat does go up, it can still be wicked away from below. Nature likes equilibrium, so a cold stone floor wants to be warm if a nice and toasty body lies on top of it. The problem is when only one spot on the floor is warm and the rest of it wants in, resulting in a constant siphon on the precious life-giving heat of the poor bastard without a blankie.

He rolled out his sleeping bag and set his backpack into pillow position, and began to remove his boots. To his surprise, the little ones seemed to eye his feet with curiosity as he removed his socks, setting them inside his footwear, which also seemed to garner interest. The hiker climbed into the sleeping bag and got comfortable as he looked back at the three tiny creatures.

The fire was just a pile of embers and ash at this point casting a low orange glow over the not quite so merry band of misfits. The young man straightened slightly as addressed 'house guests' for lack of a better term.

"You should probably get some sleep."

The tiny critters only gave him a strange look but seemed to get the idea as they lay down and huddled together trying to get comfortable. A strong breeze blew through one of the broken windows, buffeting the group. While Troy was fine, the ponies were obviously suffering. Their tiny bodies shivered in the cold, it was at the same time adorable and distressing. Troy rolled over; there wasn't much he could do to help them. It's not like he could give up his sleeping bag...

Why does it always suck to be the good guy?

Troy lifted himself up and began unzipping his sleeping bag, eventually bringing the zipper down the side, effectively splinting it in half. The tiny pastel-colored bundles of cuteness were watching him with mild interest as he spread out his improvised blanket.

"All right, come on." Troy motioned to the blanket. "You’re cold right?"

The three ponies shared a glance with each other and conversed for a bit, the yellow and red one then stood up startling the other two. It looked Troy over, sizing him up, and slowly nosed her (Troy assumed that it was a her from the bow) way under his sleeping bag and nestled into his chest then poked her head out again. Troy smiled, she looked like the most adorable chest-burster ever. The other two slowly followed suit and made themselves comfortable, all three of their heads poking out from the side of his sleeping bag. What had been a quite roomy sleeping bag quickly became a rather crowded blanket. The hiker sighed and set his head down to rest, but before he could drift off to the realm of dreams he noticed that all of little ones were shaking slightly. Strange thing was, they were definitely warm enough, Troy could feel the heat himself. Why would they be‐

*Ding!*

They were still scared of him. Well, shit.

He really couldn't do much to calm them down; he didn't know if he could pet them, they would probably freak out first.

Then an idea clicked into place. He allowed himself a small smile, while under normal circumstances he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, there was one song from one of his favorite books that he could always fall back on.

And hey, they say that song crosses all lingual barriers.

He mentally shrugged as he rolled onto his back, took a deep breath, and in a low, soft voice slowly began to sing.

"Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The fillies all craned their necks to look at the creature, it was making noises again, but it was different this time.

"It's singing," Sweetie Belle couldn't help the note of surprise in her voice. "Why is it singing?"
Apple Bloom lowered her head onto her forelegs and mumbled, "Maybe it’s a lullaby." She closed her eyes and let the deep tones wash over her. It was a different kind of singing than what she was used to, but it reminded her of the few times Big Mac had sung to her when she was sick.

"Sounds kinda nice." the filly muttered as the foreign words carried her off into a deep, peaceful sleep.

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Don't make me come down there!

—God *citation needed*