• Published 31st Oct 2012
  • 1,281 Views, 26 Comments

The Inn of the World - The Writer's Group

Luna listens to ponies stories in the tavern she runs.

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Maplewood's story by the Ingognito Brony

I just wanted a little extra money, that’s all. I didn’t even want to be rich. I just wanted to be able to fix up the house. Maybe take a vacation to Las Pegasus.

I wanted to stop living day to day, and job to job.

That why, when I got an opportunity, I took it.

See, one day, Ironwood — that’s my brother — came by for a visit. He worked for the railroad, so he’d been all over Equestria. He always had some stories to tell. He was quiet this time, though.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen him like that. A few years earlier, he’d lost a friend to a cave in. I figured that it’d happened again. I thought that, after a few beers, he’d tell me who it was, then we’d spend the night drinking in that stallion’s honour while I heard about all the good times.

Instead, two beers in, he looks over at me and asks, “do you know about Zap Apples?”

“Yeah,” I say.

Who hasn’t? The Riches are famous for it. A jar of the jam goes for, what, two hundred bits in Manehattan?

“Ever thought about selling ‘em?”

About right there I started wondering if he’d been drinking before he came over. Zap Apples only come from one place in all of Equestria. One farm, and apparently the seeds from that farm won’t grow new trees.

Sure, there are ponies who try and sell knockoffs of the jam, but they’re found out pretty quickly and the Riches are known for making sure nopony will ever buy from them again.

I told him that and that, I’m sorry, but I needed a good name to make a living.

He just laughed.

So he tells me that he had to do some work in Ponyville a few months back. Some eldritch horror broke the tracks again — hey, it’s Ponyville — and after he was done, he went to a bar to relax. The way he told it, there was this big stallion there who said he worked at Sweet Apple Acres. A few drinks later and this Macintosh guy starts talking about how Zap Apple season’s coming. He told Ironwood everything, and I mean everything, right down to the day and where his grandmother found the first seeds.

So Iron said that if we got our own seeds, we could grow some Zap Apples on our father’s land. We’d have to make sure we pick them all the day they get ripe, but we wouldn’t have to do anything else to take care of them. We couldn’t sell Sweet Zap Apple Jam, of course, but there are a lot of ponies who would pay good bits for a Zap Apple.

One day of hard work a year and we could sell the apples for five bits apiece. Even split in two, it’s not a fortune, but it’s a nice pile of bits for ponies like us.

Better yet, Ironwood said, if anypony asks, we just tell them the truth. All of it; right down to the stallion at the bar. It was that Macintosh’s job to keep the secret, not ours. There’s no law that says we can’t take advantage of an opportunity.
Like I said, I took it.

Now, we weren’t stupid ponies. Getting the seeds meant going into the Everfree. We did some reading and bought some cat toys, a mirror and a lot of other stuff the books said. It took both of our savings to do it, but we got everything we needed and got ourselves on a train to Ponyville. We were just in time, too. That night we heard the Timberwolves howling.

That’s the first sign of the Zap Apples.

The next day, just like that Macintosh had told Iron, a giant bolt of lightning shot into the sky out of the Everfree and came back down to Earth in a hundred bolts, all at once. We didn’t see it happen, but we saw Sweet Apple Acres the day before and now there was a whole orchard of trees in one of the empty fields. Yeah, they were bare, but we knew the story was true.

Next day, another bolt of lightning came from the Everfree, split, and hit all the trees at once. We actually snuck out to see it. One bolt and then, zap, every tree was covered in leaves.

The next day it happened again, and the trees were covered in grey apples.

Me and Ironwood, we decided we were going to sleep in the afternoon and go to the Everfree after midnight. We wanted to make sure we found the Zap Apple trees before the lightning hit the next day. That’s when the Zap Apples would be ripe, but if you don’t pick them that day, the whole tree vanishes. We only had one chance and we weren’t going to waste it. The problem was that were too excited. Both of us just tossed and turned until it was time to go.

We snuck in through Sweet Apple Acres. From what we saw, there were only a few ponies on the farm and, that night, nopony came out to stop us. It only took us a few minutes to reach the Forest.

The Everfree wasn’t what I thought it would be, not at first. I thought a pony couldn’t go two steps without seeing a cockatrice, but the place was quiet. There weren’t even any creepy crickets chirping or frogs croaking. Iron and me, we just looked at each other and laughed.

There we were, two grown stallions with our saddlebags full of gear to fight off monsters. We were acting like little colts and we knew it; or at least we thought we did.

Now, maybe it was just us being tired, or maybe it was because we didn’t go into the woods that much. Either way, neither of us remembered that forests are never really quiet. Not unless there’s something big and mean in there with you.

We went looking for the Zap Apples. We just walked through the forest, laughing and joking like we were on our way to a picnic.

I never saw the Wolf that got me. One minute I’m telling the one about the three-legged griffin, and the next the world went sideways and my head cracked against a tree. I don’t remember falling, but I was on the ground. My head and my shoulder felt wet. I didn’t know it then, but I was bleeding badly.

I saw Ironwood running toward me, and I saw the Timberwolves behind him. I tried to warn him, I really did, but there just wasn’t any air in me.

I’ll never forget the way he screamed when they hamstrung him.

If there were any mercy in Equestria, they would have killed us right then.

One of them bit into my flank, but it didn’t tear. It rocked its head back and forth to work its teeth down to the bone. I was screaming and bucking to get away. Another Wolf bit my leg to keep me still. They didn’t care. To them, we were just meat.

I was still kicking when they started dragging us away. I pawed at the ground to pull away, but it didn’t do anything. They took turns, one dragging us backward across the forest floor until it was tired, and then another would take its place and sink its teeth into me.

I don’t know when I gave up. Between the Timberwolves and the cuts and scrapes I got from the rocks and roots, I just gave up and hoped it would end. I didn’t even think about Iron until I heard him sobbing.

We were pulled into a clearing as the sun was coming up. I guess it’s irony that the clearing was surrounded by Zap Apple trees. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. The Wolves pulled us to the center of the clearing where an old, gnarled monster of a tree stood. They dropped us there, in front of it, and backed away.

The tree was huge and thick, but skeletal without a single leaf on it.

When the first rays of the sun hit it, the tree began to writhe. Its branches shook and rattled against one another. Its gnarled trunk twisted and cracked, the tangled bands of bark splitting apart into a hideous, sideways maw.

Out of that mouth, a root fell out onto the ground between my brother and me. It twisted around blindly, searching. I pushed myself away. My brother, his hind legs ruined, flopped like a fish. The root found him, wrapped itself around his body.

Ironwood screamed. He reached for me, but I didn’t reach back. I just watched as the tree drew him back, pulled him into that mouth. He was still screaming when the mouth closed. I heard bones give and crack, then a roiling crunch as the rest of him collapsed. Only then was he quiet.

The monster tree shuddered and shook, creaking against its own weight. Its upper branches parted and a lightning bolt shot up out of its trunk into the sky. I could taste the ozone when the bolt came back to Earth. Lightning lit up the clearing. All around me, the dark Zap Apples exploded into colour.

I expected the tree to open again, this time for me. It didn’t. It just quivered one last time and went still. Around me, the Timberwolves shrank back into the forest.

I was nothing to them now. They’d only needed one more.

Alone and bleeding, I finally passed out.

I don’t remember much about the trip back. I only know that I didn’t make it all the way. I was found by a zebra who lives in the Everfree, and she carried me to a hospital. I wouldn’t be alive now without her.
Sometimes, I actually wish she hadn’t found me.

When I was healed, I left that town and I’ll never go back to the horrible place. On the way out I bought a jar of Sweet Zap Apple Jam. You can buy it cheap in that town. I keep it with me. It’s all I have left of my brother.