• Published 13th Dec 2012
  • 1,723 Views, 47 Comments

Kickin' Flanks - Xtralife

You see them saving Equestria. You watch them learning about friendship. You might even worship one as your immortal royal sun goddess. You think they're ponies just like you. You're wrong. Dead wrong!

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5 - Start Eating That Trashcan

“There’s something I don’t understand,” mused Fluttershy aloud.

“Oooh!” Pinkie Pie bounced up and down in her seat. “Is it why Angel is so resistant to his anger management therapy?”

The ride so far had been moderately uneventful. All four friends had put their heads together and compared what little knowledge they had, but they made absolutely no further headway. All they could tell was that somehow Twilight Sparkle held all the answers. The conversation mostly dried up after that, and even more so when Rarity got up to use the bathroom. Fluttershy’s interjection was a welcome breath of fresh air.

“I don’t think that’s what she meant, sugarcube.” Applejack leaned in very close to the pegasus. “So, what’s on your mind?”

“Well,” began Fluttershy, looking about somewhat nervously, “where is Princess Luna?”

Pinkie Pie’s ears pricked up. “Wow, you’re right! She wasn’t there during Twilight’s arrest. Does that mean she doesn’t agree with Princess Celestia?”

“They probably make major choices like this together, being family and all,” stated the farm mare.

“Then what happened to her?” Fluttershy stared out the window again. “I don’t think Princess Celestia would… you know… I really don’t want to think about that right now.”

“Of course not,” said Applejack comfortingly. “I don’t think she would either.”

The pegasus turned back to the group. “But what you said earlier was right, Applejack! Princess Celestia isn’t acting like herself right now. We can’t tell what she’ll do next.”

“I got it! We’ll ask Twilight when we get to her!” Pinkie squealed slightly, and dropped one hoof into the other in a decisive manner.

“And the list of questions just keeps on growin’,” said Applejack. “But I’ve been thinking about something. I didn’t want to bring it up, but I can’t shake this feeling that we might not be allowed to see Twilight at all.”

Pinkie Pie shuffled awkwardly in her seat. “I know. That mean inspector guy couldn’t pin anything on us, but he probably knows we know about Rainbow Dash.”

“Then what do we do first? If Rainbow is heading to the prison, she’s not going to carefully knock on the door and ask for a visitor’s badge.” The pegasus blew a tuft of her mane out of her face. “She’ll try to tear that place apart with her bare hooves.”

Applejack nodded in agreement. They were all familiar with Rainbow’s short fuse. “We might have to find her first, before she digs herself any deeper. But if we show up to see Twilight and Dash is with us, we'll really be in for it then.”

“Speaking of ponies that aren’t here, where in Equestria is Rarity?” Pinkie turned in her seat and looked down the length of the car. “She may take a while in bathrooms, but this is ridiculous.”

As if on cue, the unicorn slid through the doorway and trotted lightly down the center, with her nose in the air and her mane looking a tad shinier than usual. At first she looked around as if she was lost, but the others smiled and waved congenially, and she immediately made a beeline for them.

“I’m dreadfully sorry about that, girls,” Rarity said as she delicately took her seat next to Applejack. “The line was just massive.”

Suddenly the train’s whistle blew three times. Pinkie Pie gasped, and leaned over Fluttershy to get a better look outside, causing her to wheeze as she was pinned against the seat. “Girls, we’re here!”

The train began to slow down, and it shuddered slightly as the brakes ground against the wheels. Other passengers immediately got up and began filing out of the car, stepping outside into the light. When there was a break in the stream of ponies, the four friends entered the queue and trotted with them. Suddenly they were outside, standing on the concrete platform.

The train had come to a stop underneath a giant metal awning, lifted up on huge iron beams. Benches were lined up between two sets of tracks, and on either side were huge stairways going down to the city streets. All four ponies peered over a railing at the edge. Beneath them they could see taxi carriages rolling along, and massive crowds migrating through crosswalks. Manehattan’s daytime hum was in full swing.

“This is gonna be harder than I thought,” commented Applejack.

“I’ve heard that Manehattan has a lot of different train stations, too.” Fluttershy looked away from the edge, being easily unsettled by heights. “Rainbow Dash could have gotten off at a different point entirely.”

Pinkie Pie had descended halfway, skipping and hopping along as she went. “Then we’ve gotta hurry! This isn’t a game, you know.” The pony continued to make her way down the rest of the staircase by going backwards and counting steps aloud, and the others followed close behind.

The ponies stopped at the bottom, right at an intersection’s corner, but not out of tiredness. A crowd had formed along the street, making it impossible to move forward. They waited there, unsure of what to do next. Suddenly the pack marginally shifted. A taxi rolled up and a passenger entered it, making a minor amount of room for the rest of the herd. Fluttershy audibly sighed in relief as the equine wall surrounding her was alleviated.

“What’s the matter? Can’t you, like, fly over the group?” Rarity pulled her locks back behind her neck and puffed them up with her hoof.

Applejack looked over. “I hope you’re kidding, sugarcube.” There was a tinge of restraint in her voice. “You know she won’t fly if she can help it.”

The unicorn quit messing with her mane and turned away. “Sorry. I suppose I’m just annoyed right now.”

“So am I, but we’ve got to keep it together right now.” The orange mare put her leg around Rarity, who initially jumped at the sudden side hug, but took a deep breath. “Anyway, I figure we can take one of these here taxis to the prison,” continued Applejack. “But what do we do about finding Rainbow?” she said, bringing her voice down to a whisper.

“I know!” responded Rarity. “We should split up. Two of us will look for Rainbow and two of us will visit Twilight.”

Fluttershy sidled in close and kept her voice low. “That should be fine, but we should swap, too. When the two of us that are visiting Twilight are done, they’ll find the two that are with Dash. That way we can all see both of them."

Pinkie Pie was much further ahead than the others. She stood and waited with the surrounding ponies, and watched the first cart pull up with wide-eyed fascination. But when nothing different happened a second time, she lost interest. Instead, the mare grabbed a pony next to her.

“Excuse me,” she trilled, “can I ask you something?”

The other pony was an aquamarine mare with a gold harp cutie mark. She was about to step into a taxi, but when Pinkie stopped her the carriage was subsequently taken and sped away. The potential passenger sharply exhaled and turned to Pinkie. “What is it?” she spat.

Pinkie grinned in an open and friendly manner. It was her go-to method for dealing with grumps, as well as everypony else. “I was just wondering if you’ve seen a friend of mine! She’s a blue pegasus with a rainbow mane. Does that sound familiar?”

The other mare froze. Her drooping saddlebags slid off completely. “Do… do you mean Rainbow Dash?”

“That’s right!” the pink pony exclaimed, nodding vigorously. “I’m looking for Rainbow Dash!”

The street corner suddenly came alive. Ponies screamed in alarm and dove into taxis, cramming themselves in as they took off, their legs kicking around outside the windows. Those with wings soared into the sky, cutting through clouds and blindsiding birds. Everypony else settled for galloping hard in all directions. Whether it was back up the stairs to the train station or down the street, they fled in sheer panic and terror. In mere moments, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Applejack found themselves alone.

“Was it something I said?” asked Pinkie Pie to nopony in particular.

With the crowd dispersed, a row of newspaper dispensers were now able to be seen. Fluttershy casually trotted over for a closer look. Suddenly she stopped and gasped loudly. A sketchy and not very well-defined image of a blue pegasus with rainbow colored hair was plastered across the visible top half of the front page. The pegasus plopped a bit into one and grabbed a copy of the Manehattan Today through the unlocked clear plastic door with her mouth. Seeing this, Rarity sparked up her horn and cast a levitation spell on the paper. Applejack and Pinkie Pie edged in close as the daily periodical was opened. Now that the rest of the photo could be seen, it was clearly an artist’s rendition of Rainbow Dash – in effect, a wanted poster made from a facial composite. The group drew back in shock, but curiosity took hold quick, and they began to read the article silently to themselves.

Mall Melee Becomes Bank Butchery

A pony employed at a Wonderbolt Outlet in Manehattan’s scenic and Equestria-famous mall was violently assaulted this morning. The Manehattan P.D. has now identified the suspect as Rainbow Dash, known member of the Elements of Harmony and wanted in Ponyville on charges of breaking and entering. The pugnacious pegasus then stormed the First Manehattan Bank, and slaughtered five ponies before disappearing.

Eyewitnesses to the initial incident stated that Rainbow Dash managed to shatter the glass of the merchant square prior to bursting into the shop, where she assaulted the door greeter and proceeded to wreck the establishment, citing “defective merchandise” as her reason for damaging property.

“I don’t know what punching me in the face had to do with returning a product,” stated Grape Delight, the unfortunate first injured party of the one-pony violence spree, who is now in the care of Saint Marey’s Hospital. “And none of our items are flawed or imperfect. You can directly check each of our many shirts, hats, mugs, pencil cases, and other Wonderbolts paraphernalia for the Official Seal of Quality.”

Rainbow Dash proceeded to terrorize other staff members before two officers, Lone Star and Brass Badge, captured her. The details are unknown at this time, but somehow the mare managed to escape and steal their weapons. Following her escape, the pegasus blazed a trail of murder, starting with the policeponies.

“Two members of our force were gunned down today in the worst episode of carnage in our fair city since the prohibition of apple cider,” stated Commissioner Hoof Cuffs in a press release held shortly thereafter. “The Manehattan Police Department will not rest until this hero turncoat is dragged through the streets and thrown before Princess Celestia.”

The pegasus ended her warpath at the First Manehattan Bank, breaking in through a service door. Video surveillance captured footage of Rainbow Dash gunning down two innocent bystanders and a security guard, who at this time have not yet been named. Survivors of the tragedy recall the attacker’s focused ferocity and mad mumblings.

“She said something about gum, I think,” commented Tourist Trap, who was caught in the crossfire when she unloaded a shotgun into the crowd. “I have no clue what she meant by that. But when she began firing, she almost had some kind of clarity. It was like she knew which ponies to aim for.”

Although Rainbow Dash’s current location is unknown, sources say that the Manehattan’s full police force is being mobilized to find her. It is believed that she is still somewhere within the city limits. Citizens are encouraged to call 1 (555) 876-4824, or (555) U-SNITCH, if she is sighted.

Through the duration of the reading, the sound was faint at first. A snuffle here or there was audible. As the friends finished, Fluttershy had been reduced to staring at the concrete, her mane draped over her face. Drops spattered against the pavement amidst the cracks and the leftover chewed gum. Then there was a stifled inhaling sob when the yellow pegasus stamped her hoof as hard as she could into the ground, again and again until she couldn’t summon the strength to do it any longer.

Pinkie Pie sat backward, and much like a balloon losing air, her mane deflated flat and droopy. The pony’s ears followed suit. She began biting her lower lip subconsciously as she laid herself down. All of the mare’s legs curled up, and her tail draped over the curb of the sidewalk as she pulled herself into a small and protective ball.

Rarity buried her face deep into her arm. Her horn flickered on and off with magical power, causing her to drop the periodical for a moment, and then it was grabbed again mid-air. The unicorn began to shake and heave silently until she dropped to the ground. As she fell, she finally let go of the newspaper. It fluttered down softly next to her.

Applejack had been glaring the illustration of Rainbow Dash square in the eyes, as if waiting for a response. The earth pony finally broke contact when the newspaper fell and blinked as she stared off into space, entirely unaware of anything around her. She gritted her teeth as she felt herself begin to breathe heavily. Something was rising up from inside her chest. It culminated in an ear-splitting scream that she could barely feel.

Their hooves clopped against the pavement as they got up from the ground, they sniffled away their last tears, and they gathered together in a calming embrace around the fallen newspaper. For a while they continued to not say a word.

Applejack inhaled deep and slow. “I… I say we stick to the plan.”

“There’s no guarantee we can see Twilight now. Are you sure we should do this?” asked Rarity. “And if we’re seen with Rainbow Dash, we’ll most definitely be labeled criminals.”

Pinkie Pie nodded. Her mane was still straight and drooping. “We’re friends.”

“That’s all that matters,” said Fluttershy, faint but with conviction. “Just let them try and stop us.”

A pair of taxi carts slowly pulled up to the curb, the drivers being confused by the lack of a crowd. The friends let go of each other as they heard the turning wheels and turned towards the carriages. It was easy to see that there was only room in each taxi for two passengers.

“I want to go look for Rainbow,” Applejack stated. “I could use your help, Pinkie. Maybe your Pinkie Sense will point us the right way.”

The pink pony shrugged. Her hair was still very straight and limp. “You know I can’t turn it on or off at will, Applejack. But I guess it’s the best idea I’ve heard.”

Rarity and Fluttershy looked at each other and nodded, understanding that this meant they were paired up together to meet Twilight. Silently they all clambered into their respective taxis, which then pulled away and headed into Manehattan. Behind them, a sudden sea of ponies washed into the waiting area. The activity resumed as quickly as it had ceased.

“Well then, where do you fillies want to go?” The stallion pulling the taxi occupied by Applejack and Pinkie Pie was relaxed and trotting along, smoothly weaving his way between fellow carriage drivers. He was somewhat overweight and his mane spilled everywhere from underneath his driver’s cap.

“We’re—well, it’s going to sound mighty strange, but we don’t know yet.” Applejack’s voice warbled slightly.
“No problem! More fare for me, you know what I’m sayin’?” The driver guffawed hard, making the cart vibrate. “But seriously, I’m gonna need an idea of where I’m headed.”

Pinkie Pie spoke up. Her mane was still deflated, and her voice was just as flat. “We’re looking for a friend. I think she might be near the First Manehattan Bank, actually.”

Applejack made a general “hmm” noise of approval. “I guess we’ll try there first, and we’ll let you know if we see her, alright?”
The driver nodded as he slowed down for a stoplight. “The First Manehattan Bank, eh? Well, okay, if ya really want to. But ya heard about what happened there today, right?”

Applejack gulped, and Pinkie Pie let her mane hang over her face, but both grunted noncommittally. It would have looked highly suspicious to the driver, if he wasn’t busy passing through the intersection.

“Crazy stuff, ya know? It’s all over them newspapers. My brother said he talked to that lunatic!” The cabbie snorted. “Ha! That guy’s a chump. I love him, and I wouldn’t say this to his face, but a chump is a chump, if ya catch my drift.”

“So your brother’s lying?” the farm pony asked, as nonchalantly as she could. “What makes you think that?”

“Ah, he said she wasn’t acting crazy or nothin’! I can’t believe that a crazed killer like Rainbow Dash would just go up and talk to him without going bananas, ya know?”

Pinkie Pie nudged Applejack gently, and they both looked at each other in minor relief. It was somehow comforting to them to know that Rainbow Dash had, at least at some point since her escape from Ponyville, been her usual self.

“He’s just sore that I couldn’t get him a gig doing this, so he pretends he sees celebrities at his food stand. Ya know, to make me jealous or somethin’.” The driver merged a lane over. “I think he sells carrot-dogs. Or was it chimichangas?”

Pinkie Pie’s hair re-inflated incredibly fast, like a pink puffer fish made out of cotton candy. “Ooh! Tell him to sell cherry-flavored ones! I thought it up a long time ago but I never tried making them! He could call them cherrychangas, or chimicherries!”

“Or chimicherrychangas, I reckon,” interjected Applejack, quivering from holding back a strong fit of the giggles in spite of recent revelations.

“Cover them in chocolate,” said the driver offhandedly, “and you could call them chocochimicherrychangas.”

“Oooooh, that’s a good one—ouch!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, grabbing a foreleg with a hoof and massaging it gently. Her opposite hind leg suddenly kicked out and bumped into the front of the cart, startling the driver.

“Hey! What’s going on back there?” the cabbie asked with some audible annoyance.

“Nothing, sir!” said Applejack a little too loudly. “Everything’s fine!”

The driver, clearly placated, continued on. “Ah, never mind. So anyway, what would it be called if something else was added to it? It’s gotta start with a C…”

Applejack turned to Pinkie Pie and began whispering hurriedly, using her cowpony hat as a means to muffle the conversation. “Was that your Pinkie Sense? What did that mean?”

Pinkie Pie stopped rubbing her knee. “Well,” she breathed, “the pinchy knee means something scary, but I don’t know about the single leg twitching. And nothing’s happened to us yet…”

“So if it’s not about to happen to us, then who?” responded Applejack. “It could be Twilight, Rainbow Dash, or Rarity and Fluttershy, right?”

Pinkie nodded. “Right!” She turned to look out and behind the cart, and then turned back. “If it’s happening to Twilight, then Rarity and Fluttershy should be able to take care of it. But if it’s happening to Rarity and Fluttershy, I’d better go and find them. You keep looking for Rainbow Dash!”

With a slight hop, Pinkie Pie threw herself from the side of the cart and landed in a cab passing by the other direction. Applejack couldn’t stop herself from gasping, and the driver was alerted again.

“What the hay is going on? You sure that everything’s okay, ladies?” The cabbie still couldn’t look back as he was controlling the cart, and now it was even more apparent that he was displeased.

“Everything’s fine!” said Applejack, and then she cleared her throat. “It’s all okie-dokie-lokie!” she trilled as high-pitched as she could, in a barely passable impression of her friend.

“Well, if’n youse say so,” said the cabbie with a snort, “but quit your jumpin’ around or whatever. So anyways, with coconut, plus cookie and cake flavoring in them, they could be called cocochocochimicookiecherrychangacakes. Whaddaya think?”

Applejack’s mouth dropped wide open.

“Oh hey, we’re here!” The taxi slowed down before a large white stone building. It had three glass double doors outlined in wood and plastered in yellow crime scene tape. The frames of the windows alongside the first story of the building were also wooden, and Applejack could see police officers swarming about inside. Ornate, smooth and cylindrical columns sprouted up from between each gargantuan glass pane, and they culminated in arches. Above the three doors, in gold serif capital letters, it read “First Manehattan Bank.”

The cabbie parallel parked between some other carts. “So how do you girls want to do this? If ya want, I can wait outside while you check inside for your friend.” Now that he wasn’t focused on directing the cart, he turned about.

“Wait a minute,” said the cabbie at length.

The cowpony was frozen to her seat, with a forced nonchalant grin plastered on her face. “Yes?”

“That pink mare’s not there.”

“…I suppose she ain’t.”

“When did she get out?”

“I have no idea.”

“How did she get out?”

“I don’t know, either.”

“Did she hear about cocochocochimicookiecherrychangacakes?”

Applejack’s silence was deafening.

“Well, maybe you should find her,” suggested the cabbie. “I’d like to tell her again.”

Applejack opened the door and gingerly stepped out onto the sidewalk, looking back at the cab driver, who nodded expectantly. The mare turned around and slowly walked away, as the cabbie continued to watch until the pedestrian pack obscured her from sight. She was now alone in her search.

She roamed in the shadows of skyscrapers, and watched the sky for any signs of Dash in flight. Applejack navigated through grassy parks, joggers galloping down winding pathways lined by trees. She watched every customer in restaurant patios that was hidden by a newspaper. The mare leaned up against trees, their roots cracking through the concrete, and watched the traffic for a rainbow mane. And again and again she took alley after alley, without result.

With much effort and cursing, Rainbow Dash freed her legs from the sofa’s armrest. The upholstery was ripped to shreds as a result. She rolled to her side off the cushions, and stood upright again. The pegasus grabbed the satchel and the revolver in her mouth and strode over to a nearby trashcan. As slowly as she could, Rainbow lifted off the top with one hoof and gingerly stuffed the weaponry inside, between the tied garbage bags. By accident she got a huge whiff of the can’s contents, and her face bunched up in disgust. The lid slipped off her hoof and back onto the bin as she began coughing.

“Rainbow? Rainbow Dash, is that you?”

The pegasus snorted absentmindedly. “Applejack, you should know what I look—Applejack?” Dash whirled around and hopped back a pace, eyes wide. “Wh-wh-what are you doing here?”

The farm pony was walking down the alleyway with resolve, from the direction of the humongous glass dome that marked the Manehattan Mall. Her tail swished back and forth like a haywire polygraph needle. Applejack stopped just short of the ruined couch.
Rainbow straightened up and inhaled a fresh breath of air deeply, not just to rid her nose of the garbage smell but to calm her nerves. “So,” she said, kicking at a pebble casually, “is it just you?”

“It’s just me right now, but the others are in town too.” Applejack grabbed her hat and pulled it over her face a little as she turned to look back. Nopony was there. “You have to tell me what’s going on, sugarcube. We know you’re angry about Twilight, but…” The earth pony turned back. “We didn’t think you’d do anything like this!”

The cyan mare focused harder on the pebble instead of her friend. “So you heard, huh?” She knocked it back towards her again. “I know. I blew it.”

Applejack stared as best she could at Rainbow’s face, but couldn’t lock eye contact. “That’s all you haf’ta say for yourself? You ‘blew it’? What’s gotten into you?”

Rainbow whipped her head back up and stared back at her. “I can fix this!” She bit her lower lip and smacked away the pebble. “I know I was supposed to be quiet, and sneak around, and not attract attention, but… how could I?!”

Applejack was silent as the pegasus sniffled and sputtered, on the verge of tears. The earth pony started to say something, but quickly stopped herself. Another few seconds passed in contemplation, and she tried again.

“Rainbow,” said Applejack purposefully, “what’s going on?”

Rainbow Dash froze, and her eyes dried up in surprise. “You’re not the agent?”

“Agent?” Applejack queried. “What agent?”

“Oh horse feathers, I’ll never find them.” The pegasus turned around and swiped away the trashcan’s lid, then dug a hoof down inside. “I guess I have to bring you up to speed before you can help me out. It’s crazy, but you know, we’ve dealt with crazier! Now, if I can just… yeah!” Her hoof brushed against the satchel’s strap, and she unclasped the sunglasses she’d hooked to it.

Applejack stamped her hoof. “Rainbow, you’ve killed ponies! You… you shot them! This isn’t a game, you—”

“They weren’t ponies, AJ. There aren’t many ponies left at all.” The pegasus turned around, sunglasses in mouth, and strode up to Applejack. “I could explain, but it’s really, really long and I don’t get how it happened, so just put these on real quick.”

“Now look, sugarcube, you’re actin’ crazy! None of this can fix whatever’s wrong with Princess Celestia right now, or free Twilight from prison!” Applejack shook her head in disbelief. “I’m as mad as you, but I ain’t about to go on a rampage over it!”

Dash stared right into Applejack’s eyes, mere inches away. “You don’t understand. I can’t make this any clearer. Put on the sunglasses and you’ll get it.”

The orange mare leaned further in. “Look, you crazy motherbucker, I ain’t puttin’ on no glasses. You’re sick. You need help.”

“Oh, I’m the one that needs help? Look around you, AJ!” Rainbow pointed away towards the mall. “We’re all in danger and nopony knows it at all! The wool’s been pulled over their eyes, and they love every second of it. Not me!”

Applejack gritted her teeth. “Did you even read the letter on Fluttershy’s door? They’re looking for any excuse to get rid of her, or any of us. Maybe it didn’t include ‘murdering ponies,’ but if anything’s going to destroy our one chance at this, it’s that!”

The pegasus blew a loose tuft of her mane out of her face. “That’s it. I thought you’d listen to me! I thought you trusted me!”

Rainbow Dash paused for a moment, and then snarled, “I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses, or start eating that trashcan.”

Applejack flicked her head, throwing off her cowpony hat. It drifted a few feet and settled down on the pavement. “Not this year.”

The two ponies backed off a little. Dash spat out the sunglasses and they clattered away, stopping when they hit Applejack’s hat. Rainbow began to circle to the right, but the earth pony started moving left, and they stared each other down in determination. Suddenly, Dash swung out with a foreleg, but Applejack didn’t let the strike connect. She pulled herself back, pivoted on her front hooves, and rapidly bucked Rainbow straight in the jaw, once with each leg. Luckily for the cyan mare, the hits did not have much force behind them. Rainbow was knocked down, but she rolled off her back and onto her hooves immediately.

“Trying to go easy on me?” yelled Dash. “You’ll regret that!”

Applejack swiveled around to face Rainbow again, but she didn’t move quite in time. The pegasus had advanced up and to her left. She instinctively moved right, but Dash had other plans. Rainbow leaped to Applejack’s right, and slammed a hock into her back as she dropped. Applejack screamed out and stumbled, but propped herself up with her own tail. Dash landed and whirled back to face the earth mare.

Applejack grunted as she righted herself and advanced on her adversary. Dash kicked at the ground and snorted in response, but Applejack continued moving, even when the pegasus charged, head down and forward. The earth pony slid her right hooves back, smoothly turning on the spot, and hooked up into Rainbow’s stomach as she passed. The force of the blow stopped her in her tracks and made her sputter for breath as she hit the ground.

“No, I just think you ain’t as strong as any of the trees I buck,” Applejack countered.

Rainbow Dash was already up on her hooves and racing towards a wall of the alleyway. She jumped towards it, using her wings to twist herself backwards. The pegasus kicked off the brick wall, back at Applejack. There wasn’t much time for the cowpony to react, but she managed to get a foreleg up to block her face. Hoof scraped against hoof as Applejack’s guard was broken. Rainbow slammed her forehead into Applejack’s face as she landed, and the earth pony crashed hard into the asphalt.

Dash calmly stood over her friend and watched her spit out gravel. “Let’s work this out, Applejack. I don’t want to fight you.”

“Well, you’re gettin’ one now!” Applejack kicked up with her back legs with as much force as she could muster. The winged mare was left reeling as the hooves got her in the cheekbone, and Rainbow Dash had to shake her head to clear out the stars exploding in her skull. Before they could subside, a solid and hefty weight buffeted her in shoulder, and she fell to her knees. Applejack had swept her legs out from underneath her by whipping about her sizeable tail. Rainbow opened her eyes as her knees cracked against the pavement. She had ended up directly in front of the dropped sunglasses. Only one pair of orange legs was visible, though. Dash lifted her head and saw Applejack rearing up, aiming a stomp that threatened to hit both her and the shades.

“No!” yelled the pegasus. As hard as she could, she pushed herself up with one hoof, spun on it, and kicked up. Her back leg hit Applejack in the chest with a sickening crunch. With the flap of a single wing, she ascended in a corkscrew spiral. Dash grunted as she struggled with all her might to keep herself from losing control. Suddenly she spread both her wings to halt her momentum, but Applejack continued to rise. The earth pony’s legs flailed uselessly as her body arced in the air, and a cloud of dirt sprung up as she made impact with the street. Rainbow landed safely, albeit carefully, next to the sunglasses. A cursory glance told her they had been spared. She grabbed them in her mouth and looked back at the veil of dust.

A hole burst in the cloud and Applejack charged through, smudged all over with mud. Rainbow leaped left out of the way, worried again that the glasses would get damaged. In her haste to protect them, she made her move much too soon, and Applejack capitalized on the mistake. Instead of heading directly for the other mare, the farm pony skidded into the sofa and bucked it as hard as she could. The furniture hurtled into Dash like an upholstered freight train, and it plowed her into the side of the alleyway. Rainbow cried out as her back made contact with brick and the armrest knocked the wind out of her. The cyan mare was left slumped against the wall, and the sunglasses hung from her mouth by the frame. She could see Applejack advancing slowly through her half-closed eyelids, but she couldn’t manage the strength to push away the couch. Rainbow forced herself to breathe deeper and longer. Each inhalation of air was like being stabbed in the lungs, but she didn’t let herself slip into unconsciousness.

Applejack was now breaking into a light, steady trot. Rainbow felt one of her hooves move slightly, accompanied by excruciating pain, but she cheered inwardly. The mare tried moving her wings, and a couple of feathers flaked away as they shifted. Now the orange pony had sped up into a canter, heading straight for the couch. Dash bit her lip hard. One more pounding against that wall from the sofa would knock her unconscious. She bit harder and blood flowed down her chin in a thin stream. Applejack was crouching down as she bolted for her, preparing for the tackle. With a cry of sheer agony, Rainbow Dash pulled herself up with the armrest and jumped forward across the length of the couch. The farm mare was taken by surprise at the sudden movement, but misinterpreted the move as a dodge. She didn’t stop her momentum, opting instead to leap into the air too. Rainbow suddenly opened her wings wide and flapped for a burst of speed. The pegasus caught Applejack from slightly underneath and curved up into the air, holding the farm mare tight around her chest, even as she struggled and punched her in the neck. They rose into the air, but halted just before they broke past the height of the surrounding buildings. With a wrenching motion, Rainbow Dash aimed the earth pony’s head back towards the ground, and then snapped her wings in tight. Gravity took over from there, and they plummeted down back to the alleyway. Held in place for the entire drop by Rainbow Dash, Applejack collided into the pavement.

The cyan mare’s head was spinning. Her combat against the changelings earlier and the physical abuse her body had taken during the fight had added up. Rainbow didn’t think she could have felt any worse than after she took the full force of that sofa, but there she lay, Applejack on one side and the sunglasses on her other, with just adrenaline keeping her from going out cold. The earth pony already had a hoof moving about, trying to gather the strength to get up. Dash knew that she didn’t have much time to act. She rolled over and onto her stomach, immediately regretting the decision as the gravel dug into her scratches and bruises. Fighting every urge to collapse, she pushed up onto her hooves, and her legs felt like they were filled with jelly. Rainbow grabbed Applejack by her mane with her teeth, and the farm mare moaned in protest as she was dragged up. The orange pony immediately dropped to her knees when Dash let her go, but it was only for a moment to retrieve the sunglasses. Rainbow unceremoniously shoved them onto Applejack’s face and slipped back down to the ground.

“Look! Just look out there, you stubborn mule!” cried Dash, exasperated.

Applejack blinked as the color was filtered out of her vision. A pair of figures strolled past the alleyway, and the mare gasped in shock when she saw their bug-like wings flutter idly about. The changelings, instinctively aware of being watched, looked over in shock and trotted away with worried expressions. Ignoring the aching in her side as best as she could, Applejack ran to the edge of the alleyway and looked down the way they went. Both of the changelings were entering a taxi cab, but across the sides it read “OBEY” instead.

Dash had managed to lift herself back off the pavement and was now standing next to the farm pony. She cautiously tapped at Applejack’s shoulder, who turned around with a start. The pegasus shied away for a moment, but stopped herself and looked down at the concrete. Applejack raised her head towards the sky and just stared off into space. Neither of them made eye contact for minutes.

When the mares finally left the alleyway, arms over each other to prop themselves up, the throng of ponies had swelled to grand proportions. They went unnoticed and silent, crossing streets and dodging newspaper stands, avoiding any of the changelings that Applejack saw pass by in the crowd. It was many blocks before they finally stopped in front of a comparatively small three-story hotel. Turning as one, they pushed their way through the door, which knocked against a small bell. An elderly pony sat at a desk covered in coffee cup stains, smoking a large wooden pipe and watching a small television with an antenna. He didn’t react to the dirty and blood-stained mares signing fake names to the check-in list, nor when they grabbed a loose key and made their way upstairs themselves. Together the ponies made their way down the hallway, hooves clacking on old tile. Finding the room listed on the key, they opened its creaky wooden door and tumbled inside.

The green threadbare carpet was riddled with cigarette stains, and neither of the twin beds had a pillow. Applejack opened one of the three windows to let in some fresh air. The sun was beginning to set, and its orange light faded into the blue cloudless sky. But the farm pony was much more focused on the billboards scattered across the concrete jungle, commands where slogans once were. She placed the sunglasses on an end table and rubbed her smarting eyes.

The pegasus wandered into the small bathroom and stared at her reflection. It was hard for her to recognize herself under the bruises and caked dirt. “Well,” she said softly, “now what?”

Applejack curled up on one of the beds. “I guess we got separated. They could be on the other side of town for all I know.”

“Oh no,” said Rainbow. “If I have to fight everypony else and make them look through those sunglasses, count me out.” She turned on the faucet and splashed herself with water a few times.

The farm pony lightly chuckled. “So it’s just the two of us now, huh?”

“Looks that way.” Rainbow didn’t bother to dry off and instead just flopped onto the other bed. A cool breeze filtered through the window’s screen, making her sigh in minor relief.

They lay there for a while and watched the sun drop below the horizon. The glinting light bouncing off nearby skyscrapers dissipated, but their glass faces were then suddenly tinted by neon lights everywhere. Horns honked. Somepony yelled. The nightlife had come to Manehattan, exuberant and proud.

“Isn’t that just crazy?” wondered Applejack aloud.

“You’re going to have to narrow that down a bit, AJ,” commented Rainbow. “There’ve been a lot of crazy things lately.”

The orange mare smiled in spite of her contemplative mood. “No, I mean this noise. Some ponies out there are actually changelings, and they’re just acting, pretending to be happy, keeping the illusion going.”

Dash nodded. “They must have fun hating us, laughing as we stare right at their signs. Every time we do that, they must think we’re complete idiots.”

Applejack rolled over onto her back. “And Twilight saw it all for what it was.”

“Yeah,” said Rainbow. No other comment came to mind.

“I should’ve said this earlier, sugarcube, but… I should have just put on those sunglasses and trusted you. I’m sorry.”

The pegasus stretched out her wings. “No, it’s okay, really. I should have explained first. I don’t know why I thought you’d just put them on and roll with it. Maybe I was hoping things would get easier with you there.”

“You’re right, it should have.” The farm pony got up. “I can’t believe we let anything like this get in the way of our friendship.”

Rainbow also stood up. “What was that acronym you said a while back? P.F.F., right?”

“Yup. Pony Friends Forever. That’s us.” Applejack beamed, and opened up her arms for a hug. She was bowled over by Rainbow’s energetic tackling embrace, and they both landed on the floor, yelping with pain as they hit right on their bruises.

“Ouch! That hurt, Rainbow!”

“Oh, you think that hurt? My ribs are killing me right now!”

“They do? I thought you could take it. ‘Iron Pony,’ my flank!”

“That’s it! You’re getting the ticking of a lifetime, AJ!”

Just as Rainbow began to administer the first tickles, the room’s door burst open, and a small wooden crate was unceremoniously thrown in by a blonde-maned bluish-gray mare in a mailpony’s cap. Dash and Applejack froze. The mailpony stared at them in their compromising position, individually with each golden eye.

“Did you lock the door?” whispered Rainbow.

“No, I thought you did!” hissed Applejack.

The crate suddenly began to wriggle furiously. It hopped in place, spun around, and then the top shot off with a loud crack. The lid was followed by a veritable volcano of packing peanuts, and Spike leaped out before them triumphantly, claws on hips and grinning wide.

“Hey Applejack and Rainb—oh! Oh.” Spike furrowed his brow. “Derpy, this was a waste of time.”

“How come?” Derpy’s eyes crossed the other direction.

Spike threw on a pair of sunglasses. “Because they can ship themselves!”