• Published 20th Jan 2013
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The Irony of Applejack - Mister Friendly



Applejack has never told a lie. Merely... omitted some details about herself...

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Chapter 5: A Glimpse

Chapter 5: A Glimpse

Applejack sat collapsed on the ground, wiping at tears that wouldn’t stop flowing. “Ah-Ah only wanted ta help,” she bawled.

A comforting hoof was patting her shoulder, a wordless acceptance of her apology.

But the pony standing in front of her was less forgiving.

“We’ve been over this a dozen times, little missy,” the stallion was shouting angrily. “Apples do not use magic! It’s not the earth pony way!”

Applejack looked up at the towering pony with wet eyes. With the sun at his back, all she could see was his broad, powerful silhouette and the beaten cowboy hat resting upon his head.

“A-Ah’m sorry, papa, Ah just…”

The stallion, standing seemingly taller than any living thing should’ve heaved a heavy sigh. “Ah know, honeybunch. Ah know yer heart’s in the right place, Ah do. But ya can’t go usin’ magic, alright? You’re an earth pony, Applejack, and someday yer gonna be a fine one, too. And earth ponies don’t use magic.”

Applejack sniffled, feeling miserable. “O-okay, papa…”

The gigantic stallion let out another breath, then very gingerly he pulled the little orange filly in for a tight hug.

“That’s my girl.”

Applejack buried her face into his shoulder, and tried very, very hard to ignore the remains of the tree she’d accidentally cleaved in two…

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Images clawed at her, her mind struggling to cling to awareness with instinctive desperation.

“A-Applejack?”

Pain… so much pain… Her body screamed with it.

Shapes swam in muddled pools before her eyes, but… she thought she could just make out a shape standing not far off… a cyan shape.

That… that pony was in danger… have ta… have ta protect…

“Rainbow…,” she tried to say, “run… save yourself…”

She would never know if she managed to get the words out. Darkness dragged at her vision again, awareness bleeding from her mind as dreams rushed to save her from the pain...

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Applejack stood panting and wheezing, her shoulders and neck heaving with each suck on the oxygen around her.

She was painfully aware of the small bundle of brown fur tucked between her forelegs, whining in pain as it tried to hide behind her hooves.

“Applejack! Applejack!”

She turned, just as a large red colt erupted from the nearby bushes like a cannonball, sending little bits of underbrush everywhere.

When he saw the scene that awaited him, however, he froze.

A huge Timber Wolf lay on its side not five feet from the little filly. And it seemed to be smoking ominously.

The whole clearing had bits of splintered twigs and branches scattered about like a hurricane had just blown through a firewood stack, throwing the contents in every which direction. More than a few were blackened, some even lit with a sickly green tongue of flame.

As he watched, a curl of emerald mist escaped the ravaged beast’s mouth, spiraling up into the air and away on the winds.

“Ah-Ah had ta do it,” sobbed Applejack. “I-if Ah didn’t… Winona…”

Between her legs, the whimpering puppy let out another scared and pained whine.

Big Macintosh’s eyes got huge.

Her little black legs were shaking like a lamb, her alien amber eyes welling with tears. “Ah’m sorry, B-Big Macintosh. A-Ah had ta use magic. Ah d-didn’t know what else ta d-do…”

She turned her scared, tear-filled eyes towards her big brother, looking for some sort of reassurance.

“A-Ah know Ah’m not supposed to use magic. B-but Ah just got so mad, a-and it just happened! Ah just d-didn’t know what else ta do!”

“Hey…”

When Applejack paused in her bawling, she felt her big brother pull her against his strong, warm chest in a bracing hug.

“Ah don’t care what ya did, so long as yer alright, sugarcube.”

He pulled her tighter. Only then did she feel how much he, too, was shaking. “Don’t ya ever let yerself get caught up between wantin’ ta save somethin’ ya care for and what ya got ta do ta save it. So long as ya do, it don’t matter what ya did. Never forget that, Applejack.”

~~***~~

Powerful, rapid hoof-beats on hard, cold earth were the only thing she could hear, save for the sound of her ragged breathing.

The night seemed to crush down all around Rainbow Dash’s head. Shadows seemed to jump out at her out of the corner of her eye, but every time she spun her head around, bracing for a fight, all she found was a gently swaying bush, or a sapling catching the moonlight just right, and that they were not, in fact, adorned with pearly white fangs and featureless blue eyes.

She never failed to double check, however.

She and Big Mac flew through the orchard, racing on pounding hooves through shadowed grove after shadowed grove.

Rainbow wasn’t used to running like this. The last time she had, it’d been at the annual Running of the Leaves with…

Once more, her heart thudded painfully in her chest.

As if drawn by an irresistible magnet, her eyes once more slid back partially behind her and towards Big Mac. Or rather, what lay sprawled across his back.

The changeling was still motionless, eyes still closed and breaths thin.

Rainbow could still smell the cloying stench of burning chitin in her nostrils like a tormentor that refused to leave her alone.

Her mind was in turmoil, constantly warring with itself in rebellion.

A part of her refused to believe that that was her best friend. The idea just felt so wrong... There was just no way…

But she could see the familiar mane, the familiar colors, and she’d heard its voice, even if it’d only been a low whisper.

And then there were the words that kept haunting her.

The truth is, Rainbow… Ah ain't what yah think Ah am…

Again and again Applejack’s voice played through her mind like a broken record.

Dash's body hurt all over. Her head was messed up, and losing traction fast.

This can’t be happening…

“Okay, Big Mac…”

The stallion turned his focused gaze from the trail ahead of him towards Rainbow.

She bit her lip, eyes still on Applejack’s near-lifeless body. But she tried her best to keep strong, to keep from letting the welling panic and fear get the better of her.

Right now, she needed to be strong to get to the bottom of this. “S-start talking. Is… is that really Applejack?”

Big Mac gauged her expression for a moment. It was hard to make out through the near-pitch black night, but he could just make out the frown on her lips and the pain in her eyes. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to see much else, however.

At the crest of a hill, he slowed, letting his legs take a breather for a second. He may be one of the strongest ponies on the farm, but galloping flat out for over ten minutes with another pony on his back would wear out anyone.

Rainbow almost vaulted right past him, but caught herself at the last moment.

“Eeyup,” he said through heavy breaths.

Rainbow’s expression scrunched up in confusion. “This isn’t making any sense. How can Applejack, of all ponies, be a… a…”

“Changeling?”

Rainbow flinched, but nodded. “Yeah… that.”

Big Mac paused, thinking on what should be said, and what wasn’t his to tell. “Applejack never thought ta tell anypony cuz it didn’t mean nothin’.”

“Didn’t mean anything?” Rainbow echoed, stunned. “How can the fact that she isn’t even a pony not mean anything?”

“Because she’s still Applejack,” Big Mac responded evenly. “Ya’ll have to ask her 'bout her reasons yerself. She don’t make a habit of talkin’ ‘bout this with nopony if it can be helped.”

Rainbow let a scowl play across her brow as she tore her eyes away from the stallion’s back and to the grass in front of her.

That did seem exactly like something Applejack would do, she had to admit to herself, even if grudgingly. But to actually hide something of this magnitude for so long…

But then another thought hit her, one that made her feel even worse.

She had to hide it… from everypony…

They were only walking now, and while Rainbow would never admit it out loud, she felt relief at that slower pace. Her aching, burnt limbs shared that sentiment.

“So… where are we going?” she asked after a pause.

“Cottage at the back of the property,” Big Mac stated.

To that, Rainbow whirled her head around in shock. “Wait – no, we can’t do that! Applejack needs a doctor right now!”

To her astonishment, Big Mac shook his head slowly. “Rainbow, think fer a second. We won’t make it ten paces in Ponyville, not with her lookin' like this. Guards would be on us faster than flies on a cow patty. ‘Sides, what doctor would willingly treat a changeling?”

“There has to be somepony,” Rainbow snapped, trying to hide desperation behind frustration. It wasn’t working. “There has to be something we can do!”

She was panicking, but she had plenty of reason to. She hated to admit that he had a point, no matter how much she didn’t want to.

After all, who would help a changeling? Twilight would freak, and considering how she was treated at the hands of that queen, the odds of her listening was slim at best.

Fluttershy might help, but not after passing out and possibly hours of convincing. Not to mention the fact that she lived on the complete opposite end of Ponyville from the orchard. They didn’t have that kind of time to spare.

Pinkie Pie would fly out the door as fast as she could, if her reaction to Princess Luna on Nightmare Night was anything to go by. But you could never be too sure with that mare…

Rarity would likely hold them at bay at shear-point and refuse to hear a word out of their muzzles.

Their options were so abysmally small, even if just doing nothing was…

Rainbow shivered.

“What can we do, Mac?”

“Bout the only thing we can do ‘till she wakes up,” he said stoically. “Keep her safe.”

Rainbow was stunned, her mouth falling open in shock and horror.

“That’s it?” she asked, raising her voice as anger won out over her various other emotions. “We’re just gonna cross our hooves and hope she gets better? How the hay is that a plan?!”

She suddenly darted around in front of Big Mac, forcing him to a halt. “Applejack is d-dying! We can’t just sit around and do nothing!”

Despite her voice crack, she continued to glare hard at the stallion.

But Big Mac continued to look unfazed. “We’re not doin’ nothin’ Rainbow.”

Before Rainbow could do more than throw him a look of pure skepticism, Big Mac turned slightly, showing Rainbow the thing that was haunting her the most; the one he was carrying.

But, for just a moment, she thought she caught something out of the corner of her eye; a faint, glittering emerald light, skittering across scarred chitin…

“We’re doin’ a lot more than nothin’,” he said quietly. “Right now, what she needs is lovin’ friends and family, and she’ll be right as rain before ya know it.”

Before Rainbow could do more than blink, Big Mac turned back to the trail and started moving again. “Now let’s go get good and bunkered down somewhere safe. There’s no tellin’ where them changelin’s are.”

~~***~~

With an explosive bang, the door to the Apple family household was sheared clean off its hinges and was thrown nearly halfway across the darkened living room.

Within moments, that same lightless living room found itself crowded by a surge of invaders swarming in through the now-door-less entrance, completely unimpeded.

The intruders moved quickly and with alarming efficiency, spreading out through every inky-black room in the household on stealthy hooves and lightly buzzing wings. Icy eyes went over everything their owners came across – every room, every bit of furniture, right down to the little personal possessions of a family no longer present.

Within half a minute, the entire house was filled with living shadows; every single room had more than one set of eyes searching up and down every square inch of every surface.

But their efforts were for naught. The household was dark and lifeless. The signs of a mostly consumed dinner still sat on the table, along with a few partially pried open drawers in the bedrooms upstairs. But the ones responsible were nowhere to be found.

But the changelings weren’t about to leave anything to chance.

Vigil listened from the yard as the sounds of bangs and crashes reached his ears, but paid it very little mind.

Similar sounds were coming from all around him – emanating from the towering barn as barrels were tossed and a cart violently overturned, and echoing up from the direction of two thrown-open cellar doors.

But Vigil wasn’t terribly hopeful. After all, he’d be quite surprised if he found Rainbow and Applejack this easily.

He paced leisurely across the yard, overseeing the ransacking of the abandoned farm. But for the most part, he was lost in thought.

Again and again he replayed that daring escape in his mind’s eye. Applejack was certainly resourceful, it seemed. Such unorthodox use of changeling magic…

“Excuse me, sir.”

Vigil blinked his featureless eyes before turning to regard the drone standing next to him. “Yes?”

His subordinate stood at attention, giving a smart salute. “We’ve finished canvasing the immediate area. No signs of the targets or the Apple family.”

“So they did come here after all,” Vigil mused aloud. In the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but feel mildly impressed. To make it from the east orchard to here on a spell like that

He was once more distracted, however, when the changeling spoke again.

“They could’ve tipped off the family members,” he went on.

“Could have?” Vigil repeated, quirking an eyebrow.

The drone winced slightly to himself. “Then, shouldn’t we move to intercept? They could be halfway to Ponyville by now.”

Vigil turned away, a look of bland disinterest crossing his features. “No, that won’t be necessary. As long as orders are followed to the letter, there will be no cause for concern.”

“If… if you say so, sir,” the changeling said with clear uncertainty.

“I do,” Vigil quipped, an edge to his tone.

The drone flinched again, but kept his composure perfect.

“Tell Lieutenant Hyacinth to start searching the orchards for any trace of our targets,” Vigil said back without inflection, casting his eyes around the captured farmhouse and yard. “Gather up a small search party to aid her. I want these ponies found before sun-up.”

“Sir, they could be anywhere by now,” the drone said, hesitant. “We will need more than a small task force to find them before the night’s out.”

“No, I doubt that,” Vigil stated.

For the umpteenth time that night, his eyes fell to the ground at his hooves – towards the conspicuous stretch of blackened earth, the scent of scorched chitin and burnt hair still clinging stubbornly to the air.

“You have your orders, Moth. I want this entire orchard turned upside down. I will not tolerate her slipping through our clutches again.”

“Yes sir.”

“And once you’re done relaying orders to the search party,” Vigil added casually, “I want you to coordinate our efforts on the perimeter. I’d rather not have any unwanted surprises slipping in before we’re done.”

Moth threw his salute, then turned to leave. Halfway around, his form was swallowed in an acidic green flare. The now-vermillion unicorn cantered off to do as he was bidden, once more leaving Vigil with his thoughts.

Once more his eyes drifted down to the scorched earth at his hooves, where they remained thoughtfully.

Just where did you limp off to, Applejack?

~~***~~

The first thing Applejack became aware of was just how much she hurt. Every inch of her body had something to complain about, and it was voicing its complaints quite loudly at the moment.

Her legs and chest especially rang with pain quite spectacularly.

Her throat felt raspy and hot, and every breath that went down it felt like it carried bits of sandpaper with it.

But, as she battled with consciousness, Applejack became aware of something strange.

Her legs and chest felt oddly tight, her limbs refusing to move without considerable effort on her part. Of course, that could’ve just been because she felt so very weak.

More than that, she found herself lying on something unexpectedly – and rather confusingly – comfortable.

Fueled only by her building curiosity, Applejack cracked open one eye to behold the world beyond.

The sight of a roof met her eyes, an oddly familiar roof. Moonlight was playing over her, drifting in softly from the open window over her head.

She recognized the feel of a lumpy pillow lying beneath her aching head and the sensation of a warm blanket draped over her.

Is… Is this a bed…?

Before she could confirm her suspicions, however, she caught sight of something moving out of the corner of her eye, something standing rather close to her.

“Applejack?”

Her breath caught in her ragged throat when she heard Rainbow’s voice.

For one moment, panic twitched at her brain. She could feel that she wasn’t how she was supposed to look; the wings underneath her complained at being laid upon, and the feel of the fangs brushing against her bottom lip was evidence enough.

But she was too weak to do anything about it. Her limbs felt like solid lead, preventing her from doing anything save turn her head slightly towards the voice.

Rainbow sat on a chair beside her bed, her eyes wide in shock and just a touch of worry, way too close to miss anything.

Rainbow herself was a mess. Her coat and mane were covered in disturbing black patches, and some of the feathers on her wings were brittle sticks.

Her mane and tail were filled with twigs and leaves, making her look like she’d lost a fight with a shrub.

But mostly, Applejack noticed the dried, crusted streaks under each red eye.

So yes, to say Rainbow Dash was a mess would be a proper analysis.

“Rainbow…,” Applejack croaked aloud.

She sounded terrible, her voice almost completely unrecognizable in fact. “Are ya alright, sugarcube…?”

Rainbow snorted in an annoyed sort of way. “You’re just waking up and you’re asking me if I’m okay?”

“Are ya?”

Rainbow sighed, her eyes growing heavy. “My friend almost got herself killed saving my life. How do you think I am?”

“Alive,” Applejack rasped, turning her head to look up at the ceiling.

“But I’m not okay,” she snapped. “I know that Big Macintosh seems to think you’re healing yourself or something, and you don’t look as—as bad as before, but… that doesn’t make me magically okay.”

She got up suddenly, placing her hooves on the edge of the bed to loom her face directly over Applejack, leveling a glare at her.

“Don’t you ever do something that stupid again. You hear me, AJ?”

Applejack blinked, taken aback, before she huffed slightly and smiled.

“What?” Rainbow shot, confused.

“Yer still callin’ me ‘AJ’,” the changeling said quietly. “Even though Ah look like this… Guess Ah did somethin’ right…”

Rainbow’s scowl deepened before she returned to her chair.

“Don’t get me wrong. For one thing, I’m still mad at you.”

Applejack blinked. Only her eyes had gone to follow her friend as she seated herself once more.

Rainbow folded her hooves across her chest, an angry glare on her face, one that made Applejack cringe back a little.

“You could’ve told us,” Rainbow stated bluntly. “Why hide this at all, Applejack?”

Applejack sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. “Because, sugarcube, it wasn’t no thing,” she croaked.

“Like hay it wasn’t,” Rainbow snapped. “The fact that one of our friends wasn’t a pony? That’s a huge deal!”

But Applejack merely shook her head from side to side slowly. “Yer wrong, RD… See, Ah am a pony. Here” – she tapped her chest with one hoof, right over her heart – “here” – she weakly touched her forehead – “and here.”

She finished by feebly raising one foreleg and poking Rainbow right between the eyes with the tip of one bandaged hoof, much to her astonishment.

Applejack smiled at her friend’s wide eyes. “That’s all that matters, sugarcube. So Ah gotta change shapes now and then to relieve some headaches. It don’t change who Ah am at heart, and that’s all that matters ta me.”

Rainbow blinked, still taken aback by being poked in the forehead by a changeling. After a moment, she reached up and rubbed the spot, her look of confusion only returning tenfold.

“You still could’ve told us.”

Applejack appraised her friend’s expression for a moment, still smiling softly. “Would ya have been friends with me if ya knew?”

“Of course!” Rainbow said without hesitation, sitting up straighter. “I mean, you’re like the only pony around here that can even keep up with me! It takes quite the awesome pony to do that.”

Applejack’s smile grew bigger. “Then it wouldn’t have mattered in the first place. See what Ah mean? Me bein’ somethin’ other than a pony wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

“Well, maybe it would for Rarity,” Rainbow mused, glancing away thoughtfully. “She’d probably faint every time she saw these legs of yours.” She finished by poking one of Applejack’s holey limbs.

The changeling chuckled weakly twice, before breaking out into several coughs.

“Landsakes… don’t make me laugh right now, sugarcube,” she wheezed.

A feeble smile broke out over Rainbow’s face, looking brittle despite her building bravado. “No promises, cowgirl.”

Applejack restrained another inevitable bout of coughing, but let a smile grow across her lips.

But after a few moments, the smile withered once more.

“Yer right, Rainbow… Ah know Ah should’ve told ya and the gals. It would’ve been the right thing to do, but… Ah just didn’t see how it mattered much.”

Her eyes grew heavier, and to Rainbow, it looked like she’d suddenly aged ten years.

“Then… there was the royal weddin’.”

The small room got almost deathly quiet after that. For several long seconds, the two mares just sat there, not quite comfortable looking at each other.

“Ah couldn’t tell nopony after that,” Applejack croaked in a small voice. “When Ah found out Ah was a changeling… Ah ran.”

The air in Rainbow’s lungs seemed to compress, squeezing almost painfully in a sharp exhale.

Applejack didn’t look at her. She seemed to ashamed to do so.

“That’s why Ah disappeared off the farm fer a while,” she went on. “Ah… didn’t want ta ruin my family. After all they’d done fer me, it wasn’t right, and if it ever got out that they’d been raisin’ a changeling, there’d be no way they could keep the family business goin’, or even stay on the land. But only a few days out and Ah started ta miss the farm somethin’ fierce.”

Applejack closed her eyes, looking almost ancient in the darkness. “That’s when Ah realized the same thing Ah realized when Ah saw yer Sonic Rainboom. Ah’m a farm pony.”

Her eyes slid back open, this time with a blaze of certainty that almost glowed in the dark.

“Ah realized Ah was still Applejack. It don’t matter what Ah was – who Ah am ain't goin’ ta change.”

She finally turned her gaze towards Rainbow, making eye contact and holding it. “Ah know Ah’m a silly pony sometimes, but… Ah ain't gonna leave my friends ta fend fer themselves any more than you would.”

Rainbow felt her heart thud in her chest, her eyes opening wide in surprise. “You came back because of us?”

“’course Ah did, sugarcube,” Applejack said with a weak smile. “Big Macintosh certainly ain't gonna put up with yer shenanigans day in and day out.”

This time, Rainbow’s smile wasn’t quite as brittle as before. “Yeah, asking Pinkie Pie to help with some of my new tricks didn’t really pan out like I’d hoped. The good news is that City Hall finally got that skylight it never knew it wanted.”

Applejack couldn’t catch her chuckle in time, causing her face to snarl up from the pain. “Dagnabit, Rainbow…”

“I regret nothing,” Dash teased.

Applejack just rolled her eyes and sank deeper into her pillow.

For several minutes, they sat in companionable silence, neither wishing to break it even though they knew they had to.

In the end, it was Rainbow that spoke up, her voice once more subdued.

“I’m still mad at you,” she muttered.

“Ah know, sugarcube…”

“And none of this is making any sense to me.”

“Ah know…”

“But…”

This time, Applejack turned to face her friend, who had arranged her features into an array of determination. Her expression was unflinching, her wings steady and pinned to her sides, her gaze unfaltering.

“I promised I’d hear you out, remember? So… start talking.”

Applejack nodded. “What do ya want ta hear?”

“The truth,” Rainbow said firmly. “And… start from the beginning.”

~~***~~

Big Macintosh leaned against the wall of the old cottage, a sprig of grass in his mouth. He could still hear the mares talking through the closed window next to him, and he couldn’t help but smile to himself as they carried on.

For once that night, the darkness didn’t feel quite so hostile, the moonlight almost soft and peaceful.

The shadows under the nearby trees didn’t move like they were quivering with beasts waiting to jump on him. He just stood there, feeling his tension ease the longer he heard the two friends talk.

And talk they did; seemingly for hours they spoke, Applejack’s weak voice slowly gaining strength the longer she used it.

Inside, Rainbow Dash listened to her friend relate events in her life that she never knew about.

“So, you just turned up at an Apple family reunion?” she commented once, surprised.

“That’s right,” Applejack said hoarsely. “Nopony had the slightest clue where Ah came from, but they were taken with me right off the bat. ‘Course, my folks searched the community fer any reports of missin’ foals, but came up empty. After about a month, they gave up.”

“So what happened?” Rainbow asked, genuinely curious.

Applejack smiled up at the ceiling wearily. “Granny Smith called in a favor with Filthy Rich’s pa and they got me some official documentation made.”

“Wait, wait,” Rainbow said, taken aback. “You’re saying Filthy’s dad forged some papers for you?”

Applejack grinned. “Don’t let Apple Bloom and that brat of Rich’s fool ya; Apples and Riches go way back, and we don’t take that fer granted.”

“No kidding,” Rainbow replied, still sounding shocked. “But wait… when did your folks realize you were… you know…”

“A changeling?”

Rainbow winced. “Yeah… that.”

Applejack sighed. “Not long after that… One day Ah just started fussin’ and carryin’ on. Ah don’t rightly recall that – Ah was pretty young at the time – but accordin’ to my folks, Ah just suddenly burst into flames. Ya see what they saw next.”

Rainbow winced again. “Yeah. I’m guessing they didn’t like that surprise.”

Applejack shook her head a little. “Mama, Papa, Granny and Macintosh all bolted from the house quicker than if it were on fire and bunkered down in the barn. ‘Course, the moment Ah changed, Ah stopped my fussin’. That’s what happens when Ah sit in my pony form fer too long; gotta change to relieve the pressure.”

“Your headaches,” Rainbow said in dawning realization.

“That’s them,” Applejack said. “Anyway when Ah tried to get to my family and realized Ah couldn’t, Ah started cryin’ right there in the yard. Just sat down and bawled my eyes out.”

Rainbow’s expression fell, but Applejack ignored it. In fact, she started smiling a bit. “And Macintosh, that big galoot, came out of the barn ta give me a big ol’ hug ‘til Ah stopped my cryin’.”

She turned her head slightly, her eyes on the wall behind her as if she knew who was leaning against it. “He’s been lookin’ out fer me ever since.”

___

On they talked, Rainbow asking questions and Applejack doing her best to answer them. Even as the desire to stay awake started to fail them, they continued struggling to get to know each other all over again.

And it was through their conversations that Rainbow learned something quite unexpected.

“You can’t change into anypony else?”

Applejack frowned slightly. “Ah didn’t say that, RD. Ah said it don’t feel right impersonatin’ somepony Ah’m not.”

“Well, you sort of do anyway,” Rainbow pointed out before she could check her own words.

Applejack responded to her suddenly sheepish look with a sour glare. “And if Ah ever run into the pony who Ah resemble, Ah’ll apologize ta her. But my pony form is just… me. Ah like it a lot more than this one.”

“I still say you should try somepony else sometime,” Rainbow pointed out, completely missing the point. “I mean, you could be anypony.”

“Ah don’t want to be ‘anypony’, Rainbow,” Applejack said shortly. “Ah want to be me.”

“But haven’t you ever thought about trying?” Rainbow pressed. “Don’t tell me you didn’t want to try being a pegasus once or twice.”

Applejack opened her mouth, clearly intending to reprimand her friend, but paused at the last minute.

“Ah… can’t.”

“I thought you didn’t say you couldn’t,” Rainbow pointed out impishly. It didn’t win her any points, if Applejack’s glare was anything to go by.

“Ah ain't gonna pretend to be somepony Ah’m not,” she said stiffly, “but… Ah can’t turn into no pegasus or unicorn. Ah don’t know how.”

Rainbow blinked, confusion once more rising in her. “What? How hard can it be?”

“It’s not like slappin’ on a fresh coat of paint, sugarcube,” Applejack sighed. “It’s a lot more involved than that, or else anypony could do it.”

“So, what makes it so hard,” Rainbow asked, cocking her head to one side.

“Fer starters,” Applejack said, “when Ah change, Ah have ta become an earth pony. Appearances are one thing, but there’s more ta bein’ a pony than just bright coats and cutie marks.”

Rainbow gave her a blank look. “I don’t follow.”

Applejack sighed, already well aware that this was going to be an uphill battle.

“When Ah change into an earth pony, Ah gotta get my magic flowin’ like an earth pony would,” she said.

“… still not following.”

Applejack cocked an eyebrow in disbelief. “Didn’t ya pay any attention in school?”

“...A little.”

Applejack couldn't help but heave a sigh. "Rainbow..."

The pegasus in question glowered defensively, not quite meeting her friend's gaze. "Hey, it's not my fault, okay? That class was way too lame. I'm a pegasus - what do I care about magic?"

Applejack just shook her head, somewhere between amazed and stunned. She wanted to smack herself in the face with a hoof, but mustering up the energy required seemed almost too much effort for what it was worth. Almost. "All ponies got magic in 'em, Rainbow. How do Ah know this and you don't?"

Rainbow glowered. "I blame Mister Monotone and his Voice of Slumber."

The changeling shook her head again. It was going to be a long night... “Alright, then Ah’ll explain this real slow. See, every pony out there has magic inside them – each tribe just gets it out different. Unicorns get it out through their horns, but if that surprises you, there’s something very wrong with ya. But ya pegasi ponies get it out through those wings ya love so much, which is why ya do all that stuff with the weather, and earth ponies get it out through their hooves, which is why we can grow things so darn easy. Followin’ me so far?”

“I think so,” Rainbow said dubiously. “So, when a changeling turns into a pony, they have to get their internal magic flowing like the kind of pony they’re turning into, right?”

“That’s what Ah have ta do, anyway,” Applejack said with a nod. “And… Ah don’t know how ta channel it anywhere but the earth pony way. When Ah’m in this form, my magic is just kinda… there, doin’ its own thing. Ah can get it out if Ah need to, but… well, ya saw how that goes.”

Rainbow paled, her ears falling limp against her head. “Please don’t remind me…”

Applejack winced. “Sorry, sugarcube.”

Rainbow waved it off, trying feebly at an aloof dismissal. “Anyway… Big Macintosh told me that you were using magic to get better quicker. That true?”

Applejack frowned a little. “What are ya gettin’ at?”

Rainbow turned away, looking uncomfortable. “Well, I was just wondering… is there any chance of that backfiring, too?”

Applejack sighed. “No, sugarcube. It never has before, anyway, and Ah doubt that’ll change.”

“Wait, before?”

Applejack nodded. “Whenever Ah get hurt, my body tries to fix itself with magic. Ain't nothin’ Ah can do ta stop it, neither; it just happens.”

She then surprised Rainbow by lifting a hoof and nipping at the creamy bandage wrapping it up.

“What are you doing?” Rainbow asked, confused and a little concerned.

Applejack grunted, then yanked her head one way, producing the sound of tearing fabric.

With that, the bandage fell away, exposing her holey foreleg to the night air.

And what Rainbow saw stunned her.

Emerald light was dancing all across the surface of her skin in splotches, like the glimmer of a live coal. It looked so much like a burning log, in fact, that Rainbow almost jolted forward in a panic.

“It’s alright, Rainbow,” Applejack placated, correctly guessing the panic in her friend’s face. “Look.”

She reached her limb over towards her friend, touching her raised hoof.

Rainbow’s eyes got huge as she felt a strange, hot tingling radiate from the spot where they were touching, instinctively making her cringe away.

Applejack chuckled wheezily in response. She even only coughed a little as a consequence.

“It ain't gonna hurt ya, sugarcube.”

“Yeah, I think I’m just gonna take your word for it,” Rainbow replied warily, inspecting her hoof critically for any signs of new damage.

She didn’t find any, but she had to be sure.

“You can stop laughing at me now.”

~~***~~

Silence ruled at last in the darkened cottage on the edge of Sweet Apple Acres.

In the only bedroom, two mares lay fast asleep – one slumped partially over the other, falling where sleep claimed her.

The other mare lay on her side, a glimmering, healing foreleg resting across her friend’s. Only the sounds of slow, heavy breathing broke the silence in the room.

That, and the sound of stealthy hoof-falls.

Nopony reacted to the near-silent figure quietly making its way into their room. A cloak hung around its frame, dragging lightly cross the floor as the figure approached the two unaware ponies.

It paused first to regard Rainbow Dash, taking in her disheveled appearance for a moment before turning its attention towards its real focus.

Applejack.

The figure stepped around Rainbow’s sleeping form, moving to stand between her chair and the wall, placing it near the slumbering changeling’s head.

However, as the figure drew to a halt, its forelegs mere inches from Applejack, the glimmering emerald light across her exposed limb flared in intensity.

The shrouded entity watched as Applejack’s wounds raced to close themselves as if in time lapse.

The figure restrained a chuckle, instead letting a relieved smile cross its fanged muzzle. Without a sound, it slipped back out of the room, ghosting to the entryway and out into the night without a backwards glance.

You’ve done well, Applejack… But now, it’s my turn.

And in an emerald flare, the figure blinked out of existence, leaving nothing but wilted grass in its wake.

Author's Note:

Finally, now that I got all this crap out of the way I can get down to business.
Just so you all know, I am not happy with this chapter. At all. So many revisions and shuffling of scenes... gah.
Ended up cutting out, like, half of it. Good news is, I now have material for Chapter 6. So... yay on that account.

And who is that pokemon mysterious figure?

I know some people are going to have some questions on this one, so feel free to field them. I swear, next one will have something decently exciting happening in it.

On to the next one...

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