• Published 1st Mar 2013
  • 3,237 Views, 152 Comments

I'll Love You To Tartarus and Back - AppleDash Group Collab 100th Prompt Special - LunaTheFox

A collab featuring 23 writers, who all came together to create a story of loved ones lost... and a long-shot at seeing them one last time.

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This chapter was written by First_Down.

Two days. The map estimated it would take two days to travel from Dodge Junction to the part of the badlands marked “restricted.” The town hadn’t grown much since Applejack’s brief venture into the world of cherry farming, but it still had everything they’d need with minimum fuss for the journey ahead.

And so day one came and went without incident. The badlands was appropriately named, a harsh landscape of unyielding rock and coarse dirt where only the hardiest of scrub brush dared take root. Crooked spires occasionally rose from the ground in groups like rows of broken teeth. They provided the best landmarks.

Applejack still wasn’t up for much talking, so Dash filled the silence with endless chatter, something the farmer appreciated tremendously. Even when the topics grew insufferable in their boasting, she found it a pleasant distraction from her own thoughts aboard the train, from her dreams. Maybe Dash knew and tried to help in her own way. Or maybe she was just bored out of her skull. Either way, Applejack loved her for it.

That night, they pitched camp right at the halfway marker. Three massive, cracked and pitted boulders jutted from a slate base like the prongs of a fishing spear. The map even gave it a name: The Trident. Dash scoured the area in a wide circumference and eventually they had enough twigs for a small but comfortable fire while they ate.

Afterwards, Applejack nestled against Rainbow Dash who yawned despite her best efforts. “I still don’t know how Twilight managed this trip in less than a day,” she groused, “even with a shortcut.”

“Maybe she let Cerberus do all the runnin’ while she hitched a ride,” Applejack said. “Or she used her magic to help. She was on a time limit, Dash.”

“Yeah, yeah. Still, if you’d let me carry you, we’d have been there hours ago.”

Applejack chuckled. “Even you got limits of endurance, sugarcube. Yer just gonna fly me over to the gates a Tartarus and then face down that monster of a guardian dog without any rest?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged and rubbed a foreleg against her chest nonchalantly. “Sounds like a typical Monday to me.”

Applejack laughed again, and the two lapsed back into silence. After a few moments though, one of Rainbow’s ears twitched and she perked up. “I’ll admit though, this place is nicer than I thought it’d be.” Applejack tilted her head to stare incredulously at her marefriend. “Hey, I’m not saying we should build a summer home here. But, I mean, look at that sky, AJ. It’s so crisp and clear. The stars are certainly brighter here than in Ponyville.”

Applejack looked up into the web of diamonds overhead. Rainbow wasn’t wrong about it being a pretty expanse. “I don’t know, Dash. It’s only been a day and already I’m missin’ the color green. There just ain’t no life here. This whole place feels off-puttin’. Wrong.”

Dash sat up, shrugging off Applejack’s limbs. The cowpony blinked and started to ask what was wrong but stopped short. From the dancing light of the fire, Applejack could see half her face illuminated. Rainbow Dash was concentrating.

“Yeah, but it’s peaceful here too, AJ,” Dash said, keeping her voice steady. “It’s so quiet you can really hear the crackling of the fire. Or the exhale of our breathing. Or the sound of somepony trying to sneak up on us.”

No sooner had she finished the words then Dash flapped her wings and launched herself with a backwards somersault over one of the towering boulders. A second later there was a dull thud of something fleshy hitting the ground.

Followed by a pained cry from something that was not Rainbow Dash.

Applejack rounded the outcrop just in time to hear a familiar voice exclaim, “Rainbow Dash, get your lousy hooves off me!”

Both mares recoiled in unison. “Twilight?!

Rainbow Dash hopped off the unicorn as Twilight rose on her hooves a bit unsteadily and tried in vain to brush some of the brown dust off her coat. She glared at Dash. “Of course it’s me. Who else would it be?”

“But… but you said back at the library you weren’t going to help,” Dash stammered and tried to help brush her friend clean.

Twilight waved away the offered hoof. “Well, clearly I changed my mind. I’m allowed to do that, right?”

“‘Course ya are, sugarcube,” Applejack said stepping in. “And we’re mighty grateful y’all decided to show up. Right, Rainbow?”

“O-Of course.”

“Well, good,” Twilight huffed curtly, then paused to stretch her back. “Now that we’re all grateful, let’s get moving.”

“Uh, beg yer pardon?”

“To Tartarus, of course. I know a faster route than the one you’re taking. And this is the best time to travel.” When both mares stared back blankly, Twilight stamped a hoof. “At night! You always travel at night in a desert and rest during the day. Didn’t you know that?”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash exchanged glances with each other. “Uhhhh… no?” Dash answered, turning it into a question.

“Figures,” Twilight said flatly. “Anyway, never mind that now. Let’s go.”

She started to move out and away from The Trident when Applejack called out. “Well, hold on there, Twi. We’re mighty tired ‘cause we did travel in daylight. How ‘bout a bit of rest first, and then we get movin’ a couple hours ‘fore dawn?”

Twilight looked like she was about to protest but then rolled her eyes. “Ugh, fine.”

As they made their way back, Dash spoke up again. “Listen, Twilight, I’m really sorry.”

“Forget it.”

“Yeah, but I should've checked first before… diving…” Dash trailed off when they reached the fire. From the shadows, Twilight was little more than an outline and a voice. Once she stepped into the light, more detail showed up.

Dash immediately pounced and pinned Twilight to the ground again, snaking her hooves over the unicorn’s and locking them against her head.

“What in tarnation? Dash!” Applejack exclaimed.

“Not again!”

“This isn’t Twilight, AJ! Get the rope!”

“Have ya gone crazy?! Let ‘er go this instant!”

“I’m Twilight! How many times do I have to say it?!”

“Oh yeah? If you’re Twilight then what happened to your wings, Princess?” Dash spat out the last word.

The struggling instantly stopped. Applejack, who had been a hair’s breadth away from chomping Rainbow’s tail, stepped back in shock. She gave Twilight a more detailed examination, and blinked when her gaze fell to the unicorn’s side. Sure enough, no wings.

Face down into the dirt, the imposter could barely move. It did, however, manage a bitter smile. “Seriously? I grew wings since last time?”

Applejack pressed a hoof into the creature’s now thoroughly roped torso and pushed it back against The Trident’s base. “So yer one a them changelings we fought back in Canterlot.” It still maintained the image of Twilight Sparkle. “Thought to do some spyin’ too.”

There was a shimmer and Applejack found herself staring into a malevolent reflection. “Sharper than a Spring pricker bush, ain’t ya sugarcube?” it purred.

Dash encroached threateningly. “You shut up! You’re not allowed to use that word!”

“How long have y’all been listenin’ in?”

“Long enough, darling,” Rarity responded. “And my offer still stands. I know how to send you to Tartarus quickly. Just untie me and I’ll show you.”

“I ain’t in any mood for games.”

“Ooh, but I love games,” Pinkie Pie smiled wickedly. “Let’s play one. They say it’s bad manners to play with your food, but this is too much fun. It’s a guessing game. Ready? Guess how long you think you’ll survive this night before we drain your love dry and kill you. Go on, guess.”

“Big talk from a bug that can’t get back to its colony and tell the others,” Dash growled.

“Oh, you poor thing,” Fluttershy shook her head. “You really don’t know how this works, do you?” The changeling shifted back to Twilight and closed its eyes. Its horn briefly flashed green.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash stepped back, tense. But the ropes didn’t magically untie, nor did the changeling teleport from its bondage. It remained as Twilight, bound from neck to flank, smiling a smile of pure malice. When the revelation of what just happened hit it washed over both mares like a bucket of ice water. They looked at each other, and then Applejack soon found herself scrambling up to the topmost point of The Trident’s prongs. At the same time Dash shot straight up into the air.

Out in the distance, a tiny beacon of green light shone, cutting through the dark and drawing the eye like a moth to a flame. Then a second light winked on. Then another. And another. Until there were dozens. Hundreds. Thousands. They surrounded The Trident like a sickly emerald sea.

Applejack gulped after Dash landed beside her. “Ya know, I’m suddenly not missin’ the color green so much anymore.”