• Published 2nd Mar 2013
  • 7,495 Views, 645 Comments

A Long, Winding Road - GentlemanJ



The marshal's gone, cutting all ties and making clear his intent never to return. Why? What compels the grey eyed soldier to leave? To find the truth, Rarity and the girls start down a long, winding road that will hopefully bring him back. Hopef

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Chapter 4

Chapter 4

“Alright now, Spike, what’s all the commotion about?”

Shaking off the last few bits of leftover hay from a morning in the barn, Applejack walked into the hollowed-tree library where her friends Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash all awaited in various stages of patience.

“Yeah, let’s get on with it,” the cyan-clad flyer groaned as she flitted around like a candy-addled toddler. “I’ve missed enough flight practice as it is, and I really need to get back before my skills start to rust. Not that they’d ever rust or anything, but you get the idea.”

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,” Spike retorted with uplifted hands, “If you have any problems with this, take it out on Twilight.”

“Why, what’s Twilight got to do with this?” Pinkie Pie inquired as she idly flipped through one of the library’s many comics from a nearby beanbag chair.

“She’s the one who asked me to get you all to the library before lunchtime.”

“Did she say why?” Fluttershy inquired softly. The green-haired Salamander simply shrugged.

“Beats me. The only other thing she said was to get that big horse head statue and the table out of the middle of the room and to sit tight.”

Four very confused girls exchanged four very confused looks. That was certainly one of the odder requests they’d ever gotten, and that was including what they knew Pinkie Pie could request. Nevertheless, the level-headed librarian wouldn't ask for something ridiculous unless she had a good reason. 'Course, she could have lost her marbles again, but it was best to remain optimistic. Anyhow, the girls did as they were asked and shifted aside the equine statue and stand before settling back down to wait.

A few minutes passed with nary a word said between the group. Applejack idly whistled, Pinkie Pie checked out another comic, Fluttershy sat with hands demurely folded in her lap, and Rainbow Dash slowly bounced from wall to wall.

“So… how you guys been?” Spike asked, somewhat confused by the odd display but with a bright smile on his face nonetheless. That smile sagged, however, when all he got was a few noncommittal murmurs in reply.

“Yeah… that Gala sure was something, huh?” he continued, racking his spiky green head for more conversation topics. “Never thought I would have spent the night hanging out with Fancy Pants, but it turns out he’s a pretty cool guy. How was it for you all?” Once again, halfhearted assents, vague mumblings, and general malaise prevailed once more.

Just as Spike was starting to get annoyed and revved up for some serious grilling, a strange popping noise came from the center of the room. It was almost like a series of snapping fingers, but with more snap than fingers would normally bring. Quickly, the snaps coalesced into the crackling of magical energy, heralding arcing flashes of purple lightning before the entire room exploded into blinding cascades of searing light.

*****

“Did… did it work? We’re not dead are we?” a musical voice called out before unleashing a truly terrified gasp. “My hair! How’s my hair? Twilight, if your maniacal plan has done anything to my coiffure, I swear with Celestia as my witness, I’ll–”

“What in tarnation? Rarity? S’that you?”

Coughing as she waved away the cloud of smoke, Applejack approached and found in the middle of a scorched runic ring at the center of the room, the sprawled forms of Rarity and Twilight Sparkle lying in a tangled mess. The two were certainly a bit disheveled and somewhat worse for wear, but fortunately still relatively whole and unharmed.

“What the hay?” Rainbow Dash blurted as she floated down and helped the scuffed sorceress to her feet. “I thought you two were still hanging out in Canterlot? When’d you all get back?”

“Just now,” Rarity replied, giving Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy a grateful nod before quickly straightening her violet locks. “We were in a bit of a rush to get back, so Twilight suggested an alternative mode of transportation, one I hadn’t expected to involve quite so much… exploding.”

“But it worked!” the aforementioned Twilight beamed in complete and utter ecstasy. “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it actually worked! I mean, sure, long distance teleportation was always theoretically possible; all you had to do was increase oscillation of the space-time continuum to a degree that would create a worm-hole connection to allow the transportation of matter and energy between two locations. But still, I can’t believe the targeting matrix accounting for fourth dimensional interference was so spot on!”

“Well that’s just great Twilight!” Pinkie Pie grinned. “But now I just gotta know why you two had to use experimental quantum shifting to get here? I mean, there is a train, you know.”

“… Wait a second,” Applejack blinked. “Yer telling me yah actually understood all that fancy magic hooey?” The bubbly baker blew a loud raspberry and rolled her eyes.

“Psh, duh! Doesn’t everyone?”

Several pairs of very curious eyes locked onto her for a single, very curious moment before they unanimously reached the same conclusions; with Pinkie Pie, it was sometimes best just not to ask.

“So, like the Pinkster and her freaky knowledge of… whatever it was… was saying," Applejack blinked, "what’s the rush that you guys came poofing into Ponyville for?”

“Oh, right,” Twilight nodded as she regained her senses and settled down. “So, Rarity and I were talking this morning, and we think that if we all work together, we can get Graves to come back to Ponyville.”

To the young mage's great surprise, the reaction of her friends was significantly less than enthused. In fact, it was downright dismal. Applejack merely gave her an awkward grimace and Pinkie Pie’s usually wide withered and greyed into a shadow of its formerly bright glory. Fluttershy coming to the verge of tears could probably have been expected, but she certainly hadn’t expected Rainbow Dash to outright scowl like a child in a dentist's office.

Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d thought.

“Hey, did Graves go somewhere?” Spike piped up as he looked from one unexpected expression to another. “I guess I should’ve figured; he is a marshal, after all. But why do you need help bringing him back? Ponyville’s his home now, so he’s bound to come back eventually, right?”

If words were weapons, then Spike’s were a sniper’s arrows that pierced the heart of each and every girl present. Twilight had sent him home the day after Graves was injured, protecting her little brother with a cover story of how he’d gotten sick and they were staying to help look after him. She’d later written about his recovery, but his departure was a delicate subject that had yet to be broached. There'd be a time for it, of course, but his innocent inquiry had led him straight into the heart of a matter that Twilight wasn’t quite sure just how to explain.

“We can get to that later, Twilight darling,” Rarity suddenly interjected with a bright smile. “Before all that though, I thought that since it’s been so long since we were all together, we should have a girl’s day in full of makeovers, dress up, and long hours talking about all the juiciest gossip. You’re welcome to join us too if you’d like, Spikey Wikey,” she beamed, batting her large, sapphire eyes at the little Salamander boy.

“Uh… thanks for the offer, Rarity,” he replied with a sickly grin, “but I gotta go… uh… do some shopping! Yeah! Lot of shopping to do, like groceries, more parchment, and uh… other stuff, you know... anywayIgottagoseeyoulaterbye!” And despite his great affection for the violet-haired dressmaker, Spike the Salamander scampered out of there as fast as his little clawed feet could carry him.

“Nice save, Rarity,” Twilight heaved with a huge sigh of relief. “I wasn’t sure how we were going to get out of that one.”

“So that was a cover, huh? Hoowhee, that’s good tah hear,” Applejack whistled. “Fer a secon’ there, I was jess about ready tah high tail it after the little feller.”

“In all honesty, you could use a little work on your complexion,” Rarity said with lips pursed in consideration of the straw strewn figure of her friend, “but as Twilight said, we really do need your help getting the dear marshal back.”

Though the miserable looks didn’t return quite as quickly, they were no less obvious as the four homebound girls exchanged considering looks.

“Look, no offense, or nuthin’,” Applejack began with an apologetic smile, “but I don’t see what you two’re after. Graves made it pretty clear that he don’t want nuthin’ tah do with us anymore.”

“You kidding?” Rainbow Dash snorted, “He dropped us faster than Fleet Foot in a nosedive. That punk made absolutely sure we knew that he doesn’t give a flying buck about us, and I say good riddance to him!”

“Rainbow, it’s not like that,” Rarity replied in a consoling voice. “I mean, at least I think it’s not like that. I don’t really know, you see, which is why… oh, I’m no good with this. Twilight?”

And so the purple-haired scholar taught, telling them everything she knew. She recapped for them everything that had happened since the beginning, from the night Graves had spent with them at the Gala till his sudden departure that fateful morning. She told them about the things Ironside had passed onto her, news that the violet-haired beauty absorbed like a cloth absorbs dye. She shared with them about her conversation with Feather Duster, of her own theories, and of Rarity’s insights into the young soldier's mind.

It wasn’t the best lecture she’d ever given. In fact, it probably wasn’t even technically a lecture at all, just a dumping of all the things she could think of. Twilight knew it wasn’t given with her normal eloquence, but she hoped that if anything, the girls would hear how much she believed in this idea and how much Rarity believed in Graves. If only the others could just believe as well…

*****

When she finished, quite breathless and emotionally drained, four silent faces awaited her. Rarity put a gentle hand on her shoulder and gave her friend a comforting smile. Twilight mirrored it faintly before returning her attention to the four as she awaited their verdict.

“So lemme get this straight,” Pinkie Pie began with a face scrunched up in concentration. “You’re saying that Graves told us he doesn’t like us, but he really does like us, except it’s bad if he lets us like him, so he made us not like him, which is why we should like him, especially since he really does like us, and now we have to get him to un-not like us?”

“I have absolutely no idea what you just said,” Rarity freely admitted, “but I do feel that the good marshal’s true feelings were constrained by some outside force. I don’t know that that is, per se, but I want to find out and for that, I’ll need your help.”

“I dunno about that,” Applejack intoned with upfront reticence. “Doncha think yer readin’ into this a little too much? I mean, he was pretty durn clear where he stood with that letter.”

“I’m not so sure about that anymore,” Fluttershy murmured softly as she surprised her friends by actually voicing a contrary opinion. “I mean, I can’t really be sure, but I think that Graves really did like it here in Ponyville. If you think about it, it is kind of odd that he wouldn’t at least say goodbye, isn’t it?”

“Exactly!” Twilight chimed in. “I know it doesn’t make the most sense in the world, but we all know what Graves is like. He obviously really loved Ponyville and he’s certainly got a lot more reason to stay than he used to.” Gracious as usual, Rarity pretended not to notice the knowing glanced directed her way. “That’s why we feel like there’s got to be some reason he’s hightailed it out of here so fast, and we need to figure out why.”

“Hey, if you two think there’s a reason, that’s good enough for me!” the curly haired baker brightly beamed. “I like Big G just as much as you two – well, maybe not as much as Rarity, here – but I still like him a whole lot anyways! So if he’s got some junk putting him in a funk, then I say we find him and give it what for!”

“Pinkie Pie’s right,” Fluttershy declared in quiet yet profoundly firm insistence. “He’s our friend, and if he’s going through tough times, we’ve got to do everything we can to help.”

“I’ll be honest, I ain’t so sure about this,” the blonde cowgirl shrugged. “But I gotta say, I’m mighty curious just what’s goin’ on in that funny little head of his. And if y’all are so keen on findin’ him… ah, what the hay, count me in!”

It was with a great deal of giggling and hugging that the five girls came together. However, the general atmosphere of good will was popped like a soap bubble by some particularly choice words from a certain multicolored flyer.

“I don’t get it you guys,” Rainbow Dash cried out. “Why are you all getting so excited about getting that backstabber to come back? He ditched us, remember?”

“I know it seems like that,” Rarity said, once more trying to sooth her irate friend, “but there just has to be something–”

“I don’t care!” the cyan clad flyer screamed as her voice cracked from the strain. “I don’t care what reason he had, friends don’t do that kind of thing to their friends! If he really liked us, why’d he have to go pulling the biggest jerk move in the history of all jerks? No, if he’s going to treat us like that, then he can just crawl back into whatever hole he came out of and rot, for all I care!” With those last, heated words, Rainbow Dash bolted through the open door and out of sight.

The five remaining girls couldn’t have been more blown back had they been caught in the wake of one of her famous Sonic Rainbooms.

“Whoa, where did that come from?” Pinkie Pie blinked, her curls now extra frizzy from the heat of her friend’s departure. “I didn’t know she hated Big G that much.”

“I didn't know that she hated Graves at all,” Fluttershy replied. "Actually, I thought they got along really well.”

Twilight was thoroughly perplexed. She was certain that all of them liked Graves, or else they wouldn't have been so bothered when he left. But still, that kind of outburst from the usually happy-go-lucky Rainbow Dash, one of the most reliable of friends and the most loyal of all…

“Oh… I see,” Rarity intoned as the spark of understanding lit up behind her sapphire eyes.

“Yah do?” Applejack said. “Well then would yah mind fillin’ us in on why she took off like it was cider season or somethin’?”

“I think it’s precisely because Graves was a friend that it bothers her so much. Rainbow Dash does represent the Element of Loyalty after all, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in her mind, the marshal’s abrupt departure was tantamount to betrayal.”

The same light of lucidity quickly spread to the other. Of course. It’s those closest to you that hurt you the most, and those who cared most were cut deepest. Rarity certainly had the most invested, but she also had the benefit of a much more intimate understanding of the marshal to help her work through the departure. For Rainbow, however, who probably placed greater value in friendships than anyone else, the marshal’s actions were probably akin to being tossed out into a storm with no shelter and a few choice insults to boot.

“So what do we do?” Twilight asked Rarity with a pensive frown. “I think we could let Rainbow Dash sit this one out if she wants, but…”

“No, I’ll go and talk to her,” Rarity said. “You tell the others of your plan, and I’ll bring her back here when we finish.”

“Yah really think you can convince her tah come in jess like that?” Applejack asked incredulously. To this, Rarity replied with a confident smile.

“Applejack darling, who’s idea was it for you to wear high heeled boots to the Gala, hm?”

“Well, it was mine, I guess,” the freckled farm girl frown. “I thought that since I was goin’ to one o’ them fancy parties, I might as well do it right fer once.”

“Did you really?” Rarity slyly grinned, “Did you really come up with that all by yourself?”

Applejack paused just before her eyes went as wide as Granny Smith’s fancy china plates.

“Oh, yer good,” she muttered.

“Naturally,” Rarity replied with a toss of her violet tresses. “I’ll be back soon.”

*****

"Rainbow Dash? Are you up there?”

The irate athlete looked down from the perch of her favorite tree branch to find Rarity's eyes on her, hands on hips with the expectant look of one dealing with a petulant child.

“What do you want?” Rainbow Dash muttered, the sullenness of her tone only outdone by the sullenness of her expression.

“Well, I was hoping I could talk to you “without having to crane my neck," the pretty dressmaker replied. "Would you mind coming down?”

“Don’t wanna,” the cyan flyer snorted as she turned over and crossed hands behind her head. “I know what you’re gonna say, and I ain’t interested.”

“I see,” came the sighing reply. Rainbow Dash closed her eyes, thinking it would now be a prime time to nap, but was suddenly disturbed by the loud rustling of branches and some very uncharacteristic grunts slowly approaching her.

“What the hay?” Turning around, Rainbow Dash found the prissiest of all Ponyville girls actually climbing – with no small lack of grace – up the tree towards her. And in a pencil skirt no less.

“If – oof – you’re not going to come down,” Rarity gasped as she finally pulled herself onto the branch next to her friend, “then I may as well come up here and join you.”

“... You can climb trees?” Rainbow Dash blinked.

“I most certainly can,” the fashionista replied with just the slightest bit of offense. “I just happen not to enjoy it very much is all.”

That was clearly a gross understatement. The short but ungainly struggle had left her usually immaculate cloths scuffed and stained, her hands covered in sticky tree sap, and her hair an unruly mess liberally bedecked with twigs and leaves. All things considered, it was a rather sordid mess that would usually leave the usually fussy female in a state of abject horror, yet Rarity seemed about as concerned about her state as… well… as Applejack would have been.

“... I don’t get it,” Rainbow Dash muttered sullenly, “Why are you working so hard for that idiot? He ditched us.”

“Yes, he did,” Rarity readily agreed. “And it’s probably some mistake he’ll be in no shape to fix unless we step in and help him out." The young athlete replied with a dark grimace.

“Well he sure doesn’t deserve it.”

“No, he doesn’t,” the violet-haired beauty agreed once more. “But sometimes, the ones who deserve it the least are the ones who need it the most, wouldn’t you agree?”

“… Do you really think Graves had a good reason for ditching us like he did?” the blue clad girl finally asked. “Like, a reason that after we hear it will make us not wanna punch his face in anymore?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Rarity sighed. “I’d like to think there is, but right now, I’m just going on feelings and ideas. That’s why I need all my friends to help me figure it out.”

The two girls sat in silence for a moment, Rarity with earnest and hopeful expectation and Rainbow Dash with – while certainly not good humor – at least less open hostility than before. Finally, the irritated athlete let out a very long and very noisy sigh.

“I’m not the kind of jerk who’d leave my friends hanging,” she said as she at last cracked a smile. “But if the marshal doesn’t give me a really good reason for why he made us go through all this crap, I’m gonna knock the living daylights out of him.”

Rarity couldn’t help but let out a bright, chiming laugh that rang from the tree branches like silver bells.

“You can be first in line,” she smiled as she pulled her friend into a warm embrace, “but only if I get to be second.”

**********