• Published 24th Mar 2013
  • 12,549 Views, 400 Comments

A Hairy Problem - BlueBastard

Strange things are happening with Applejack after a mysterious wolf-like creature attacks her when she looks into the aftermath of another CMC incident.

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Ch.1: Into The Forest

Chapter 1

It was business as usual in the marketplace as Celestia’s sun began its descent, coloring the sky beautiful shades of orange. Applejack was happy about having sold most of her stock of apples and apple accessories, not only because of the money but because it meant less stuff she had to pack up and carry home with her. It wasn’t the weight that concerned the farm pony, since she was one of the strongest ponies in town save for possibly her brother; the “Iron Pony” incident where she lost to Rainbow Dash did not count at all for...various reasons. No, it was simply getting back to the farm before the night had settled in and Luna’s moon shone from above.

Applejack herself didn’t know why she wanted to be home that early; it was something that apparently developed recently. If you’d asked her a few weeks ago about doing stuff in the dead of night, such as venturing to that old castle where she and her friends had defeated Nightmare Moon, she’d have thought nothing of it. But now, even just thinking about going into the Everfree Forest at night made Applejack shudder as she put the last of her goods into the wagon.

Maybe askin’ Twilight about this might be a good idea, Applejack thought. While the last time the purple unicorn had tried to do that “psychiatric help” thing on Rainbow Dash did not end well, Twilight wasn’t exactly herself that day either judging from how she’d made the whole town go gaga over that old doll of hers.

“Which Big Mac still has for some reason,” the orange mare muttered to herself as she hitched herself up to the wagon and began heading home. It was a fair bit to walk, Sweet Apple Acres being a good little distance away from the center of Ponyville, but AJ didn’t mind. After a whole day of standing behind a wooden stand, it was a real relief to her to get the chance to finally put her leg muscles to work. It wasn’t the same as Applebucking, but it was better than nothing.

As she pulled up to the barn to stow both it and the goods, she could smell the familiar scent of apples coming from the kitchen. One would think that a diet composed of mostly apples and apple-based foodstuffs would get real bland, but that wasn’t the case for the Apple Family. To them, the taste of apples was something that never got old, and right now AJ could hear the rumbling in her stomach, eager for some of Granny’s cooking. By now the sun had set and the stars had begun to sparkle in the sky, but Applejack wasn’t worried. She was home now, where the night couldn’t hurt her.

“So, today was a good day for sellin’ apples, eh?” said Granny Smith. The elderly green mare, the Apple family matriarch, wasn’t able to help with the manual labor aspect of farm operations due to her artificial hip replacement (despite being strong enough to support a full-grown unicorn mare wearing fifteen pounds of makeup on her back), but her skills in cooking were unaffected in her old age which allowed her to still help keep the farm going.

“Yep! Ah even had one of those Wonderbolt fellows show up, Soarin’ was his name Ah think. He ended up buyin’ all of yer pies, saying somethin’ about how he’d been dyin’ to taste one of them after the Gala,” Applejack replied. “He probably would have bought more, the guy was loaded Ah tell ya, but then Rainbow came along and scared him off by wantin’ his autograph.”

“That’s a shame, but Ah hope he’ll be back tomorrow. We need more red paint for the barn y’know”.

“Granny, Ah bought all the red paint we need for that. Don’t you remember?”

“Ah know you did, but now we need more because of what Apple Bloom and her friends did with the paint you did buy.”

Big Mac, whose silent presence still carried all of his weight in the physical sense, replied with a trademark “Eeyup” before looking unhappily at the fourth member of the Apple family, Granny joining in while Applejack had a confused look on her face before remembering what the Cutie Mark Crusaders usually ended up doing with “borrowed” things. All the yellow filly could do was look at the rest of her family with an embarrassed grin.

“Apple Bloom…” AJ started, “…what did you and your friends do with the paint?”

“We, um…Well, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Ah…tried to build a car.” Sheepishly replied the youngest Apple.

“A car?” said the elder sister, raising an eyebrow “What in the hay is a ‘car’”?

At this, the filly brightened up a bit, “Okay, ya know those floats that we built for the harvest parade? A car is somethin’ like that, only it’s about as big as a passenger wagon and is meant for regular use instead of just holiday parades and stuff.”

A passenger wagon built like a float? That sounded dangerous and stupid to Applejack. Which meant there was only one pony that could have given the CMC the idea. “Let me guess; Lyra told you about this ‘car’ thing didn’t she?”

Apple Bloom shook her head. “Nope, it was Sandalwood.”

Facehoofing, Applejack mentally scolded herself for not realizing the obvious. Sandalwood was a relative newcomer to Ponyville, to apprentice under Lotus and Aloe at the local spa. Her special talent involved making perfumes, although with a name like SandalWOOD all AJ could figure was that she should have been a carpenter instead, a fact her cutie mark seemed to be confused about as it was a sandalwood sprig overlaid with a fancy perfume bottle.

But that wasn’t what made Applejack facehoof. No, it was the fact Sandalwood had jumped onto Lyra’s bandwagon and fully believed in those creatures known as “humans” or something. Worse, while Lyra just believed they existed, Sandalwood went a bit further. According to Pinkie Pie, Sandy had dreams about not only being human, but having been adopted by humans in their world and eventually becoming a famous writer. Oh, and that Rarity was in fact her mother somehow even though Sandalwood’s real parents lived in Fairflanks. The whole thing sounded beyond stupid to any sane pony, especially Applejack, which is why it didn’t surprise her that Sandalwood would give the CMC the idea to strap a motor to a lightweight wagon, most likely claiming it was something the humans used.

“Apple Bloom, why do ya think ponies only use motors on heavy things like floats? Self-propelled engines are still relatively new an’ require the weight so they don’t go crashin’ into things at high speed. Nopony can control ‘em without the counterweight in the frame. Ah’m guessin’ that ‘losin’ control’ is exactly what happened to yer ‘car’, right?”

Her face turning a bright red, all Applebloom could do was look down at her half-finished dinner and reply “Eeyup.”

“So now that we have that established, how does all that paint Ah bought before work into this?”

Now turning more red than Big Mac, Apple Bloom didn’t dare look anypony in the eye as she said “Sandalwood said it would go faster if we painted it red, so we…used all the red paint to make sure it would go as fast as possible”.

“So ya build this ‘car’ thing an’ use up all of our red paint so it will be as dangerous as possible…Apple Bloom, what in Equestria were you three thinkin’?!” While Applejack was angry about all the red paint having been used up (considering how often the barn ended up getting destroyed at least once a year by what seemed like fate, paint expenses were not something the Apples needed to go higher), now she was concerned about her sister doing things that risked life and limb for stupid reasons.

“We thought we could get our cutie marks in car buildin’ or maybe even vehicle racin’, but those don’t seem to be our special talents…”

AJ sighed, it was the only thing she could do. ‘Car buildin’ an’/or racin’, just two more attempts at things the CMC were obviously not talented in. On second thought, Scootaloo might have actually had a shot, but AJ personally thought the orange Pegasus filly was more talented in agility than speed. But that was unimportant, what was important was that if Apple Bloom and her friends were not going to stop doing everything they could to get their cutie marks, then they needed to at least dial down the risk factor. Then AJ realized there was something Apple Bloom seemed to avoiding. “Apple Bloom…what exactly happened to the car?”

Finally looking at her big sister with the most all-knowing grin she could muster, the filly replied “Well…ah don’t actually know”

“How the hay can ya not know what happened to it?!”

“After we tried drivin’ it, we lost control over it an’ ended up goin’ straight towards the Everfree. We all bailed but the car kept on goin’ right into the forest. Ah know it wasn’t goin’ towards Zecora’s, but where it ended up Ah really don’t know”.

AJ repeated her facehoof. The CMC had allowed a mechanical monstrosity to go right into the Everfree. That industrial pet hair dryer, which AJ never could get a straight answer about how the CMC got it beyond “it wasn’t stolen” under the Pinkie Promise of no lying, had been one thing, but at the very least it wasn’t going to blow up and Winona really liked using it for some reason, but this? As much as the ponies preferred to stay out of the Everfree Forest, they at least had the good sense not to leave their garbage in it.

“Well, looks like Ah gotta go gather up the group to go lookin’ for this thing. Don’t want it to explode in there or do somethin’ that would be harm any poor critter in the Everfree. it would be quite a waste of good lumber and parts for next year’s float if anythin’.” Applejack muttered as she got up and immediately headed for the door. She knew her friends were not going to be happy about this, especially Rarity, but they were always there to help her out, and she was going to need it tonight.

Thankfully she was already out the door when she froze. Tonight? Looking up, she could see Luna’s moon was in its full phase tonight. AJ didn’t know why, but this just made it even more frightening. Working up the nerve to keep walking towards the sleeping settlement ahead, she realized that her friends were not only necessary to assist in locating this ‘car’ the CMC sent careening into the worst possible place, but she would need them in order to feel even remotely safe.

The sooner this is over, thought the shaken mare, the better!

“So…this ‘car’ thing, do you anything else about it beyond it having been built like a passenger wagon and painted red?” asked Twilight Sparkle.

“Nope. Ah didn’t even know it existed until Granny Smith made Apple Bloom explain to me why we needed more red barn paint.”

“Well I hope it isn’t too far into this ghastly place, I do need my beauty sleep you know” interjected Rarity, who for some reason had taken fifteen minutes to get out of her house much to the annoyance of the others.

A multi-colored blur whizzed past above the group before landing a bit further ahead to wait for them, asking, “Why are we even looking for this thing at night? If it’s as bright red as your barn, AJ, then it would be a lot easier to look for it in the day when it’s not as dark looking as the trees.”

“Because it could cause some serious trouble if we don’t find it sooner than later. The worst case is if it ends up explodin’ because of the engine, but Ah honestly doubt it will. If it was left runnin’ then all the fuel should be used up by now. But we still need to get it outta here ASAP before it hurts something or somepony.”

“Big deal, unless it’s covered in spikes I doubt it could even hurt a parasprite,” responded Rainbow Dash, rolling her eyes at Applejack before falling in line with the rest of the group.

“Y-you never know for sure until it actually does hurt some innocent creature,” spoke the timid voice of Fluttershy, who pretty much only came along because Applejack needed her to help cover more ground and the potential threat the “car” could have in harming the wildlife.

“Oh, don’t worry Fluttershy, I’m sure it’s not that dangerous!” happily chirped Pinkie Pie, who in contrast to the other five mares was bouncing instead of walking, “And if some small creature gets hurt, you’ll be there to make it all better!”.

Applejack couldn’t help but let out a small smile. She was doing her best to hide how absolutely terrified she was of doing this at night, so the willingness of her friends to help her locate this thing her sister had made helped her relax a bit.

Unfortunately, even after all this time, AJ still royally sucked at lying or hiding her feelings. She was involuntarily trembling with every step she took, so much that all of her friends had immediately agreed to go with her into the most dangerous place near town in the dead of night because they could tell something was wrong. Fluttershy had even mentally noted at AJ, normally brave and usually the most level headed, was now far more scared than the normally timid Pegasus was during normal things such as Nightmare Night. But with every step Fluttershy grew more and more concerned as AJ’s condition visibly worsened despite the commendable effort she was putting in to not sounding scared out of her wits, something Fluttershy herself never could do. Finally, her concern overrode her bashfulness. “Applejack, what’s bothering you?”

“W-whatever do ya mean, Fl-fluttershy?” responded Applejack. The instantaneous change from controlled tones to scared ones told Fluttershy that this thing was far worse to the farm pony than most of the things she had faced with the others, with and without the Elements of Harmony. The other four ponies noticed as well, all of them looking at Applejack with concern on their faces.

Realizing the position she was in, AJ knew she had no choice other than telling them. The last time she tried this ended with her nearly getting run over with a train due to not winning any blue ribbons at the Equestrian Rodeo, and while she doubted that would possibly happen again here in the forest, she’d learned her lesson and wasn’t going to repeat the mistake.

“Ah…Ah’m not quite sure how to explain this to ya’ll, but…but recently Ah’ve been gettin’ scared of the night. Ah don’t know why, just…just that it feels like somethin’ is out there, somethin’ that wants to get me. Ah swear Ah’ve never been so scared in all my life, but Ah didn’t mention this to ya’ll ‘cause Ah’m sure it’s just nothin’ that needs to be worried about”.

Twilight looked at her friend incredulously “AJ, the last time you thought something was nothing was when I was freaking out about not having a friendship report to send to Celestia. While I doubt you could cause as much damage as I did with that ‘Want It Need It’ spell, I refuse to let the same problem happen to you. Are you sure you haven’t had these kinds of feeling before?”

Putting her hoof to her chin, AJ thought hard. “Now that ya mention it, Ah might have felt this way before. Mah memory of the time is kinda fuzzy, don’t remember much of it, but you may have a point. Whatever it is causin’ me trouble, it-” Applejack froze mid-sentence. She hadn’t fully recalled the memory, but all she could remember was that it had been traumatic. Something that even to her best friends she felt she couldn’t divulge just yet, this was a family matter.

Twilight, not exactly catching on to the signs AJ was giving off that the memory wasn’t pleasant, was about to inquire further when Pinkie suddenly exclaimed “Hey, what’s that?” and proceeded to bounce off to look at something she’d seen off the side of the path. The rest of the group followed, instinctively making sure they didn’t step in any Poison Joke lest they be the victims of nature’s sense of humor.

The path the ponies had been following went out of view as the group arrived at what Pinkie had found. Stuck in a ditch was a bright red wagon, with an engine attached to the back with belts running through the floor of the wagon and attaching to the rear axle, while the front axle was connected to a series of gears and the steering wheel. The seemingly random patches of gold on the engine suggested it had been salvaged from its previous home inside the golden apple cart the CMC had booby trapped to get revenge on the visiting Babs Seed. That had ended poorly for the CMC when they ended up saving Babs instead, so the fact the same engine had only caused more trouble for the three fillies was unsurprising.

On the other hoof, though, Applejack had to admit for long distance traveling, this ‘car’ could prove useful, but as the engine had no speed control it was easy to see how the vehicle had gotten away from the fillies. It also reminded her of that infernal machine those two brothers had arrived in that nearly ruined the Apples, the “Super Speedy something-or-other 9001”, although that had been powered by unicorn magic and had probably already been abandoned in a ditch as well, the brothers moving on to a new scheme to take over other ponies businesses.

“Twilight, do you think you could lift this thing outta here?” asked Applejack, already knowing the answer.

“I don’t need to think I could, silly,” teased the unicorn as her horn became surrounded by a purple aura. The car became engulfed in an aura of the same color and began to rise out of the ditch as if it suddenly was a helium balloon. Effortlessly, Twilight magically moved the wagon through the air and, with a nod, started walking it towards the path while it floated ahead of her, reorienting itself as to not collide with trees and other obstacles.

Rarity was the one who broke the silence: “So, remind me again why I’m losing beauty sleep over this, a situation where I’m not even needed?” AJ gave her a look that clearly meant she was trying to figure out an answer, but she never got the chance as Rarity’s scowl turned into a teasing smile. While she was rather unhappy about having to come out into the forest for nothing, AJ’s little confession earlier made it clear Rarity’s mere presence has been reason enough to ask her to accompany her into this place, and who was Rarity to deny one of her closest friends that kind of support?

Rainbow, in comparison, was understandably annoyed for the same reasons. While she too was willing to help out a friend in need, it was the fact her earlier suggestion of waiting until morning to find the car would have saved them all some sleep and effort since the only thing that got damaged was some trees. No harmed animals, no explosions, no nothing but a wrecked cart. RD of course made this annoyance clear in mumbling to herself as she followed Rarity back to the forest path, Pinkie and Fluttershy following behind. Applejack was the last to leave, smiling in that nothing bad had happened.

That was when something bad happened.

Out of nowhere, a shadowy figure shot out of the forest and right into Applejack, sending her flying back and hitting a tree. Dazed, she didn’t even have enough time before the creature before her was suddenly right in her face and pinning her down. Then she felt it bite into her neck, to which all she could do was scream.

Everything after that became a blur. The sound of something crashing into the ground a short distance away. Pinkie screaming at the thing biting into her neck. The thing letting go to bark at the location Pinkie had been at. A familiar streak of purple magic blasting the creature away. Something vaguely resembling a pony with purple hair standing above her. Then it was all dark as AJ passed out, a combination of shock and blood loss.