• Published 1st Apr 2013
  • 2,386 Views, 17 Comments

Mac's Tale - Sir Barton



Getting their cutie mark is a pivotal moment in every pony's life. How pivotal? This mark is the hinge upon which the doors of destiny swing.

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Uncertain

Uncertain

“Horse Apples!”

The orange mare bit through the words as she cantered angrily through the dark stands of apple trees that formed the main orchard of Sweet Apple Acres. Normally a late trot through the orchard would have been soothing to the young blonde maned mare. Instead the trees seemed to echo with the ghosts of the past, a past that had suddenly become more twisted and uncertain.

“Luna geld you, McIntosh.”

Applejack spit the words with an unladylike venom. She shook her head violently; tears of pain and sorrow flew from her eyes, glinting like diamonds in the air of the moonlit grove, before vanishing into the darkness of the shadows beneath the trees. The language she used would have surely gotten her lectured on the subjects of profanity and decorum by either of her unicorn friends, Rarity or Twilight Sparkle. If she’d been younger and been overheard using such language, her mouth would quickly be getting better acquainted with a bar of soap if Granny Smith had anything to say on the matter.

None of the three, however, were around at that moment anyway so it made no consequence as the hot twister of sorrow and rage thrashed wildly about within the soul of the orange mare.

No, Applejack mentally corrected her last uttered curse I’ll geld him mah-self f’r what he did to Apple Bloom! The princesses c’n buck what’s left to Tartarus, the moon, ‘r wherever. An’ jus’ because our li’l sister asked ya too hard ‘bout y’r cutie mark.

Applejack's emotional tempest was still in full rage when she finally crossed out of the orchard into the farmyard and made her way to the barn house. Luna’s moon shone full in the night sky bathing the farmyard in a cool silver light as Applejack trotted past the pump and water-trough in the yard. The green-eyed mare averted her gaze from the calm mirror like refection of the water where Apple Bloom had, accidentally, nearly drowned herself in a blind panic earlier that day. Having seen that the little filly was resting quietly in her room, Applejack had gone out to find out the cause of their baby sister’s near fatal panic from her elder brother, Big McIntosh.

What she’d found out from her brother had cut her to her emotional core. What he’d told her had been as shocking a revelation as she could have never suspected from the quiet, hard toiling colt. Her brother had received his cutie mark witnessing the deaths of their parents. Deaths that Applejack had always been told had been in a tragic accident, a landslide. She had felt the huge scarlet stallion’s pain and grief there as he confessed his torturous secret on the edge of the farm, standing at the very spot of the tragedy.

What perturbed Applejack, however, was that Big Mac’s story of what had transpired was slightly different from the version she knew. Instead of an accidental landslide caused by waterlogged soil and an unstable hillside having claimed the lives of their parents as she had always been told, what her brother had confessed to witnessing was something that had never happened in Ponyville. Big McIntosh had claimed to witness their parent’s deaths at the hooves of another pony, a pony that Mac had only referred to as ‘the Albino’.

That’s where she’d called him on it. In all honesty he might as well have said that the Headless Horse, or the Olden Pony, or some other campfire story boogie-mare had done it. In that one moment Mac’s tormented secret had looked like such a massive pile of manure it wasn’t believable.

That he had witnessed the deaths of their parents, okay, that was possible, and surely a traumatic and haunting event. That fact he claimed that it had not been an accident, but murder, was a concept that was all but unconscionable to her. The very concept of a pony killing another in a small tight-knit community like Ponyville was ridiculous. The fact that he had tried to convince her even after she’d pointed out the incredulousity of it all had made things harder.

“Applejack.” She remembered him saying, “y’r all the Element of Honesty, right.”

She had to agree, it was the honest truth. What he had asked next though, had caught her flat hoofed.

“An’ who all taught y’ ‘bout honesty?”

The ghosts of the place they stood upon had stirred and chilled her as she spoke the honest answer, “Ma ’n’ Pa.”

“An’ do ya think they didn’t teach me the same thing, AJ?”

Her brother’s quiet accusation had stung worse than any physical blow could have, setting her onto her rump. It was at that moment though; she had realized how much she’d forgotten about her brother, her ‘big’ brother, her quiet, reliable, hardworking, and caring, ‘older’ brother. For all of her best inner qualities that her parent’s had lovingly cultivated and dutifully nurtured in her. They’d have done the same for him. As they most surely would have done for Apple Bloom if they were still alive. Applejack had realized, yes, they’d lost their parents at the same time, but Ma and Pa had raised Big McIntosh even longer than they’d raised her.

“Yes.” The meager response had squeaked from her throat, pure in its honesty, as her innards had felt like a twisting mass of serpents coiling tighter, crushing her from inside herself.

As the serpents writhed, Big McIntosh had gently taken her face in his front hooves and pulled the bridge of her muzzle to his so she was looking him squarely eye to eye. His voice had been as calm and even as it had ever been as he had spoken to her.

“Then look me in the eye, AJ, and tell me that I’m lying.”

She had looked. She had looked into those big, green, emerald windows to his soul. Eyes that matched hers so perfectly that looking into them was like looking into her own, and seeing what she needed to see, and being afraid.

Applejack had seen what she needed to see, and it scared her, for what she’d seen could not be true. A lie couldn’t be the truth, and the truth couldn’t be a lie, but she had seen it there, in her brother’s eyes through her eyes, his soul through her soul. The honest answer she had to give, she couldn’t, it was a lie, but couldn’t be.

And then the serpents had struck.

The coiling, twisting, writhing mass of serpents of fear and doubt within her had finally lashed out, their venom spreading throughout her. A terrifying, fiery cold nauseating rush had poured through her every vein. He had been holding her head between his front hooves, but he hadn’t been holding hers.

She’d followed through on the right to left cross, turning as she did, his grip on her evaporating. She had turned, and bucked him to the ground, then ran, blindly, in horrified, wide-eyed, grief stricken anger into the dark groves of apple trees. Leaving him sprawling on the earth where their parents had died. Leaving him lying where he’d received his cutie mark as he watched their parents die. Watched their parents die at the hooves of a killer. At the hooves of ‘the Albino.’

She couldn’t give him the answer.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Applejack looked in on her little sister and gave a sigh of contentment. The little olive-blonde filly was sleeping soundly, cocooned in her bedding, strawberry locks askew all over the pillow. Entering her own room, Applejack hung her hat on the wall peg beside her rope and pulled the red hair-ties from her mane and tail before circling to the other side of her bed.

Opening the small cupboard in the bottom of her nightstand, she moved a few personal items aside and drew out a glass bottle with a wooden shot-glass upside-down atop the neck. The blonde maned mare looked at the label as she held the bottle in front of her.

‘Sweet Apple Acres Finest’ the label proclaimed, followed by the word that was also her own name: Applejack.

Setting the carved wood shot glass aside Applejack pulled the cork from the bottle with her teeth dropping it beside her on her bed. She regarded the lacquered oak shot-glass sitting on her bedside table again, then turned her attention to the heavy golden elixir in the bottle she held, then back to the cup before retuning again to the bottle and wrapping her lips around its mouth and pointing the base to the rafters.

Applejack took a heavy pull of the sweet, but potent liquor before restoppering the bottle and returning it to its hiding place in the base of the nightstand and dropping unceremoniously into bed.

Granny Smith didn’t hold much for young mares drinking before their wedding day. It prevented, as her grandmother put it ‘young stallions of unsavory intent from taking undue advantage of unsuspecting young mares.’ Still the occasional ‘medicinal use’ was permitted, and right now a need for a good night’s sleep after what she’d been through today qualified in Applejack’s reasoning.

As her namesake liquor dulled the roiling thunder of the emotional storm that still swirled in her psyche, she felt its warmth spread through her body, warming the sheets that held her as she let her eyes fall shut, until morning would inevitably beckon her back to wakefulness…

* * * * *

“Applejack?”

The beckoning call of morning, Applejack found, apparently had the same high voice as her sister.

“Hrmf?” Applejack grunted unable to form words through the haze of sleep.

“Applejack.” Apple Bloom called again, and Applejack forced one eye open.

Daylight streamed through the window of her room as she opened both eyes and cast about the room for Apple Bloom. Yet she found no sign of the filly.

The golden light of Celestia’s day took on an orangey tint prompting the dusty-orange mare to glance out the window of her room.

Fire!

The orchards were on fire! Adrenaline swept through the now fully awake young mare as she realized it was not just the orchards that were aflame, but that all of Equestria was burning around her!

“Applejack!”

Outside! Her sister’s voice was coming from outside!

Applejack bolted from the room like a mare possessed, her Stetson snatched from its peg as she passed the door.

“Big Mac! Granny Smith!” she called out, bursting into their respective as she did so. She found their rooms vacant, their beds neatly made, belongings in place, but the occupants not present. She then dashed for the stairs.

Reaching the yard she skidded to a halt at what she beheld, no fire was to be seen. Before her loomed the edge of the Everfree Forest, the ridge where her parents had died, imposing and grim. Below the tattered face of the slope, a cordon of tall stakes stood, each surmounted by the severed head of one of her family. The outer most bore Big McIntosh on the left and Granny Smith the right. The other four middle stakes carried Ma, Pa, Aunt Flicka, and Granpa Smith, left to right.

Yet in the center of this atrocity lay Apple Bloom, pinned to the ground by the left front hoof of the most massive monstrosity of a stallion Applejack had ever seen. He was taller than even Princess Celestia, his eyes red-hot coals, with scarlet auras trailing from them reminiscent of the specter of King Sombra. Its horn, like that of the shadowy unicorn king, wasn’t strait, but curved upward from its forehead. Though unlike the deposed dark king of the Crystal Empire, this horn was notched and slightly crooked, like that of the Changeling Queen's. Beneath its scruffy white birch bark mane and hide, the whole of the monstrosity seemed to be a patchwork of turf, stone, branches, and leaves, something like a timber wolf, but a pony not a wolf.

“Applejack.”

The weak call of Apple Bloom’s voice drew Applejack attention back to where her sister lay pinned by the monster’s stony hoof, just as the great creature shifted his weight forward, crushing the little filly beneath it. Applejack could neither scream nor move as she watched Apple Bloom’s body burst open. White flesh and golden juice were trod into the dirt under the hoof of the giant as it advanced on her.

“Applejack,” a new grim voice now called her name from somewhere, causing her to glance behind her at the farm buildings, “all of this, is Mine!”

Looking back to the stallion-beast Applejack could see its jaw now hanging loose, open to reveal long gleaming white fangs, longer and fiercer than any creature Applejack could think to name. From between those glinting white stakes blood now poured like cider from between the staves of a fractured cask. Blood, which splashed on the ground before it splattering its hooves and turning them red.

Applejack backed away, tripping as she did, sliding on her rump as best she could as the great beast lowered its head, aiming its chipped and curving horn at her. As it did, the deep, hollow, disembodied, voice from its unmoving gaping jaw coldly spoke.

“And so are you.”

She heard the scrape of hoof on earth and the snap of twigs as the beast charged her … she screamed!

* * * * *

Apple Bloom tumbled backwards across the floor, the back of her head meeting the wall of her sister’s bedroom with a pronounced whack, as her older sister jumped bolt upright in bed. The older pony’s eyes were wide with terror, her breath ripping in and out of her in an adrenaline fueled rush.

“Ow.” winced the youngest Apple as she rubbed the soon to be swelling goose egg on the back of her head with a hoof.

“Are you okay Applejack?”

The daze of the nightmare dissipating, awareness of her surroundings returning, the drumming of her pulse still quickened, though less so, Applejack looked to where her sister gathered herself from the floor.

“Apple Bloom!” the older pony cried with no small portion of relief as she snatched the smaller from the floor into her bed, hugging her tight.

“Applejack, are you okay?” the words were practically squeezed out of Apple Bloom as the bedraggled filly was frantically hugged and nuzzled by her equally sleep disheveled sibling.

The orange mare reared her head back slightly in confusion at the younger pony’s query.

“An’ why wouldn’t I be?” came the slightly befuddled response that Applejack tried to make sound authoritative and adult. Then changing the subject in defense. “An’ what ‘r’ you doin’ up so early on a weekend?”

Apple Bloom shot a look up at her sister that spoke volumes. The right corner of the filly’s mouth pitching downward into a half-frown of frustration that said ‘What? Just because I’m a school filly, don’t mean I’ve got meadow muffins in my hayloft.’

“I’ve been sleeping since th’s’afternoon, of course I woke up early.”

The half vacant look of confusion was still on her sister’s face as Apple Bloom continued, “ ‘n’ when Ah got up I heard noises what sounded like mumblin’ ‘n’ cryin’ coming from y’r room so I came in … Was ya havin' a bad dream Applejack?”

“Yuh-huh, I was, Sugarcube.” Applejack nodded slightly as she spoke. “I was havin’ a right bad dream. Thanks f’r carin’.”

Applejack pulled her sister into another warm hug of hooves, hair, and bed sheets, and Apple Bloom hugged back. After a few moments Applejack opened one eye and cast glance out the bedroom window, no fire, no daylight, not even the first sparkling velvet glow of twilight danced on the edge of the sky, only Luna’s night reigned in peaceful bliss as the two sisters snuggled down in the elder one’s bed.

“Where’s Big McIntosh?”

The filly’s question shattered the stillness like a brick through a plate glass window.

“Hmmnh?” murred Applejack, having just settled back into her bed in a comfortable spoon position with her little sister while waiting for the eventual sunrise.

“Where’s big brother?” the concern from the youngest Apple becoming tangible as she spoke, “I looked in his room an’ it don’t look like he’s even been t’ bed.”

AJ knew the old line that she used to tell her little sister about their brother having to get up early to wake up the roosters, so the roosters could wake up the rest of Ponyville wasn’t going to hold oats this time.

“We had a fight.”

“A fight?” the interest peaked in the younger pony’s voice as she lay with her back against her sister’s barrel. “Was’t ‘bout what happened with me?”

“Eeyup.”

Applejack flinched, groaning mentally at herself for having gone and sounded like her brother at just that moment.

“Why, Applejack?”

“Because sometimes big ponies do things they ain’t proud of.” The older pony paused. No, she certainly wasn’t proud of what she’d done, but, … dang that McIntosh “An’ … I’ll apologize t’ Big Mac in the morning.”

Author's Note:

Well here is Chapter two, a month to the day after the first. It seems this tale is taking on a life of its own as I work on it, but I enjoy the practice. The down side to this is that chapters moving forward seem to be heading into darker territory and the age rating of the story may get revised.