• Published 10th Apr 2013
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Libera Mé - EZTP



Set just after the events of season 3, Twilight Sparkle and her friends must rise to a challenging beast the likes of which will test her not only as an alicorn, but as the Princess of Friendship.

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09 To Smile Again

09

The warmth of the morning sun stirred applejack from her sleep. She rubbed her nose on the pillow and felt the excess crusting on her eyes. Her ears picked up a sweet sound above her. A soft whisper that floated gently down. Looking up she had a quick fright seeing the monster above her. It was not a dream what had happened. The burning around her eyes told the story again. She let herself stay nuzzled against its belly and listened to the song it sung. It sounded very sad yet up lifting. She could not understand the words it spoke but the melody was slow and tender.

“Et cecidimus quasi in tenebris lucet;

Non timeo, quia opus factum est.”

The last note sounded out long and slow to fade away to the chirping of the morning birds around them. As the eyes of its bowed head opened they were startled to see her staring up.

“Morning,” she whispered gently to try ease the shock.

“Good morning Miss Applejack. How are you feeling?”

“A little tired.” she smiled and shut her eyes again feeling the claw stroke her mane to pull out something tangled there.

“It is understandable. I am sorry if I disturbed you, please return to your rest.”

She rubbed her eyes taking a deep breath, “That song sounds very sad. What's it mean?”

“The translation is difficult. Nothing interesting. I apologise but I had to do something to stay awake. A mere rambling that wouldn’t interest you.”

“I asked didn't I? Please.”

“They were words of peace to those departed. It is a sign of sorts, to respect the nature of life, to pay homage to those who are no longer with us and celebrate their fulfilment of that life. The gist is we will see each other again one day.”

“Thats nice.” She wondered if she should try to get some more information. In the light of day sensitive subjects were all the more embarrassing. “Did you cry too or was there a rainstorm?”

The creature sighed, “Loss. It is a burden no being escapes.” The claw was still stroking the mane, she let it glide through to surrender her safety to this brute she lay on top of. The contrast was difficult to believe, the monster they feared had shouldered her pain for the night, shared her suffering.

“Why are we afraid of you?”

“Because you are all smart.”

She stretched her hooves out and exhaled in its lap. “I could stay here forever.”

“Well you won’t. Soon enough it will be time to return home.”

She glanced around and saw the large wolf was gone. “Where's your little lady?”

“She disappears every now and then. I know not where and I do not want to. She needs privacy so I will accept it. We are quite safe from my friends now.”

“I’m not worried about them. Can we at least stay another forty winks?”

“Catch your extra rest Miss. I have nowhere else to be.” She let her sleep come to her again. It felt wonderful, the first touch she had truly shared. She reached up and grabbed the arm, bringing it under her muzzle to stoke the fur and drink in the scent.

“Thank you for last night.”

“I am not the one that should be thanked. Your blue mare with wings is the one who persuaded me.”

“Princess Luna?”

“I wouldn’t know her name.”

“It’s funny how things turned out. Would you...” she was not sure if she should ask so she left it. It was too cosy to scare it off. She kept quiet and let her second sleep settle in. The creature remained silent, a light pat on her shoulders before sleep came.

*

“Big Mac where's...not again!” Appleblooms brother was sitting on the table covered in soot drinking his morning oatmeal. The charred remains of the barn outside leaving little to the foals imagination.

“Sorry.”

“Its alright. Has Applejack come home yet?”

“Not yet sweetie. Don’t worry, she’s fine right now. I am sure we will see her sometime today when her journey is complete. Would you like something special for breakfast?” Fluttershy was as dirtied as the red stallion that hung his head next to her. She had sadly arrived too late and was left preparing some oatmeal over a charred stove. She didn’t mind though, it was sweet he tried.

It had been a strange night for everypony there. Lunas guards had begun their search for the missing pony that evening, no residents were allowed to venture into the dense undergrowth, not even Princess Twilight. After some hours Princess Luna herself arrived and the search was halted. Applebloom had been the most insistent to the whereabouts of her sister. ‘She rests now and will begin a journey years in the making. Have faith little filly, she is safe and will return tomorrow in the eve.’ The princess did not reveal anything else to them.

Fluttershy had stayed that night with Applebloom to make sure she did not try going after her sister. Rarity took to bed early, Twilight did not say anything before she left, Pinkie Pie was exhausted from her after party party but Rainbow Dash was easily the most disturbed about Applejacks absence.

The pegasus had taken extra hours with the Wonderbolts patrolling the area around Ponyville, clearly still carrying a grudge for the monster. Fluttershy tried to but she would not talk about it anymore, hiding behind her attitude and poor excuses.

It was difficult but eventually Applebloom settled to sleep, leaving her to tend to the nervous stallion. He was less than talkative with her but she found her presence did calm him. Every few minutes he would glance out a window for some time only to look back in feeling disappointed.

‘Everything alright Big Mac?’

‘Yeah.’

‘It doesn’t sound like it, do you miss her already? Don’t worry so much. You must listen to the Princess, she said Applejack will be back by this time tomorrow.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Can I make you some more tea?’

‘Yeah.’

Fluttershy knew of the stallions need to protect his sister. It was her own choice to be here for the big guy. She could imagine his difficulty, similar to the way she felt letting a baby bird fly away and trusting it would be safe. The tea she made was one to relax him and help him to drift into sleep. ‘She is safe with Princess Luna.’ He did not respond that time. ‘Yeah?’

‘She’s alone out there, I just know it.’

‘Aww, Applejack is tough. It’s so sweet to see her brother all worried.’ Her words did coax a slight smile so she went on, letting her soothing voice carry to him, ‘I promise you she is safe.’

‘I wish I could...’ he trailed off.

Fluttershy rested her hoof on his shoulder and he looked slowly up at her, a beaming smile to carry his spirits, ‘I can’t explain it Mac, but I know she’s fine.’ Fluttershy could only trust her feelings now.

Her animals had been spooked in the last two days describing a menacing monster and its pet walking the grounds of Ponyville. She had reported it but the guards dismissed her ramblings after a half hearted search to humour her. Although she had to admit she made a lot of reports that week. At first the monster was suspect until the dog was described. She had never heard of a dog that large but it scared her realising how much it had travelled around without being seeing.

When She and her friends first reported Applejack missing she could not forgive herself for her lack of action. That very evening she was going to spontaneously visit the Apple family and now Applejack was gone. When Princess Luna arrived with her good news she nearly fell over with relief. Twilight though did not share this and after a barrage of questions finally accepted Applejack was safe.

It was mainly guilt that kept her there with Mac. She knew the monsters were around the orchards but left it believing, as the guards did, there was nothing to be worried about.

To her relief his eyes had grown weary and he was forcing himself to stay awake.

‘It’s okay big guy, lets get you all warm and toasty to dream sweetly.’ He did sleep that night, Fluttershy caught him holding onto Twilights old toy for comfort. The contrast a heart melting picture she could never forget. The whole night though she had that horrible feeling the monster was responsible. Only the princesses words kept her calm enough o sleep, only to wake to the smell of smoke and fire as Big Mac Burned the barn down. It felt odd to her how much that explained about Applejacks frequent barn raising gatherings.

“How about waffles! Applejack loves waffles! Can I help?”

“Oh of course!” I can’t make Applejacks favourite waffles without her favourite little filly!” Fluttershy instantly regretted it as the filly darted around to pull out some ingredients and instantly covered herself in flour. It explained why Pinkie found it funny but it was a big mess to clean up. She had fun with them tidying the kitchen and making the waffles. They eventually ate at lunchtime but the whole morning was a special memory for her, Big mac had cheered up and could be very talkative when he wanted to be.

Twilight and the others had joined them in the afternoon worried about their friend, it was the first time the alicorn had been torn away from her work. As the lights grew fainter an enthusiastic scream from Pinkie Pie welcomed the orange pony in the distance, jumping on her enthusiastically.

Fluttershy had never been so relieved, yet something about Applejack was odd. Different in a good way.

*

Applejack woke to the sound of the creature mumbling. It was leaning back now on the wolf again, whispering to it. She decided to play possum and listen.

“...are clever. You are very clever. How did you know this was the one huh? You are truly an odd blessing my friend. Glad I found you.” There was a lingering silence only broken by the odd chirp of a bird. Applejack tried but her body did not want to move, it was too comfortable. The creature continued, “I tell you I feel bad for this one. Poor thing to have to live with that. Still last night was enlightening for me. You know? Of course you do, You’re my smart little giant monstrosity after all.” Applejack held a giggle back, her breath trembling as it left her. “She is quite sweet, poor thing just needed something to cuddle. Shame we have to eat her. Bet you though she’s as sweet as those apples. That hind leg looks particularly-”

“WHAT!?” Applejack threw herself up to roll away with shock. She shook her head as the creature quaked with laughter at her frightened face.

“Eavesdropping...really?”

“That’s not funny!” She sat down and brushed the leaves out of her coat, “How did you know?”

“You breathing changed.” The cheeky grin it had did little to calm her nerves, “Well since your up we’d better get going.” It pushed itself up clumsily with a stretch of more cracking bone. Before the first step though it halted abruptly and stared down at the legs. It Immediately fell back rigid to land on the ground grunting in agony.

Applejacks heart stopped with the fear this could be a blackout. A laugh from it though with the lack of terror she felt brought her to sit by the writhing beast. “Everything alright here sugar cube?”

“My legs have gone to sleep.”

“Beg pardon?”

“I need a minute,” it forced though gritted teeth. She laughed as the creature convulsed while the feeling returned. “This is not funny.”

“I’m laughing with relief” she teased, “You mean to tell me you never moved the entire night?”

“I hate chivalry.”

“Now come on, it can’t be that bad.” The creature breathed deeply with relief as the legs held still, unmoving. Applejack couldn’t resist, looking away and nudging them for that agony to return.

It shouted with the discomfort, “Don’t do that!”

“What? This?” Another bump and she felt the claw grab her hoof, the grip was strong but she did not pull away, laughing at its face pressed into the ground and eyes clenched riding out the return of blood flow.

“And this day started out so well.”

“Need me to hold your hoof huh?” The claw quickly released and the beast pushed itself up complacently. It cleared its throat, shouldered a small pack and began limping awkwardly away. She got up and followed it, the wolf yawning and joining them. “What about your campsite?”

“The fire is gone and I never camp in the same place twice. Besides the spider there will keep any predators off us for some time. Purely precaution.” She knew what it was doing. A spider could last a while as its food yet it had given that up now to ensure their safety, it had detailed foresight. This naturally brought up a question.

“What are you going to do if you’re spotted?”

“Take some medicine for it.” The creature chuckled, “It will not be a problem, the guards do not patrol around the border of the orchards. My friend here can avoid them with ease, hiding from the flyers under the more dense foliage. I merely follow the master.”

Some hours passed as they hiked though the forest, nothing in the daylight looked familiar anymore and she was glad to have some company. It was not a safe place but with this creature by her there was nothing to be afraid of, accept of it.

The walk back home had been disturbing. Where the forest once teemed with life and vibrant sound all fell silent in the wake of the creature. They were all afraid of the oddity, truly this was a trip her friends would never believe. The monster had been very calm the entire time. Peaceful. She remembered when it stared the eyes down, there was no fear. She believed now it wanted them to fight it, although she could not think of a reason.

It caught her staring at it on several occasions. She felt her cheeks blush when those tired eyes settled on hers. It was a strange feeling, but a pleasant one.

Applejack had not realised how far she had run last night. The distance covered was certainly the deepest anypony had ever gone. Her legs ached but the creatures pace was slow, not strenuous to keep up with.

She paused and sat by a tree growing on the bank of a small lake, enjoying the shade and the relief. To her disappointment she could not find her hat, having lost it during the chase. The creature stopped but did not join her, only holding completely still listening to the faint sounds around it. The wolf came up to it, after a quick brush of her head with a smile it walked into the shallow edge to drain some water into a hollowed out nut. It brought it, offering the container and landing heavily by her, leaning on the tree body with relief. She drank deeply savouring the cool water and quenched her thirst. A cracking noise startled her and she saw the wolf had taken the other container to break it open and enjoy what was meant to be their reserve. The creatures anger was funny as it wrestled the broken pieces free, disappointed at the failure to salvage them.

“I’m sorry for her. Normally she is not so difficult.”

“It's adorable.” The wolf craned the large head over the creatures Lap to almost eclipse it's lower half. Staring up with those big eyes between it and Applejack.

“Alright, you’re adorable. Happy?” The stump thudded the ground repeatedly coaxing a giggle from Applejack.

“Do you have a name for her?”

“No. Never needed it.”

“Try and think of one.”

“She's not my pet to name Miss Applejack. We are comrades.”

“I’m sure as sugar she’d like a name.”

It looked down to the wolf, “Well?” A whimper confirmed it. “It was your idea so you pick.”

“Are you sure?”

“Hey, you have to run the name by her.”

Applejack sat a moment in contemplation rubbing her muzzle, “Glassy?” A sharp growl quickly rejected that idea, “Vitrie?” yet another growl, “Alright, what’s she made of?”

“My assumption is crystal or diamond, really tough to scratch.”

“Well Crystal sounds nice.”

“Oh that’s terrible!”

“Really?” she pointed to the wagging stump.

The creature looked into those big eyes, “Are you sure girl?”

“If you don’t like it you should’ve named her yourself.”

“It’s her choice, not mine.” It sighed deeply, “Crystal it is then.”

“The wolf raised the large head and licked Applejack, her skin crawling as the rough glass tongue glided over her.”

“She likes you.”

“I got that, I think I’m going to need to wash up.”

“No problem, I will be here keeping watch.”

She waded out shoulder and flank deep in the lake to sit down and let the water cover her. It felt refreshing for it to flow around and clean off the sweat and tears in her coat. She dipped her head and let her mane float about casually. On a warm sunny day like this she enjoyed swimming, the sun could always dry the water quickly. She did not even care about the bandages. She felt the creatures eyes on her and sure enough glanced around to see it through her soaked mane standing on the edge. Strangely though it’s knife was drawn and the eyes darted about the surface around her. She looked around nervously.

“Your alright Miss, I’m being cautious that’s all. If Crystal growls then You need to panic,” Applejack could not help panicking already, “Nothing yet.” She decided that was enough for one day and quickly retreated from the water feeling as though there was something below the surface. As she was free she lay belly down on the grass to feel the sunlight bathe her.

“Hungry?” It dropped an apple by her head hovering over her damaged leg. It barely hurt now. It removed a red plant from the small bag and crushed it in the fist so the juices flowed into the wrapping. The bandage steamed for a moment but she felt nothing. “A numbing agent, dries out the cut.” She felt the bandage and to her shock it was dry. Smiling at the inventiveness she took her apple and quickly ate it. Not nearly enough for her appetite though. Her stomach now growled complacently, loud enough for the creature to raise an eyebrow. “Here,” it tossed another two from the pack it carried, “That’s it though. I’m not keen on foraging today.” She looked down at the two feeling a little guilty, that was its meal too. She tossed one back to it.

“We’ll share.” It took the apple gratefully and unsheathed the knife, sitting by her and facing the sunlight, the hairs no longer a black but a light brown under the rays.

“Where’d you get that knife?”

“Made it from a rock I found, very tough to form but it is sharp.” It proudly held up the apple and dragged the blade over it, neatly sliced in half under the knifes weight alone.

“Scary.” She took a bite from her apple this time savouring the juices, some being caught with a lick as they tried to run down her.

The creature turned sharply around startling Applejack, “It is too quiet. Are you dry yet?”

“We’re fine, like you said Crystal would growl if there was something.”

“Look at her,” Applejack did notice the large wolf was somewhat agitated, “Her ears listen and she can smell something. She doesn’t know what it is though, I don’t like this.” It pushed the remaining apple half in her mouth as she tried to speak, standing and grasping the blade to face downwards in the claw. “Make no mistake Miss, this forest is never a safe place to be. It might be nothing but I want to keep going please.” Its wide eyes and shallow breathing prompted her to speak.

“Hey. It’s alright.” It swallowed and straightened the arched back, “Most of the time the critters here are more scared of you. We’ll go but you must keep calm, alright?”

With a grunt the creature sheathed its blade never taking its eyes from the distant tree line. Applejack could only see how nervous it was and pitied it living in the forest, having to be like this all the time. She stood up and shook what water she could moving away calmly. Finally the creature followed tearing its gaze away. Crystal joining them without it having to call her.

The pace was quick and Applejack could feel the leg threatening to ache again. “Hang on a minute, slow down please.” The creature had become quiet again, something was different, it felt colder.

“We will remain silent for the duration now.”

“Everything alright?”

“Fine.” Applejack was old enough to know fine never meant fine.

“Sorry about the apples...” no response, “The naming?” it marched on. She was annoyed now and darted in front of it firmly planting her hoof, “For ponies sake what’s wrong!?”

The creature brought its face close to hers, the eyes had hardened again and now she saw the monster from the cell. “This little ruse of yours is not working.”

“I don’t-”

“The last time she did that I nearly got captured. We are too close to the town now for me to get comfy.” It walked past her continuing the steps.

“I thought the guards were easy,” she giggled. The creature turned sharply enough to stifle it instantly. It was no longer the playful thing that held her.

“let us not loose perspective here...Miss. You are the enemy, as am I to you. Do not forget what they will do to me if I am seen. If you have an ambush waiting for me, I suggest you call it off now or there will be more loss for others to grieve. I have enjoyed this little...whatever but it is over.” As it stood there prone to her Applejack slowly trotted over, gracefully moving in close. She looked to it, looking into those cruel eyes and leapt up to throw it to the ground under her front hooves. She was shocked it worked, and it was clearly as surprised she could do it.

“Now look here,” she began sternly, “You are this close to me seeing you differently. You have been nice, helpful and a true friend. I don’t care if it was you who trapped me back there. You came back and you cut me free. You treated my wounds and you...well. No monster would do that. Now you are going to stay calm because you are not thinking straight. How in the name of ponydom would I have organised an ambush? I didn’t even know you were there until I landed on you!”

“You are very brave all of a sudden. Forgotten about her?” Its claw gestured to Crystal now hooves away from Applejack, the large head and transparent hide exposing those sinister teeth. The beast dwarfed her, approaching with its head bowed and ears pinned back. Applejack never felt such satisfaction to see that smug grin wiped from the creature as Crystal licked her. “Oh come on!”

“She likes me remember? I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to go home. Now do I have your word you will stay like you were back there?” It faced away trying to lift her off. She forced it down and repeated herself, stressing each syllable, “Do I have your word?”

“If I lapse I cannot promise that.”

“Then promise you will try.”

A long pause followed before it finally spoke, “Fine.”

“That’ll do.” It pushed itself up dusting the garments. “How are we feeling?”

“Fine. Walk in silence.”

An hour or so passed with them trudging along the soft forest floor. Crystal was more relaxed now, no longer agitated by whatever it was at the lake. Applejack felt as though it was all a dream. The awkward situations, arguments, dangers. All that had happened was slowly drawing to a close. “Mind if I ask you something?”

“I thought we agreed silence.”

“Well...?”

“...alright.”

“ Who did you loose?” As soon as she said it the claws tensed and the hair stood on its body.

“I will not speak of it. It serves no purpose.”

“You know I haven’t talked to anypony about my folks.”

“Good. Keep it that way.”

She was beginning to understand this creature, so she carried on to tell it something more personal. Who was it going to tell after all. “My mother, she was a pony from the city. Her father sent her to work on the farm under Granny Smith as punishment.”

“You know predators cant find us if there’s silence.”

“My dad was a stubborn obnoxious pony and always after a new filly every week but he was off-putting because he thought he was the shiniest apple in the bunch. Mom was his first date. They met while he was cleaning out a beaten up wagon, it fell on him and mom had to go under to help him lift it. Granny smith said it was they only time he was speechless.”

“I think I hear something.”

“Then your knife would be out and Crystal there would be growling. Nice try. When they came back from the first date Granny swore dad was floating. He barely ate, he didn’t sleep, he was in love. Mom was a a little scared about it though. In the end Granny sat her down real nice and told her; ‘can you say you love him?’ then she replied no,” Applejack laughed, “Then Granny said, ‘Your in love then’ and mom nearly fainted realising it.”

“Amusing.”

She sighed, “I miss them. I always felt like it was my fault for that-”

“Do not do that to yourself!” Applejack was shocked but happy she had coaxed a reaction, even though she had to delve deeper into her own personal darkness, “Things pass on, your parents were heroes by the very definition. Do not think it was your fault. You could do nothing to save her-them,” it quickly corrected, “Respect their memory and never forget who they were to you.”

Applejack had heard it, “Her?”

“I would prefer not to discuss it.”

“So after last night I can't-”

“No. You can't.” She felt offended and hurt it could not give itself to her the way she had to it. “Your parents went out in a blaze of glory, fighting for their future, you. She did not. She fought and lost. Now I ask for the decency of this moment that we no longer speak of it.”

“Maybe if you try.”

“I am at peace Miss. There is no need to upturn it.”

“Sounds like you need to. I feel great now! All that time it just rotted away in me. My core was bad, I can understand now. It’s wonderful to have it gone.”

“Perhaps you can understand... Before the time came I swore to her to be free. Inside and out. Of course I never imagined it would literally be so. I will not go back to that cell Miss, at any cost.”

Applejack was grateful her coat was still a little damp, it managed to hide her reaction. “Thank you, I know that was hard to say.”

“I suppose you would.”

“Do you want to go back to your land?”

“Yes.”

“Why haven't you left yet?”

“The striped one who spoke in cryptic, she has explained much about this place. I am not from here, unable to fathom why exactly I am here but returning has eluded me so far.”

“You want me to ask Twilight?”

“The new princess...”

“She's still hurting something fierce after...well...”

“I know. Was it really not that obvious?”

“We don't know. Alicorns are so unique, not much is said about them. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are thousands of years old but thats all we really know. “

“Difficult to live with, being immortal.”

“How's that?”

“I assume of course. Will never know thank goodness. A question does come to mind though. What will you tell your friends?”

“I don't think any pony would believe me.”

“I hope you remember that when you are feeling emotional again. “

“Is there something I can do to lend a hoof?”

“No.” It's abruptness discouraged her from continuing, her ears sunk slowly as they walked on. “You need not worry miss. Leave me in peace, that's all I ask.”

“I wish you hadn't hurt her.”

“To tell you the truth miss I wish I hadn't survived.”

“That's a sad thing to say. So you do regret hurting her...”

“Not enough to risk recapture. Life is difficult here but the benefits of being free again...I cannot give that up.”

“I thought so. You’re stubborn as they come.” The creature grinned, “Did I ever say thank you?”

“You should not need to. My validation comes from your smile. Consider it repayment for my trap.”

“Well I’m glad it happened, Granny always says no accident is an accident.”

“How colloquial. Simple yet thought provoking.”

“That’s our Granny!” Applejack caught a smile on the creature. It was not the cruel grin but warmer, “Your not bad at all.”

“I am. You sound surprised.”

“I am after...you know...” it didn’t reply, lost for the correct answer, “Look, if you really have a problem let Twilight help, she’s real good with figuring things out.” Still it remained silent. “After last night-”

“Make no mistake,” the tone of the voice was now familiar, the refinement falling away to that growl from the cell, “We are still enemies. I escort you home to repay the damage I caused. Once you clear that orchard our mutual hatred can resume.”

“You know...its’s funny but I don’t hate you.”

“Clouded judgement based on last night. In time it will return.”

“No really. Twilight is still hurting but now I know you regret that.”

“I never said that.”

“So you enjoyed it?” The creature remained silent and she smiled knowing her victory. It was stubborn, “Well if you ever want to come talk to her I will vouch for you.”

“It will not happen but I appreciate the offer.”

“I know you regret it, you talk in your sleep. Must have some powerfully bad nightmares.”

“It was dangerous to approach me last night, I might have had a lapse.”

“Is that why you stayed awake?”

“When I sleep the risk is...greater.”

“Looks to me it can happen either way.”

“Awake they are minutes, asleep it can be an entire night. I thought you didn’t believe me?”

“Lets just say...a little mare convinced me to have an open mind.”

“The one who invades my dreams...”

“I’m not telling,” she winked and trotted ahead to hear the creature mumbling disgruntled.

“I hate chivalry.”

*

“I’m sure your parents would be proud of this.”

As they reached the border of the apple orchard the creature halted. Applejack saw that triangle carved on one of her trees, it did not strike fear anymore.

“Did you do that?”

It folded its arms and leaned against the tree staring out at her friends in the distance. It was too dark under the shade to be seen. “The mark means it is safe. An old trick I learned. An x is caution, a horizontal line is danger. It is how I find my way around when Crystal goes off. Basically I follow the triangles as a safe path to my next resting place. Makes it easier to return to my haven.” Applejack was unsure of what it had said.

“Did you just-?”

“I see you differently too Miss. If you want to find me again you need only head along the trees marked with that triangle. Bear in mind though, my friends are still out there and a large group of soldiers are an easy target for them.”

She was stunned, “I would never do that...thank you.”

“I am not always at my haven, it would have to be very important for anything to risk that trip.”

“Are you sure I can't convince you? I mean to come and say hi.”

“Certain.” A giggle in the distance drew her attention to Pinkie Pie. Her friends were helping out picking apples, “They must be worried. Go to them and leave me be.” She hesitated feeling there was something else that needed to be said. All she could do was look at those tired eyes. The creature seeing her doubt sighed deeply.

“Something wrong sugar cube?” it mocked her.

“It was nice to have somepony to talk to.”

“Yes it was.”

A soft whimper from Crystal and Applejack grabbed the big head, her forelegs could barely reach around it. The wolf shook wagging that stump and licked her one more time, defeating the purpose of her wash. “Bye, don’t be a stranger.” She released her squeeze on it.

“Goodbye Miss Applejack.” The creature unfolded the arms and walked away with its companion.

As she looked at the creature again, the torn garments, matted hair and the wolf by it, she smiled thinking about the change that had happened. It was a strange night and she was happy to be home.

*

Pinkie pie had a busy morning. She did not understand why everypony was so worried about Applejack. She had been disappointed as the search party she had been asked to join was nothing close to what the name implied. Unlike the others though, she could remain calm because her instinct gave no indication otherwise. She had an innate ability to detect happenings around her, dubbed her pinkie sense affectionately by her friends. There was no shuddering or shaking no tick knees, there was no need to be worried at all. Princess Luna had later arrived and confirmed her relief, clearly announcing that Applejack was on a journey and safe.

She felt her hoof shudder and looked to the distance to see a small orange dot creep out from the orchard brush.

“Found her! I win!” She raced to the smiling pony and leapt on her toppling the pair over as she stood triumphantly over the captive.

“Get off a me Pinkie!”

Her friends caught up and they all embraced Applejack, relieved she was alright. She was happy to see Twilight there just as worried as the others. They gave them some room and Twilights horn illuminated with a deep blue colour washing over Applejack. “She’s not a changeling girls!”

“Glad to hear it, Where were you AJ?! We were all worried.”

“Some more than others. Right Rainbow.”

“Same as every other pony.” Rainbow Dash was always bad at hiding her concern, shifting nervously and digging her hoof in the ground.

Twilight looked over Applejack, “She was the most worried for sure. Princess Luna told us you were undertaking some sort of journey. Where were you Applejack?” Twilight almost whispered to her now, “Did you see it?”

Applejack smiled. Her honesty was well known, she never lied. Owing to the creature though she had learned a few things about honesty and protection. “There was no monster Twilight.” She could see the glint in her friends eye leave hearing this news.

Pinkie pie dusted off Applejack and paused. Bringing her face closer she inspected the pony. It was a typically awkward thing for her to do. “You're smiling?”

“Umm...yes?”

“YOU’RE SMILING!” she screamed picking her up and shaking her vigorously as she danced about.

“Pinkie! Applejack always smiles!” laughed Rarity.

“Oh? Right, sorreeeee!”

“It's alright. Now put me down.” She gasped for air as the grip released.

“So tell us all about your journey, we’re simply on the tips of our hooves to hear about it!” Applejack had never been so relived for her stomach to interrupt Rarity with a growl, “First lets get that fixed up tout suite!”

“Where’s Big Mac and Applebloom?”

“He took her to town for some supplies to fix a wagon wheel that umm...”

“You broke!” Rainbow Dash laughed.

“Oh we don’t need to bore her with that!”a high pitched giggle feebly covering her mistake., Did you fall into a pond dear? You smell rather odd and you coat and mane! Oh this will require emergency work.”

“Now you keep them frills and curls out of my mane!”

As Rarity attempted to convince the pony, Fluttershy did notice there was something odd, “Did you hurt your leg Applejack?”

“Oh, this? A little scratch, nothing bad.”

“I’d better take a look when we get into the house, it might be infected.”

“I’d appreciate that Fluttershy.” As she looked closer Fluttershy realised what was strange, she had to hold back a gasp. It was not the cut that bothered her, not the mild swelling or faint red hue. The bandage looked familiar, at least the method in which it had been applied. She looked up to Applejack who's eyes were shifting around nervously. She could see something was not being said, but it was honest Applejack. She dismissed it as coincidence, it was properly done but that did not mean it was done by the creature. The suspicion would not leave though because that bandage was wrapped in the exact same manner that the creatures claw was in Canterlot, down to the knot it used to tighten it.

*

The creature spun around, blade drawn. It tapped the wolf and she darted off into the distance to apply its strategy. The orchard was very quiet and it remained perfectly still, not a breath was missed.

The movement of the enemy sounded and it charged to the tree embedding the knife deep on the other side. Nothing was caught under it. A giggle sounded out and it spun once more to see a pink pony facing away from it. It was lost for actions trying not to move or make a noise to attract its attention.

The pink figure turned its head slowly to it, the eyes were closed. The situation made it more nervous and the grip tightened on the blade. The pony spun suddenly throwing up leaves to blanket her. The creature charged at the fray but it was gone. Looking around it had vanished and it took its cue to run.

Darting through the orchard its heavy footsteps shook the trees as it ran. Its eyes were wide scanning each movement. A noise behind forced it to turn around to nothing. It was panting heavily and swallowed to relieve the dryness. A giggle behind made its blood run cold. That thing was close. It did not move and let every muscle tense before spinning around to strike. Nothing. It slowly stepped forward but its leg was violently pulled back forcing it to the knee. It kicked out and turned over to the cause. Nothing.

The knife had fallen and it threw up the leaves as it searched franticly. Nothing. Darting upwards its eyes were wide now wide with fear, convinced there were more than one. A pink one slowly pulled out from behind a tree and slowly trotted to it. The creature growled at it bearing claws and teeth but the pink apparition still slowly came closer, eyes closed. It barely made a sound stepping over the damp leaves. It stretched its forelegs out to the creature, the beast made to strike it but the pink thing opened its eyes then and the effect was hypnotic. Before the claw could connect the legs wrapped around with crushing force before quickly releasing with a giggle. The creature was frozen with shock as the apparition spoke.

“Thank you.” It found itself again and let the claw thunder to the ground missing the apparition with an echoing thud. It was gone again. It felt for the knife, replaced somehow in the makeshift bark sheath.

Clear the orchard now. It bolted to the dense foliage disappearing under the cover of the brush. The wolf joining it as it fled.

Author's Note:

END OF ACT II