A collection of thirthy-minute short stories about the rootinest, tootinest farm-filly this side of the Everfree. There'll be a chapter a day for thirty days. I ain't no fancy arithmeticker, but that adds up to a whole month of good, health
Howdy! Why don't you sit a spell, and let me tell you a story or two. I promise it won't take long, or I'm not an Apple!
A collection of short stories and vignettes about the rootinest, tootinest farm-filly this side of the Everfree. Each entry was written in thirty minutes, and there will be a chapter uploaded every day until there are thirty chapters. I ain't no fancy arithmeticker, but that adds up to a whole month of good ol' down-home tale-tellin'!
Applejack slowed her applause to cast a sidelong glance at her companion. “Beg yer pardon, Rarity?”
The white unicorn wore a paper-thin smile and pounded her hooves half-heartedly to match the crowd of ponies around them. “That should be you up there, accepting that trophy. I don't understand what the judges were thinking!”
Up on the stage ahead, Mayor Mare presented a trophy with a big golden turnip on top to this year's winner of Ponyville's Best Garden award. In a town that was mostly farmers, the title of Best Garden tended to be a hotly contested prize.
Applejack chuckled and shook her head. “Aw, we did well enough.” She waved the second-place ribbon in the air. “Second place ain't bad at all, with stiff competition like this. Golden Harvest worked her flank off, she deserved to win.”
An impatient huff erupted from Rarity. “Please, dear, don't give me that humble pony routine. You worked your flank off, darling. Miss Harvest clearly still has hers fully intact. Adding to it by the day, from the looks of it.”
Applejack sighed. “No reason to be catty, darlin'.”
“I am not being catty,” Rarity snapped. “I am simply pointing out an observable fact.”
Applejack glanced up at the stage. Maybe Golden Harvest was starting to put on a bit of pudge. Applejack quickly realized she was standing next to her marefriend while staring at her neighbor's flank, and coughed into her hoof. “Flanks notwithstandin', she put on a good show. She's got a mighty fine garden.”
“With all due respect to her,” Rarity said, “her garden was a patch of dirt with weeds sticking out. I am loath to even call it a garden! Your garden was art. Beauty itself, distilled into rows of cabbage and beets. I find it an utter disgrace that anypony could be so blind as to rate that mudhole of hers over the study in elegance that you presented!” She pawed at the ground, her nostrils flared.
Applejack pinched her brows. There would be no winning this argument. “Well, I guess there's always next year,” she said. “Besides, it ain't like Golden Harvest ever beat me for the Best Orchard... hey, where you goin'?”
Rarity was working her way through the crowds of ponies. “I simply cannot remain silent about this!” she cried, making for the stage.
“Oh, Celestia,” Applejack muttered. “Rarity, wait!” She tried to push her way through the crowds, but there was no way to reach the stage before Rarity did.
The fashionista climbed up on top of the platform, stepping in front of Golden Harvest. “Darling, I'm very happy for you, and I will let you finish,” she said, cutting off the carrot-farmer's acceptance speech, “but Applejack's garden is the number one garden of all time!”
An orange hoof snagged her and began dragging her off the stage. “Let's come on down, Rarity,” Applejack said as she pulled.
“Of all time!” Rarity repeated as she was taken off of the stage.
Applejack did not set her down until they were well clear of the crowd. “What the hay was that all about, Rarity?” she panted.
Rarity sat on the cobbles, staring at the ground. She mumbled something, too quiet for Applejack to hear.
Applejack knelt in closer. “Speak up, hon.”
“Our garden,” Rarity said, tears beading in her eyes. “I helped you grow this one. I put up with mud, and bugs, and weeds to help you with it.” She sniffled. “It is the very best garden of all time, Applejack. It's our garden.”
Applejack wrapped a hoof around her. “It surely is, sweethart. It surely is.”
Much like her father, John Appleseed Smith, Green Apple Smith—known as “Granny” ever since the birth of her grandchildren—tended to have an early bedtime. 'Early to bed and early to rise,' he used to say, 'makes a pony healthy, wealthy, and wise.' She lived by that pearl of wisdom, and it had served her well through her many years.
Tonight, though, Granny Smith couldn't sleep.
She laid awake in her bed, staring at the wooden ceiling above her. Moonlight cast the timbers in a soft blue. A gentle breeze tugged and teased at the curtains through the open window. It made the room a little bit too chilly, and it occurred to her that she should probably shut the window, lest she wake up shivering in the morning.
She remained in bed. Her scratchy wool blanket made her itch under her coat. The quiet sounds of nighttime at the farm came to her. Low creaks from the old bones of the farmhouse. Soft mutters from the pig pen outside as the animals stirred in their sleep. Crickets calling out to one another across the fields. If she listened closely, she could hear the breaths of her family drifting in from the hallway. Just three sets of lungs now, not five.
Granny shivered in her bed. She really ought to close that window. There was no sense in catching a cold because she was too stubborn to get out of bed and take a couple steps across her room. She let out a quiet sigh and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
She paused before her hooves touched the floor. Her ears perked up as she heard little hooves making their way down the hallway. The hooves clattered down the stairs, and the front door swung open. Granny Smith got out of bed and looked out the window to catch a flash of orange as it darted out to the barn.
She chewed the inside of her cheek, watching as yellow lantern light spilled out of the barn door. The shadow of her granddaughter moved back and forth across the square of light, accompanied by metallic clangs and rattles—the sound of a filly rummaging through the storage shelves in the barn.
Granny Smith drew a long breath and left her bedroom. She stepped silently down the stairs, careful not to wake her other two grandchildren, and pulled an old shawl over her shoulders before stepping outside.
She found Applejack in the center of the barn floor, grunting in frustration as she spun around, a pair of shears in her mouth. The filly kept trying to move the shears to her flank, but lacked the flexibility to reach, so she ended up looking like a dog trying to chase its tail.
“Applejack, sweetie,” Granny Smith said. She winced at how hoarse and reedy she sounded. Celestia, she was getting old already. “What are you doin' with those sheep shears?”
Applejack froze. A moment of panic crossed her face, giving her the expression of a filly who was caught doing something she wasn't supposed to do, but it was quickly replaced by a sudden hardness in her eyes. She spat the shears out into her forehooves. “I'm gettin' rid of my cutie mark,” she said sullenly.
Granny slowly took another step into the barn. “Now, why would you wanna do a thing like that?”
“'Cause,” Applejack said, staring at the shears. “You said my mark means family.”
Granny Smith nodded. “That it does, hon. Yer an Apple, sure as sugar.”
“Ma an' Pa are gone,” said the filly. She tried to pick up and use the shears with her hooves, meeting with no more success than she'd had with her mouth. Frustrated, she threw the tool at the wall. “Ain't no family no more.”
The old mare's breath caught. Her knees threatened to buckle as memories of yesterday's funeral broke free of the wall she had built around them and flooded her mind. She sank to her haunches, and for a while, she couldn't tell which of them was the crying filly and which was the heartbroken old mare.
But through her blurry tears, she saw a pair of green eyes, wide with shock at seeing their grandmother break down and weep. That gave Granny an anchor to grab onto and haul herself back up. She pushed herself back onto her hooves.
Granny Smith wiped her muzzle, and pulled her shawl off, draping it over Applejack. “You keep them apples, hon,” she said, sniffing. “We're still a family. Don't you ever doubt that.”
Applejack leaned into her, hugging her leg. Tears flowed freely from her eyes. “I miss 'em so much,” she sobbed into her green coat.
Granny wrapped a hoof around her. “I know, dearie. I do too. I do too.”
Curled up with her granddaughter in a pile of hay in the barn, Granny Smith finally found sleep.
((Prompt: Ship one of the Mane Six with someone who isn't a pony.))
Applejack groaned as she trudged up the stairs. After all the work she put into the fields today, every aching bone in her body begged her for sleep. But she couldn't fall into her bed just yet. She needed to check on Apple Bloom's homework. Miss Cheerilee had told Applejack that her sister was falling behind on her math studies. The farmer wished she had the time to really be there to support Apple Bloom, help her understand what she could, but with all the work that needed done in the orchard, checking up on her before bedtime was about the best she could manage.
She heard Apple Bloom's voice from behind the bedroom door. “What do I do next?”
A voice that sounded familiar, but very strange to hear from somewhere other than herself, responded. “Next, ya take that one, an' add it to the tens place. Now, instead of fifty, you got sixty up there. Ya see that?”
“Ohh! I get it! Hey, when did you get so good at numbers?”
The voice chuckled. “Don't tell nopony 'bout this, but I'm takin' night classes.”
Applejack pushed open Apple Bloom's door. Apple Bloom was lying on her bed, pencil tucked behind her ear as she stared down at her math homework. Next to her was what Applejack would have sworn was herself, if she didn't know better. The two looked up, eyes widening.
Apple Bloom glanced back and forth between the Applejack in her doorway and the Applejack on her bed. Bewilderment reigned over her face. “...Sis?” she asked, blinking. “What... what's goin' on?”
Applejack fixed a hard glare on her doppelganger, who shrank back under the stare. “Apple Bloom,” she said coldly, “go on downstairs.”
“B-but...” The filly's lip trembled.
The other Applejack placed a hoof on Apple Bloom's shoulders. “Do as yer sister says, hon.”
Apple Bloom slowly nodded and slipped off her bed. A few hesitant steps broke into a full gallop as she fled the room.
The orange pony on the bed winced as the door slammed shut. Her eyes danced with fear. “I-I'm sorry—”
“Don't use my voice, varmint,” Applejack hissed.
With a gulp, the false Applejack nodded. Green light lit the room up, and the changeling released her illusion of an orange earth pony. “I didn't mean any harm, I swear,” she said in a buzzing, chittery voice.
“How long?” Applejack's eyes remained locked on the changeling.
“I—I didn't think—” the changeling stammered.
“How long?” Applejack barked, slamming a hoof on the floor.
A pair of insectoid wings twitched nervously. “Three weeks,” she said, staring at the floor. “When you took the train to Appleloosa, I stepped in and claimed to have missed the train. I... seven hives, I was so hungry! I hadn't eaten so much as a kind word since Canterlot, and your sister... your whole family loves you so much.”
“An' when were you fixin' on stringin' me up in one of your cocoons an' replacin' me full-time?” Applejack asked, her eyes narrowing.
The changeling blanched. “No! I wouldn't ever... I was just going to move on, I swear!”
“Three weeks is a bit of a stretch for 'just passin' through,' don't you think?”
How compound eyes could shift to avoid her gaze was something of a mystery, but they did. “I... you're so busy all the time, and Apple Bloom needed help with her schoolwork. I thought maybe it was something I could do to give back to you and your family, if I just stuck around to help her a little bit. I just... lost track of time tonight.”
“Is that what ya thought?” Applejack snarled, advancing. “Ya figured that would make up for decievin' everypony, comin' in here uninvited an' takin' what ain't yours? Is that what you thought?”
The changeling scambled backwards to the corner of the bed, shielding her face with her legs. “I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Please, just let me go, and I promise, I'll never bother your family again! I'll leave Ponyville and I won't ever come back!”
Applejack's hoof sank into the edge of the bed. A sheet of paper slid out from under Apple Bloom's books and brushed against her leg. Her eyes drifted down to read it. It was a recent assignment, corrected and handed back. There was a golden star on the top, and Miss Cheerilee had written 'Good job!' in the margin.
Her eyes raised back to the changeling. “Where'd you learn this stuff?”
The changeling trembled. “Basic education is standard in the hive,” she said. “I was one of the better mathematicians in my larva batch.”
Applejack stared long and hard at the gold star. She licked her lips. “You're gonna tell Apple Bloom what you are.” she said quietly. “You're gonna explain to her what you've done, and tell her which times it was really you there. You're gonna tell her everything, and then, if she decides she ever wants to see yer hide again... yer gonna stay in the spare bedroom.”
The changeling righted herself. “What? I... I don't understand.”
Applejack stood up and cleared her throat. “I'm a practical mare, miss. You ain't wrong; I am busy all the time. Apple Bloom needs a tutor. And you...” She offered a hoof to the chitinous creature, helping her off the bed. “You need a family.”
((Prompt: Fluttershy! You are the hero chosen by destiny!))
The wizened old oracle muttered inaudible incantations as she drew her hoof in intricate swirling patterns in the dirt. Wisps of smoke from the incense burners coiled around her like dozens of ghostly snakes. All outside sound was muffled by the canvas walls, lending the tent an otherworldly sensation. It was somehow colder inside than it had been outside.
Fluttershy leaned closer to Applejack, shaking. Her eyes were wide as she followed the crone's movements. Applejack steadied her with a stable hoof.
“Many great deeds have already been done,” creaked the oracle, her half-lidded eyes tracing the paths she had left in the dusty floor. “I see... dragons. Ancient legends. Fallen gods.”
The two mares nodded. None could argue their lives hadn't been interesting in the past couple of years.
“Yet,” the oracle continued, raising a gnarled hoof. “Yet, there is still more to come. There is a hero in this space. A pony who will do deeds that will overshadow even all that you have done already.”
Fluttershy's eyes widened. “R-really?”
The oracle nodded. “This mare will wield great power over green, growing things.” She paused, frowning. She knit her brows, filling her face with a maze of wrinkles. “No... that's not right. Not all growing things, just one specific kind of plant.”
Applejack leaned forward. “What kind of plant?”
The old mare wafted a trace of incense toward her muzzle. “The apple tree,” she answered.
Applejack took her hat off and clutched it to her chest. “No kiddin?”
“She will speak to the trees, and they will whisper their answers to her,” the oracle said. “They will share their mysteries with her, and she will know of all things as they pertain to apples.”
Applejack nudged Fluttershy. “Ya hear that? I always thought the wind blowin' through the orchard sounded like somepony whisperin'.”
“She will have mastery over the apple tree,” the oracle continued. “Ponies will come to know her as the Apple Queen.”
“The Apple Queen,” Applejack repeated, sitting back. “I like the sound of that. 'Apple Queen.' Sounds... regal.”
“This is the destiny that awaits you, my yellow friend,” the old crone said, facing Fluttershy.
Fluttershy looked back and forth. “M-me??”
Applejack straightened up. “Now wait just a fruit-pickin' minute! I think you got things a bit confused, here!”
The oracle shook her head. “The spirits are clear. This is the pony destined to become the Apple Queen.”
Fluttershy shrank behind her mane. “I-I don't know anything about apples! I'd make a terrible Apple Queen!”
Applejack put her hat back on and stood up. “This ol' bat's pullin' our legs, sugarcube,” she said, pulling on Fluttershy's shoulder. “Let's go.”
Fluttershy slowly nodded and followed her out of the tent.
The oracle smiled as they left. “Thank you for your patronage,” she called after them.
“What a load of hooey!” Applejack said as they re-emerged onto the carnival grounds. Brightly colored lights and music greeted the two ponies. The smell of cotton candy filled the air. “What do ya say we go find the others, hon?”
Fluttershy smiled and nodded, but slowed as they passed a stand selling apples. “You know,” she said, staring at the barrels of red fruit, “I don't think I've ever eaten just a plain apple before.”
“What?” Applejack raised her brows in disbelief.
“Well, I've had apple pies before, and apple cider,” Fluttershy explained, “but I don't think I've ever had just an apple. It's always been in something.”
“Aw, hon,” Applejack said. “That's somethin' we need to fix! Ain't nothin' more wholesome than a natural, fresh apple!” She turned to the pony running the stand. “Hey cuz! Two apples, nothin' on 'em!”
The salespony smiled. “Sure thing, AJ!”
Applejack passed a shiny red apple to her friend. “For you, 'yer highness.'”
Fluttershy turned the fruit over in her hooves. Slowly, she brought it to her mouth and took a tiny bite.
Her eyes filled with a glowing white light. She hovered into the air, sharp winds whirling around her.
Applejack squinted into the whirlwind, holding her hat on her head. “Fluttershy?”
“I AM FLUTTERSHY NO LONGER,” came a booming voice. “THIS CHILD OF THE TREE HAS AWAKENED MY TRUE POWERS! YOU MAY NOW CALL ME MALUS, QUEEN OF APPLES!”
Applejack stared up as the barrels of apples floated off the ground and whirled in the air around her friend. “Appleseed's ghost,” she muttered, “Ya gotta be kiddin' me!”
((Prompt: Sometimes loyalty requires you to lie, and sometimes honesty requires you to betray.))
“I'll take two,” Rainbow Dash said, pressing two cards to the table. She drew two new cards from the deck.
Applejack glanced at the hand she had. “I'll stand,” she said.
Rainbow raised her eyebrows. She stared across the table at Applejack, searching for any sign of a tell. The corners of her lips turned downwards. “Geez, AJ, whatever happened to the whole Element of Honesty thing? How do you bluff like that?”
Applejack grinned. “Who says I'm bluffin'?” She tossed a poker chip into the pot. “'Sides, lies don't count at the card table.”
“Sure.” Rainbow ran a hoof through her mane. “But how'd you get so darn good at it?”
“Aw, quit yer bellyachin' and ante up,” Applejack chuckled.
Dash rolled a chip on the edge of the table with her wingtip. A troubled frown creased her brows. “Hey, Applejack...”
Applejack's ears perked up as they registered the serious tone in her voice. “What's a matter, hon?”
The pegasus fidgeted in her seat. “Are you sure you're okay with me and Pinkie? Y'know, after... what you two had?”
Applejack's grin evaporated. She chewed the inside of her cheek. She really wanted to tell her the truth. No, she wasn't okay; seeing her with Pinkie, doing the things Pinkie used to do with her, it tore Applejack up inside. She hated the sting of jealousy that shot through her every time she looked at Dash, hated herself for not being able to let it go, and it was all very, very not okay.
But she had made a promise with Pinkie, at the end, when it was clear there was nothing left they could do. No more hurting each other, they had sworn. Applejack wasn't going to go and reopen that wound. She wouldn't do that to Pinkie, even if that meant she had to lie to her friend's face.
“Yeah...” she said. “Yeah, I'm alright.”
Rainbow stared at her, once again probing for a tell.
Applejack gave her a small smile. “Really, Dash, I am. Hay, if I wasn't, why would I be here playin' cards with you?”
Rainbow Dash's eyes remained on her a moment longer. Finally, she flicked a chip into the pot. “Maybe to take all my money so I can't afford any dates,” she grumbled.
“That'd be a real cryin' shame.” Applejack grinned wide, tossing two more chips in. “Raise.”
“She still loves you, you know.” Rainbow winced as soon as the words left her mouth.
Dash smacked herself in the forehead. “Sorry. I'm an ass for telling you that. She made me promise not to tell anypony.” She sucked in a deep lungful of air, rocking back in her chair. “I just... it's something you should know. She isn't over you.”
Silence reigned over the poker table. Applejack slowly set her cards down on the table and stood up. “Fold,” she whispered, then turned around and left.
Sunday mornings were special, almost sacred to Applejack. Sunday was the one day of the week she allowed herself to sleep in.
The rest of the week, she was always the first pony out of bed, greeting the sunrise with a broad grin and a mug of coffee, ready to start her chores. But Sunday mornings were special, because they came after Saturday nights, and the one thing she could always count on about Saturday nights was that she would need to sleep in on Sunday morning.
A ray of sunlight, painfully bright even through her closed eyelids, did its best to rouse her from her weekly ritual, but Applejack stubbornly refused to be coaxed from her bed. She rolled over and covered her head with her thick wool blanket.
A grin slowly spread across her muzzle as she half-remembered, half-dreamed about the shenanigans she had been up to the night before. Karaoke with Rainbow and Pinkie. Drinks. Loud, off-tune, drunken karaoke with Rainbow and Pinkie. More drinks. Loud, off-tune, drunken karaoke with made-up lyrics and no background music out in the alley behind the karaoke bar because she, Rainbow and Pinkie had been kicked out. That strange pale mare in the alley with makeup...
It got a bit fuzzy after that. Applejack frowned and shrugged, humming a few lines from last night's songs.
Her ear twitched as she heard little hooves thunder up the stairs and barge into her room. Somethin' better be on fire, Applejack thought grumpily as her little sister clambered across the floor.
“I know I ain't s'posed to wake you on Sundays,” Apple Bloom said, “but Big Mac says he needs yer help gettin' the plough unstuck from the mud.”
Applejack cursed under her breath. She'd forgotten to put the plough away when she was done with it yesterday. “All right,” she grumbled, stirring. “Tell Mac I'll be down in a—aaugh!” Applejack hissed as a beam of sunlight hit her face. She hadn't believed she had that bad of a hangover, but it must have really been a mother of one for a little bit of light to feel like a hammer to the nose. She rolled clumsily out of the bed, her legs still tangled in the sheets.
“Sis? You alright?” Apple Bloom asked.
“Yeah,” Applejack said, waving her sister off. “I'm just...” She rolled her jaw. Her mouth felt weird, like there was something there that hadn't been before. “I'm just dandy. Say, do you smell smoke? Did Granny leave the hay fries on too long again?”
Apple Bloom squeaked in fear. “Sis... your hoof!”
“Hm? What about my...” Applejack glanced groggily down at her hoof. The tip of it, resting in a little patch of sun, lit up in flames like a match head. “Hoof!? Son of a buckin' bronco!” She whipped her hoof around in the air, rolling on the ground to extinguish the flames.
“Shoot,” her sister moaned. “If I'da known this was what happens when ya get up on a Sunday, I'da just let ya sleep in!”
“Apple Bloom...” Applejack gasped, pressing her unburned hoof to her neck. “I don't... I don't think I have a pulse!”
“What?” Apple Bloom took a few steps back in fear. “Wh-what do ya mean? Why the hay would ya even be checkin'?”
She had a point, Applejack supposed. But the thought had come to her while rolling in panic on the floor that if she was hungover enough to catch fire—something she'd never heard of, but it had to be a pretty nasty level of hangover—then why wasn't her head pounding?
“Just... just go an' get Nurse Redheart,” she finally said.
Apple Bloom nodded her head, but paused in the doorway. “If this is some kinda trick ta get out of movin' the plough, yer gonna be in big trouble, sis.”
“Jus' git!” Applejack watched her sister leave the room, then curled into the corner, eying the spot of sunlight warily as it slowly moved across the floor.
Nurse Redheart propped Applejack's mouth open, examining the sharp fangs nestled between her teeth. A bag of blood hung from an I.V. drip connected to Applejack's foreleg.
“Well, all the symptoms line up,” Redheart said, discarding her tongue-depressor.
Applejack licked her dry lips. “Well? What have I got? Some kind of allergy? Spontaneous pony combustion?”
Nurse Redheart walked over to the window, securing the curtain against any gaps sunlight might get through. “No, Miss Applejack, you are a vampire.”
((Prompt: And I will become the god of this new world.))
At the lip of the valley, she stood. Orange she blazed in the light of the sun as she surveyed her world.
It was empty. New. Waiting for her will to fill it with life. The fertile soil yearned to show her what it could grow. The sturdy bedrock prepared to carry the foundations of her home on its back. The babbling creek danced across the valley, waiting to be tamed with irrigation channels.
She looked at her world, and said, “Let there be trees,” and there were.
They were saplings first, brought with care from the nursery and planted in wide rows that left them plenty of room to grow. Their roots burrowed deep into the ground, and their trunks stretched to the sky, and, with time, care, and her will, there were trees.
“Let there be a house,” she said, and there was.
The wild growth at the edge was cut back. The limbs and boughs were trimmed, and the wood was worked into boards. A foundation was dug deep into the earth, and the mightiest of the trunks cleared formed the sturdy frame of the house. The timber made the walls, and they were painted bright red. From the center of the valley, rising with the trees, came the house.
She looked out upon her trees from her house. The branches were smooth and healthy, full of green leaves. “Let them bear fruit,” she said, and they did.
Bright, beautiful red fruits grew upon the trees. Their branches bent and swayed under the weight of the juicy treats. She walked among them and collected their blessings. She shaped them into meals and feasted.
She looked at the bountiful harvest on her table, and found it surrounded by empty chairs. “Let there be ponies,” she said. And there were.
Her friends and family came from far and wide, and filled the empty spaces at her table. Her house became full of laughter and love, their smiling faces lined the halls, and there were ponies.
She stepped to the window and looked out upon her world. She had her house. She had her trees. She had her fruit. She had her friends and family. And she smiled, for it was good.
((Prompt: Twilight Sparkle, the most romantic pony in Equestria.))
Applejack rapped her hoof against the iron bars, filling the cell with a dull clang. The guard on duty shot her a short glare, so she stopped, albeit with a spiteful lip-curl in his direction. She sighed, pressing her face up against the bars. “Well, you sure know how to show a mare a good time, sugarcube.”
Behind her, Twilight laid on her back on the single, narrow, hard bed. She covered her face with a hoof and groaned. “I'm really, really, really sorry about this, Applejack. You've got to believe me that I didn't mean for any of this to happen.”
Applejack stared out at the desk. Her hat was hung on the corner, and her ear flicked every time the guard kicked at the desk in boredom, making it—the hat, not the desk—wobble and threaten to fall to the floor. “I mean, when you said 'date,' I figured you meant to go to some fancy restaurant or somethin',” she said. “But ya really went the extra mile here, sugarcube.”
“I know...” Twilight said. The bed creaked as she buried her face in the pillow.
Applejack put her hoof to her chin. “How many cakes were in that wagon, you reckon?”
“'Cause there had to be dozens in there. I'd guess forty, from the mess they made.”
“I know, I know.” Twilight raised her head and dropped it into the pillow a few more times.
Applejack gave a quiet chuckle. “Almost as many as there were cabbages in the other wagon.”
“Ugh, don't remind me,” Twilight said, rolling over to face Applejack. She swung her legs over the edge and sat up. “If I never see another leaf of cabbage again, it'll be too soon!”
“Lucky thing there weren't nopony in that old theater, huh?” Applejack turned and sat on the floor, her back pressing against the bars. “I ain't never seen a fire spread so fast.”
“In my defense,” Twilight said, “my spell would've worked if that place had been up to code. And how was I supposed to know there were fireworks stored in the attic?”
Applejack shook her head. “And then the look on the face of the fire-marshal...”
Twilight pinched her brow. “I know...”
“Of course, it didn't help our case any that we were—”
“I know!” Twilight interrupted. “Celestia, I'm so sorry, Applejack. I had all these plans for tonight, and when they didn't work out the way I wanted them to work, I panicked and I tried to make them work, but it just made everything worse!” She threw her hooves emphatically in the air. “Now it's all ruined, and you probably don't want to see me again—I wouldn't want to see me again—and all of it's my fault!” Her chest heaved with heavy breaths.
The jail cell was quiet for a few minutes. After a while, Applejack stood up and crossed over to Twilight's side of the cell. “Y'know what my favorite part was?” she asked.
Twilight avoided her gaze, instead staring at the dirty floor and sniffing.
“The part when you explained to the guards everything that happened, an' took responsibility for it all.” Applejack nuzzled her gently on the cheek.
Twilight blinked and turned to meet Applejack's eyes.
Applejack smiled and rubbed a tear from the corner of Twilight's eye. “A pony who's willing to own up to her mistakes like that... that's a pony I can see myself goin' on a second date with.”
Twilight's eyes watered, and she leaned into Applejack, wrapping her wings around her in a hug. “Maybe you should pick where we go next time,” she muttered into a mass of orange fur.
Applejack chuckled and nodded. “That might be a good idea,” she agreed.
Rainbow Dash let loose a whistle as Applejack strode by under her cloud. “Nice hair! You got a hot date or something?”
Applejack's reflexively felt the braids her granny had helped her with and smiled. “Somethin' like that,” she said. Rainbow knew all about who Applejack was off to see. Hay, Rainbow had been the one to all but physically shove her and Fluttershy together.
Rainbow Dash dispersed her cloud with a kick and drifted down to walk alongside her. “So, what's your plan? Where are you taking my flight school buddy?” Her lip curled up in a smirk. “'Cause if it's someplace lame, I've got an obligation to stop you by force.”
Applejack let loose a snort that seemed at odds with her makeup and well-brushed mane. “C'mon, Dash, we both know you couldn't stop me if there was two of ya!”
“Oh yeah?” Rainbow flared her wings. “You wanna find out if that's true?”
Applejack was sorely tempted to put that uppity showboat in her place, but Granny Smith had spent a lot of time working the tangles out of her mane, and she didn't want to show up to Fluttershy's all covered in dirt and grass. She shook her head. “I'm takin' her to the arcade.”
Rainbow faltered for a few steps. “The arcade?” she repeated. “You're taking Fluttershy to the arcade?”
Applejack slowed her pace a little. “Yeah... what's wrong with that?”
“Don't you think it's a little too...” Rainbow waved her hoof in a circle, “loud noises, flashing lights for her?”
The confident smile returned to Applejack's face and she resumed her pace. “She's shy, Dash. She ain't epileptic. Fluttershy told me she likes it. She goes there every now an' then when she needs to relax.”
Rainbow shook her head in disbelief. “Fluttershy goes to the arcade... to relax?”
“I reckon so,” Applejack said. Rainbow nearly ran into her as she stopped. “So...” She nodded pointedly at the cottage before them. “Were ya plannin' on makin' this a three-way, or would ya be kind enough to scoot along?”
Rainbow blinked. “I, uh... huh. Have fun at the arcade, I guess.” She spread her wings and took off.
Fluttershy leaned her head against Applejack's chest, a happy sigh on her lips. “This was a wonderful date, Applejack.”
The earth pony nodded, resting her hoof on the picnic basket they had brought. There had been little enough traffic this evening in the old arched walkway—or arcade, as it was called—that they had been able to set up and eat their meal right there in the middle. “Not too much loud noises or flashin' lights for ya, hon?”
Fluttershy giggled and shook her head. “No, it's so peaceful. Dinner at the arcade was such a thoughtful idea. Thank you, Applejack.”
((Prompt: One of the mane six moved away from Ponyville. But that was years ago. Today she moved back.))
She was missing for one thousand, ninety five days. Exactly three years, discounting the extra day from the leap-year. There had been no note, no hoofprints, no clue of any kind to indicate where she had disappeared to or why. The only things gone from her room had been her hat and her hair-ties.
They found Applejack in the south field of Sweet Apple Acres, lying on her back and shivering. She was admitted to Ponyville General Hospital with minor bruises, dehydration, and, strangely, considering the warm weather that day, hypothermia. All of these conditions were mild and easy to treat, so she was released the very same day.
Slowly, Applejack picked her life back up. She unpacked the things in her room that her family had packed up after the search had been called off. She resumed her duties on the farm one by one, until before long she was once again the de-facto boss of Sweet Apple Acres. She got together and enjoyed the company of her friends whenever she had the time to spare, and spent time with her sister even when she didn't have the time. Very little had changed about her, other than that she was a little quieter and prone to stare up at the night sky when she thought nopony was looking.
Of course, everypony asked her what had happened during those three years, but her answer was always the same. “I don't want to talk about it,” she would tell them, and would repeat it until they left it alone. After a while, most ponies stopped asking.
Rainbow Dash was not most ponies.
She dropped out of the tree, swooping to the ground as Applejack lined up her kick.
“Land's sakes, Dash” Applejack said, lowering her rear leg back to the ground. “That's a good way to lose all your teeth, gettin' in the way of a buck like that!”
“It got your attention, didn't it?” There was a challenging glint in Rainbow's eyes.
“That it did,” conceded Applejack. “Along with nearly gettin' ya bucked into next week, it got my attention. Now that you have it, what do ya want, sugarcube?”
Rainbow thrust her hoof at Applejack. “I want you to stop pretending like the last three years didn't happen.”
Applejack's expression darkened. “I already told you, I don't wanna talk about that.”
She tried to shove past Rainbow to get back to work, but Rainbow sidestepped to keep herself between Applejack and the tree. “And I'm telling you that's a load of horseapples. Does your family really buy that line?”
“My family understands that when I say I don't wanna talk about it, it means I don't wanna talk about it.” There was a pointed accusation in the words themselves, but there was no harshness in Applejack's tone. She just sounded tired.
Rainbow Dash kept pressing. “Nuh-uh. Maybe Rarity's willing to smile and call it your 'little vacation,'” she made air-quotes with her wingtips, “but I'm not. You were gone for three years, Applejack. Your sister got her cutie mark. The Cakes retired and Pinkie took over Sugarcube Corner. You missed out on three years of everypony's lives, and all you can say is that you don't want to talk about it?”
“I don't wanna talk about it,” Applejack repeated.
“I—” Rainbow's voice broke, and she glared down angrily at her hooves, scuffing them in the dirt. “Applejack, I did some stupid, stupid things without you there to hold me back.” She flicked her ears, waiting for Applejack's response. She expected some kind of witty snipe, like 'I ain't surprised to hear that,' or a reprimand about how 'It ain't my job to keep you out of trouble, Rainbow,' or just another sullen 'I don't wanna talk about it.'
Instead, Applejack lowered her own eyes. “I'm sorry,” she said.
Rainbow looked at her. “C'mon, AJ. You gotta tell me something,” she pleaded. “I don't understand what could have kept you away from us. Hay, I thought death itself wasn't gonna keep you from missing Apple Bloom's cutie mark.”
Applejack took a deep breath, casting her eyes skyward for a fraction of a second. “You really want to know where I was?”
Applejack fixed her with a penetrating stare. For a moment, Rainbow was filled with an inexplicable urge to break and run, as though it was not her friend before her but some terrifying predator. But she stood her ground, and the moment passed. She wanted, no, she needed answers, and she would not be intimidated away from them.
Applejack's shoulders sagged in defeat. “Okay,” she said. “Fine. So be it. Meet me by the old tire-swing tonight. Alone.” She emphasized the last word in a way that seemed to imply terrible consequences if anypony happened to follow Rainbow there. “Got it?”
Rainbow nodded, slowly at first, then a bit more confidently.
Applejack's face brightened again. “Good. Now then, sugarcube, if you don't mind, I've got a few trees to buck.”
Rainbow Dash stepped out of the way. “Okay,” she said. “I'll see you tonight.”
“See ya then, hon!” Applejack kicked the tree and was rewarded with a shower of apples.
The next morning, Rainbow Dash was gone. It would be precisely one thousand, ninety five days before anypony saw her again.
((Prompt: 22 Short Films about Ponyville. (In other words, pick a Ponyvillian pony or minor character or background pony and write a story about a typical event on a typical day for them).))
Look at her. So smug. Golden Harvest's lip curled in contempt as she watched her neighbor at work bucking apples. 'Howdy, Ah'm Applejack. Look at mah dumb hat. Ah'm all special 'cause everythin' Ah grow falls down in a basket for me with jus' one little kick. That must be why Ah get invited to go shake hooves with princesses all the time! Gee, it shore is great bein' me!
Applejack looked up from her work and spotted Golden Harvest. A warm, neighborly smile spread across her face, and she waved before moving on to the next tree.
Golden Harvest made a rude gesture back. Actually, she smiled and waved back, because there was a deep-seated primal instinct in the pony psyche that made them automatically respond to friendly greetings. It was considered the height of class in Canterlot to be able to suppress that instinct. Golden Harvest liked to tell herself that by waving back to Applejack, she was being very rude.
Sick of looking at her neighbor's toned orange flanks, she turned her attention back to her plot. Of land, for goodness's sake! Golden Harvest turned her attention to her own plot of land. Celestia's sake, she didn't even swing that way! Which was, of course, not something she could say for her neighbor. All of those shapely young mares she hung out with all the time... there was no chance there wasn't something going on there. Golden Harvest could just picture it, Applejack rising from a panting, sweaty heap of mares, locking eyes with the blue one, and growling, 'Yer next, sugarcube...'
Ahem. Golden Harvest turned her attention to her own plot of land. She pawed at the soil with her hoof. It wasn't like Applejack was any kind of special, anyway. Sure, there were the medals, defender of the realm, all of that stuff, but that could have been Golden Harvest there doing those things just as easily. Everypony knew that Applejack had met Princess Twilight because she had been in charge of the food that year for the Summer Sun Celebration. That would have been Golden Harvest, if Mayor Mare hadn't decided to lose her mind and say that apples were tastier than carrots. Ha! As if! Apples would be tastier than carrots when chocolate milk rained from the... wait. Apples just weren't tastier than carrots, okay?
Whatever. Golden Harvest was glad it wasn't her, anyway. They'd have probably made her join their weird lesbian cult. She didn't need them. She had her prized, world-class carrots to tend to.
That's right, world-class. Ponyville was the mecca of Equestria's carrot aficionados. Ponies came from miles away to have a taste of Golden Harvest's carrots. She once sold a carrot to a couple from Saddle Arabia. Granted, that couple was just passing through on business, they weren't here for the carrots specifically, but still. She sold it to them. And they liked it. Saddle Arabians really knew how to enjoy their vegetables.
Golden Harvest sighed and glanced over her fence again. Applejack lined up her haunches and gave the next tree a swift kick. Apples fell all around her like rain. It looked so easy. Of course it was easy, apples grew in trees. Gravity worked for her, not against her. It wasn't like Golden Harvest could kick the ground and have all her carrots pop up out of it. She stared at the rows of carrots. Well maybe...
The carrot farmer set her jaw in a determined grimace. She took a deep breath in, and out, honing her focus to a razor-sharp point. She raised her hoof off the ground and suspended it in mid-air. Tense. Ready to attack. She closed her eyes and pictured the force of her blow sending shockwaves rippling out through the ground, knocking her carrots cleanly into the air, and also making that orange rodeo clown over there lose her balance and fall face-first in the mud.
“Hyaah!” She struck the earth with all of her might.
No carrots popped out of the ground. She did, however, stub her hoof very hard on a small rock. “Ow!”
Applejack trotted over to the fence, concern playing across her brows. “Y'alright there hon? I heard you hollerin'.” She bit her lip as she glanced at Golden Harvest's chipped hoof. “Ooh, that looks like it smarts! Hang on there, neighbor. I'll run an' get some ice and a bandage!”
Immutable primal callings made Golden Harvest smile gratefully. “Thanks. You're the best.”
((Prompt: Two ponies try to play matchmaker, but end up falling in love themselves.))
Ponyville was a curious place, full of curious happenings and goings-on. Twilight Sparkle was a curious pony by nature, and when she caught the curious sight of four doves carrying a pie between them with strings as they flew through the streets, curiosity got the better of her.
She followed the flying pie—apple, if her nose was correct—as it wound around corners and through alleys and thoroughfares. After enough twists and turns to make the librarian thoroughly forget where in town she was, the doves finally set the pie down on a table set up out on the sidewalk. They chirped brightly and then flew off, leaving the pie there between a pair of ponies Twilight had become acquainted with since her move to Ponyville.
“Lyra, Bon Bon, good morning!” Twilight greeted, trotting up to them. She cast a puzzled glance at the doves as they disappeared into the sunny sky. “Do you know what that was all about?”
The pair of ponies shared a look and giggled. “They do this every year for our anniversary,” Bon Bon said, motioning for Twilight to have a seat.
Twilight smiled politely and sat down at the table. “Who, the birds?”
“Fluttershy sends the birds,” Lyra explained, igniting her horn to cut out a slice of the pie. “Applejack bakes the pie.” She took a bite. “Mm, delicious as always!”
“Fluttershy and Applejack?” Twilight tilted her head, as though the facts would slide into place if she angled gravity just right.
Bon Bon smiled and helped herself to a slice. “Those two are the reason we're together.”
“Mmf...” Lyra held a hoof up and swallowed before again attempting to speak. “Bonnie fell for me the first time I came to Ponyville for a concert.” Bon Bon rolled her eyes at this, which only made Lyra grin wider. “But the silly mare never worked up the nerve to talk to me before I moved on to Canterlot!”
“Fluttershy finds out about this somehow—I'm still not sure how,” Bon Bon continued for her. “She tells Applejack, who invites Lyra to come play at that month's hoedown. That whole night, they practically push us together. Well, you've met Fluttershy, so you know her version of pushing is asking very politely if it isn't too much trouble, but anyway, the two of them wouldn't let me leave until I'd talked to Lyra, so I did... and the rest,” she said, casting a long stare at her wife, “is history.”
“Fluttershy and Applejack did that?” Twilight asked, putting a hoof to her chin. “I'm surprised. They don't seem like the type of pony to play matchmaker.”
“They're the best!” Pinkie Pie hung upside down from the cloth awning above the table. In a motion that wasn't so much 'graceful' as it was 'flippantly disregarding the law of gravity,' she slid off the awning and into a chair. “Fluttershy and Applejack got Mr. and Mrs. Cake together, too! You can't throw a Hearts and Hooves Day card in Ponyville without hitting two ponies that are in love because of those two! Oh, pie! Can I have a slice?”
Bon Bon nodded and cut out a piece for Pinkie. “Twilight? Would you like some?”
Twilight shook her head. “No, thank you. Pinkie, you're saying Fluttershy and Applejack have set up other ponies, too?”
Pinkie nodded, pie crumbs spilling from her mouth. “Golden Harvest and Caramel, Doctor Stable and the one colt from the post office... also, me and Rarity, but don't tell Rarity yet, it's gonna be a surprise! They're like some kind of dream-team! Except, if they were a dream-team, they'd have to let Princess Luna join too, because, duh, Princess of Dreams.” Her eyes suddenly widened as she gasped loudly. “Oh my gosh! What if Princess Luna joined them and they started setting up threesies? That would be amazing!”
Down in the cellar underneath Sweet Apple Acres, Fluttershy chewed on the end of a quill, poring over a list. Well, Twilight Sparkle wouldn't have called it a list, just a piece of paper with some names circled and with arrows pointing to other names. But by Fluttershy's or Applejack's standards, it was a list. “Um, did Cheerilee like the flowers we sent her?”
Applejack took a bite of an apple and nodded. “Apple Bloom says she was smilin' all day. She had the class sing 'Daisy, Daisy' and then let 'em all out early.”
“Oh my,” Fluttershy said. “So Cheerilee and Daisy are a yes, then.” She drew a line on the list.
“I reckon so. Heh.” Applejack chuckled lightly, “You believe my sis and her friends tried to set her up with Mac?”
Fluttershy smiled. “They're young. I don't think they know what a 'fillyfooler' is yet.”
“I s'pose not.” Applejack shook her head. “I s'pose I oughta set Bloom down fer 'the Talk' sooner or later. Tell her there's all different kinds of love out there.”
Fluttershy set down her quill and turned to Applejack. “And every one of them is meaningful,” she said.
Applejack smiled and stepped closer. “Every one of 'em means family in one sense or another.”
“Every one of them is—” Their noses bumped together, and both ponies blushed and chuckled, turning their eyes away.
“Ahem,” Applejack said, coughing into her hoof. “Who's next?”
Fluttershy buried her face in her list. “Let's see. Oh, that's right! A little birdie told me that Colgate has been letting her eyes linger on Berry Punch a little longer than normal.”
Applejack took another bite of her apple and grinned. “Y'know, you're the only pony in Equestria that would say that an' mean it literally!”
13: To Share a Closet With a Zebra [Comedy] [Slice of Life]
“Well, this is mighty awkward.” Applejack would have rubbed the back of her neck, but her hoof was pinned between a striped flank and the doorknob.
The striped flank fidgeted uncomfortably. “Indeed, my friend, you've said it best. Could you please move your leg? It's digging into my chest.”
“Oh, sorry.” Applejack shifted her weight, trying to maneuver in the cramped space. Tails were stepped on, ribs were elbowed, and muzzles were stubbed before she and Zecora finally found themselves a position that, while by no definition could it be called comfortable, at least minimized any painful crowding.
This position unfortunately left very little distance between their faces. Zecora wrinkled her nose. “Just so you know, among the potions I brew, I also make mouthwash. Perhaps I could give some to you.”
Applejack turned her head so she wasn't breathing directly in her face. “That's, uh, real kind of you to offer.” The closet went silent for a while. Applejack felt an itch start to form on her back, but there was no way for her to reach it, so she just fidgeted, training her eyes on anything other than the zebra in front of her.
Finally, Zecora cleared her throat. “If I may ask, dear Applejack... why is it you were hiding in my clothing rack?”
Applejack sighed. “I... well, I was hidin' from Apple Bloom.”
“So you hid in this closet we both now are in,” Zecora said. “Tell me, what cause had you to hide from your kin?”
“I didn't want her to know I was followin' her,” Applejack said. “She's taken a shine to ya, an' she comes out here more often than I'd like. I jus' don't want her to get hurt.”
Zecora cocked her eyes. “You do not approve? I thought my trustworthiness I'd already proved.”
“No, no, it ain't you.” Applejack shook her head. “It's just the forest I'm worried about. Lots of things out here that can be dangerous to a filly wanderin' about on her own.”
Zecora nodded. “I see. You fear for your sister's safety.”
“She's everythin' to me, Zecora,” Applejack said. “I can't stand the thought of her gettin' hurt. 'Course, because I'm a blockhead an' startled ya like I did, now the only two grown folk who could be lookin' after her while she walks home are trapped in a closet with a cauldron jammin' the door.” She pushed on the door, more in demonstration than an earnest attempt to open it. “I don't 'spect you get many visitors, do ya?”
Zecora shook her head. “Almost none but your dear sister Apple Bloom. I fear we will not get out very soon.”
“Great.” Applejack's ears sank.
Zecora smiled. “But you need not fear for your sister's safety. I can promise you, she's as safe as can be!”
Applejack tilted her head. “How can you guarantee that while you're stuck in a closet?”
“I scatter sprigs of wolfsbane on the trail every day,” Zecora explained. “The smell of it frightens forest predators away.”
“It does?” Applejack let out something somewhere between a sigh and a chuckle. “So I was hidin' in here for nothing, then.”
“A sister's love is never nothing,” admonished Zecora. “Misguided though you were, you tried to do the right thing.”
“Thanks.” Applejack tried to stretch her leg, but did not have the room to do so. “Now if only somepony could let us out of here.”
The front door to Zecora's hut swung open. “Oh, I almost forgot!” Apple Bloom's voice rang like a bell. “...Zecora? Where'd ya go?”
“In here, dear filly,” Zecora called out. “Come let us out, and be warned, we look a bit silly!”
The cauldron clanged as Apple Bloom rolled it out of the way. Zecora and Applejack fell out of the closet, groaning as they stretched their sore limbs.
“Sis?” Apple Bloom blinked at her sister sprawled out on the floor. “What are you...” Her eyes shifted. “Now, when you were tellin' me all about closets an' whatnot, I thought you were bein' metaphorical!”
Carved into the peak of a lone mountain, Fort Glory was one of the largest structures in Griffonia. High walls circled the whole top of the mountain, three miles of thick, nigh-impregnable stone and mortar. Watch towers kept unsleeping vigil from all directions, and flights of griffons patrolled the skies constantly. At its peak capacity, Fort Glory could potentially hold every criminal that ever passed through griffon lands; any other prisons in the nation were only kept open to keep personnel costs low. In all of the prison's history, its walls were only ever breached once.
By a party cannon loaded with dynamite.
“Jailbreak!” screeched Pinkie Pie. Singed pieces of confetti and flash-broiled cake batter clung to the smoking edges of the hole she had just made in the stone wall.
Applejack shook her head to get the ringing to stop. It only worked a little. “All right,” she said as she, Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Pinkie gathered around the breach. “Rainbow, you fly up an' distract the patrols. The more griffons we got in the air, the less there are down here.”
Rainbow gave her a daredevil grin. “I'll fly circles around 'em!” A loud crack of her wings sent her shooting off into the air to buzz the nearest watch tower.
“Rarity, you an' Pinkie follow me. Are ya able to pick locks with them needles?”
Rarity huffed. “I resent the implication that I would have any experience with such a dastardly skill!”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Can you do it or not?”
The unicorn tapped her hooves together. “Perhaps I have toyed with a padlock or two... just as a pastime, mind you, dear.”
“Okay,” Applejack said, tipping her hat down low. “This way. Let's bust Fluttershy loose an' get outta here!”
Sirens wailed as the three of them charged across the yard. Inmates gathered around the gap to make a break for it while the ponies stole into the facility. Once inside, they dashed through the corridors, their hooves echoing off the stone as they checked each cell block.
“Fluttershy? Are you in here?” Pinkie called.
A large griffon raised a manacled talon. “My name's Fluttershy.”
Another griffon stood up. “No, I'm Fluttershy!”
“Me! Take me! I'm the one you're looking for!” The cell block broke into a riot as the inmates argued over which of them was most like a small yellow pegasus.
Pinkie shrugged at Applejack and Rarity. They kept moving.
The door to the warden's office slammed open under the force of Applejack's hooves. Four ponies rushed in—Rainbow Dash had rejoined them a moment ago. Inside, Fluttershy paused, teacup halfway to her lips. “Girls?”
The warden stood up from his desk. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded.
“Fluttershy!” Rainbow cried. “We're here to rescue you!”
Fluttershy blinked and set her teacup down. “R-rescue me?”
“We got a letter from Twilight,” said Applejack. “It said you were in prison here!”
“Have no fear, darling,” said Rarity. “Orange is a terrible color for your complexion, we would never let you suffer that!”
Fluttershy's eyes flickered between her friends. “Oh dear.” She gave the warden an apologetic shake of her head. “I'm sorry, Gabriel. I think there's been a misunderstanding.”
“You bet there's been a misunderstanding,” shouted Pinkie. “How could you throw a pony as cute and adorable and nice as Fluttershy into prison?”
“No one threw me in prison, girls,” said Fluttershy. “Twilight asked me to come here and check up on the place, make sure they're treating their guests humanely.”
The room was quiet for a moment. Applejack threw her hat down on the floor. “Dagnabit, Dash, I told you this was a bad idea!”
“That would explain why Twilight didn't sound very concerned in her note,” Rarity said, putting a hoof to her chin. “I did think it rather odd that she mentioned it in between a remark on the weather in Canterlot and the dinner she had the other night ago.”
The warden's eyebrow twitched. “Well, I was going to show you on a tour, Fluttershy, but perhaps your friends would prefer a first-hand demonstration.”
She stood there straight and tall. She always stood up straight and tall, even before, but it's different, somehow. Before, it was like she'd had something to prove. The way she'd stood had been a challenge to anypony, daring them to tell her she didn't deserve what she had. I guess whatever she had to prove, she proved it out there, because it wasn't an open challenge keeping her legs straight and her eyes forward anymore. It was just natural to her now, and a part of me just felt like slouching as I looked at her, because there was no way I'd ever match her posture.
I cleared my throat. “You... you look good, Rarity.” It wasn't a lie. The gold plates of her armor caught the afternoon sun and sent it shimmering across my doorway. Her barding was spotless, perfectly fit, with no folds or creases of any kind. I could just picture her spending hours getting that uniform just so, and for a moment the idea of a pony like her in a place like that almost made sense to me.
I expected her to take the compliment with her usual haughty tone, 'Well of course I look good, it is me after all,' or something like that. Either that or disagree with that exasperated huff she always used to use. 'No I do not! This wretched uniform has a terrible cut for my figure, and the color of the tabard is all wrong!
Instead, she gave me a small, measured smile. “Thank you, Applejack” she said, and let it be.
I started to feel mighty awkward standing in my doorway, peering out at her like she was some kind of stranger. I cleared my throat. “Why don't ya come on in? I can crack open some cider.” My eyes flickered to the uniform, and I winced. “I mean, uh... we got juice, too.”
Her smile grew a tiny bit warmer and she stepped inside. “I am off-duty, dear. Cider would be lovely.”
I sat her down at the table and filled a couple of mugs with the Acres' finest. She nodded as she took hers in an aura of magic. I couldn't help but notice she had more strength with it now. More control.
“So,” she said, taking a small sip. “How has Ponyville been in my absence?”
“Well, there's been an awful shortage of good-lookin' white unicorns 'round here; not sure how we managed,” I told her, cracking a grin. The flirt got a little chuckle out of her. “Your sis is doin' her best to fill those horseshoes, of course. Without you to pester, she spends enough time hangin' around Apple Bloom to make me feel like I'm raisin' two fillies.”
Rarity nodded. “She can be a bit clingy sometimes. I do hope she isn't too much trouble.”
“Nah.” I shook my head. “No trouble at all.”
It got quiet again. Used to be, there was never silence between me and Rarity. We always had something to talk about, or something to argue about, more like, and we could talk all night until the rooster crowed in the morning. But that was back then. Now, she was a lot quieter, and I... well, I had something eating away at me that I kept looking for any excuse not to ask about.
I've never been very good at finding those excuses, though. I took a swallow of cider, swishing it around in my mouth a few times before finally speaking up. “Why... why did you need to take it this far, Rarity?”
For the first time since she arrived, Rarity gave me a genuine show of emotion. She blinked her eyes and cocked her head to the side. “Whatever do you mean, dear?”
“I ain't angry,” I told her. “Believe me when I tell you that. But I just don't understand... We were close, hon. I know you felt it too. We had somethin', you and me. And then you left.”
Rarity let a long breath out of her nose. She took a drink of cider, and said nothing.
“Was it... I mean, it wasn't long after I started talkin' about the future, and what we might do. Did I spook ya, or something?”
“Because I'd have understood if you just told me you thought we were movin' too fast,” I said. “There weren't no need to go out an' fight giant crabs or Celestia knows what. I... I...” I stopped as I felt her hoof on mine. I looked up and saw tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
“Is that what you thought, darling?” she asked. “That I joined the Guard to get away from you?”
I'd have been a liar if I told her no, so I kept my mouth shut.
She smiled at me, and her armor clinked softly as she moved closer to wrap her forelegs around me. “My dearest, nothing could be further from the truth! When you started talking about a future together, I realized there was nothing that could make me happier than spending my life with you.”
I leaned into her hug. Celestia, I'd forgotten just how much I missed her. Even through the armor, and the new muscle, I still felt that warmth that had always been in her.
“But I also realized,” she said, speaking into my shoulder, “that future was never going to happen unless somepony was there to protect it.” She drew back to look me in the eyes. She pressed my hoof against the sun-shaped sigil on her chest. “I am doing this because I love you.”
I nodded. I guess I understood now. I straightened my back and raised a hoof to my brow in a salute. “I love you too.”
“Come on, AJ!” Rainbow Dash waved her forelegs in the air emphatically. “You said you were coming!”
Applejack sighed, tugging the gate shut. “That was before one of the pigs decided to go missin',” she said. “I can't go to some concert with a sow runnin' loose out there.”
“This isn't just 'some concert.' Do I need to repeat myself?” Rainbow hovered above Applejack, her wingbeats blowing the farmer's hair in her face. “Twilight Sparkle. In a band. The pig can wait, AJ. You can't miss this!”
Applejack tapped her hoof on the fence. There was a mess of prints in the mud; it was going to take her all night to track down where the missing sow was. “I don't know, Dash. You know I wanna go show Twi my support an' all, but...”
“Look,” said Rainbow. “Just come see the opening act, and then I'll help you look for your pig. With me out there looking, we'll find her in like, a minute tops.”
Applejack chewed her lip. “Just the openin' act?”
“And when that's over, no balk-talk when I drag you out of there?”
Rainbow pressed her hoof to her chest. “I swear on Hurricane's feathers.”
Applejack glanced at the pig-pen. The opening act wouldn't take more than five minutes. A pig couldn't get much more lost than it already was in that time, and having Rainbow for an eye in the sky would really help. “...Okay, fine. Just the openin' act, though.”
“Yes! Come on, it's gonna be awesome!”
Rainbow and Applejack arrived not long before the concert started. They only just found seats when the lights went dark. In the pitch black on stage, all they could see was a single guitar pick, suspended in a magenta aura. The pick moved, and a guitar chord rang through the amplifiers. Stage lights lit up to reveal Twilight Sparkle with a sleek guitar strapped to her. The crowd cheered.
Her horn glowed, and a second chord played from her instrument. Joining her this time was a steady bass line. More stage lights slowly illuminated Princess Celestia, a pair of reflective sunglasses over her eyes as she played a bass guitar.
Next, drums joined in, pounding out a lively beat. Again, stage lights flipped on, but this time, one of the stage-hooves must have misaligned the light, because only the drum-set was visible, leaving the drummer still shrouded in darkness.
The keyboard was the next to light up. Princess Cadance stood behind a crystal keyboard, jamming out a melody with both her hooves and her magic.
Everypony in the audience jumped as the vocalist spoke up. “ART THOU ALL PREPARED TO ENJOY THINESELVES?” No one needed the stage lights to tell them it was Princess Luna. She had no microphone, just her voice and a ridiculous costume that would have been at home among the costumes the Cutie Mark Crusaders had worn once at their talent show. “WE HOPE THOU ART PREPARED, FOR TONIGHT WE INTEND TO SOCK THY ROCKS OFF!” The ponies in the audience glanced at one another, puzzled.
Twilight whispered something to her. Luna nodded. “BY THIS, WE OF COURSE MEAN TO ROCK THY SOCKS OFF!” The crowd cheered again. “WE ARE THE PRINCESSES OF EQUESTRIA!”
With this, the band launched into their first song. Musically speaking, they weren't all that great, being statesmares rather than musicians, but they made up for any shortfall of talent with their enthusiasm and the sheer spectacle of seeing the leaders of Equestria rocking out on stage in front of everypony.
Still, Applejack wondered who the drummer could possibly be. There were only four princesses in Equestria, as far as she knew, and she couldn't begin to guess who would fill the fifth position. Shining Armor, maybe? He was a prince, that was close.
Finally, one of the stage-hooves got up to the scaffolding and fixed the light, revealing the fifth member of the band at last. Applejack laughed. That certainly explained a few things.
Behind the drumset, bashing the high-hat with both drumsticks clenched in her mouth, was Applejack's lost pig, Princess.
((Prompt: Spike in Rarity's boudoir. Special rule: it can't be directly related to his crush on her.))
It wasn't properly Ponyville anymore. Not really. You needed ponies to have a Ponyville, and there hadn't been ponies through these old ruins for a while.
All of this land had belonged to the Everfree back before the ponies had moved in and tamed the brush. Now that they were gone, the forest set its mind on taking back what belonged to it. Town hall was half crumbled, its circular roof choked with vines. Trees grew right in the middle of roads, and wild animals skittered among the toppled rubble of what had once been rows of homes.
Applejack had already visited what was left of the Acres. Every time she came through here she swore not to again; it just left a melancholy pit in her stomach to see the twisted brambles chewing on the bones of her old home. But every time she came through, she couldn't help herself.
She didn't come to the abandoned town to stare at piles of rotten wood where a barn had once stood, though. She was here to visit a friend.
Rarity's boutique was much like the rest of Ponyville, covered in vines. The spidery network of green stalks really seemed to like the way rainwater pooled around the structure, spilling over the roof like a cauldron boiling over. Seemingly spurred on by the Everfree's nature, the tree in Rarity's backyard had tripled in size, lifting part of Carousel Boutique's foundation out of the earth and tipping the whole building outward.
Applejack pushed past the vines through where there once had been a door. The interior had been remarkably well-preserved, the vines outside shielding the Boutique's contents from the elements. The dresses on display were tattered and moth-eaten, but the ponyquins themselves were largely intact, and a faint impression of the Boutique's original wallpaper remained visible by the light of Applejack's lantern.
She frowned at the way the stairs creaked beneath her hooves. She resolved to find a bit of lumber and shore them up before she left. She wouldn't want any of the others to fall through and hurt themselves when they came to visit. Still, the stairs held together as she made her way up to the second floor. Rarity's old bedroom still had a door on it, though the rusty hinges groaned and threatened to break when she nudged it open.
The bedroom was very different from the rest of the place. A wave of hot, dry air met Applejack's face as she crept inside. Her lantern reflected off of a heap of gems in the center of the room, sending sparkling reflections splaying out across the walls. Pictures still hung on the walls here, though the highest-hung ones were stained with soot. Curled around the pile of gems, amethyst scales glinting in the lantern light, was Spike.
“Hey there, sleepy-bones,” Applejack said, tipping her hat.
Spike, as he always had for the last two decades, snored in response.
Applejack chuckled and found herself a place to sit on the old frame of a bed. She opened up her saddlebag and flicked a gem onto the pile. “Y'know, on the farm, we gotta be up with the sun. I reckon you're about...” She stared at the smoke-shrouded ceiling. “...twenty two years too late for breakfast by now.”
Spike's claw idly scratched his side. Heat radiated off of him like a campfire, and Applejack had to move back a little.
She smiled. “I guess you can have your beauty rest, though.” Applejack pulled her canteen out of her saddlebag and took a swallow of water.
“Could've picked a better place for it, mind you,” she said. “After the town went under, this place's been awful far out of the way. Poor Pinkie can't make it no more, on account of her darned hip. She said to send you her regards, though.”
Spike snored. A plume of smoke rose to the ceiling.
“I know, I know,” Applejack said, shaking her head. “Weren't your fault at all. None of us knew much 'bout dragons then. We knew you were due for a big sleep sometime or another, but we didn't know that it would hit so fast or so hard with a little dragon like you.” She snorted. “Hay, you were in the middle of fetchin' a needle for Rarity when ya conked out. Just right there on the floor.”
Spike still held the needle clutched in his claw. The tip of it was blackened and warped from the constant exposure to his breath.
“We wanted to move ya with us to Canterlot, hon. I had a welder's mask an' a fireproof saddle all fixed up to get you out of here. But we couldn't. Now without wakin' ya, an' Twi said that's real bad for a little dragon. Permanent deformity, or somesuch.”
Applejack rolled her neck, taking one more thing out of her pack. A pen and a vial of ink. She moved over to the desk, the best-preserved piece of furniture in the place, and carefully removed a yellowed journal from one of the drawers. “It might be I won't be around when you wake up, Spike. Maybe none of us will be; Twi ain't real sure on how long you'll be out.” Applejack wrote a new entry in the journal. “But that's why we're leavin' this here for ya. Catch you up on what you missed.”
She took a few minutes writing down all that had happened in Canterlot since her last visit. When she was finished, she returned the journal to its drawer. She stood up, stretching her legs. As she opened the door to leave, she paused, casting one last glance at the slumbering dragon. “Spike? You are a noble dragon. Don't you let no one tell you otherwise.”
((Prompt: Pinkie Pie in a funeral home. Special rule: Pinkie isn't dead.))
“There are a variety of services we can do to honor her passing.” The funeral director spoke quietly, not quite in a monotone, but never quite raising his voice to the liveliness one could expect to hear a pony speak with anywhere else.
Anywhere else was precisely where Applejack wanted to be, but she was needed here. She shook her head. “No. She wouldn't want nothin' fancy. Just keep it simple.”
The director nodded his head. “Of course. Sometimes, it is best to keep it traditional.”
“There should be balloons.” Pinkie Pie bounced in place, the vibrancy of her pink coat clashing violently with the muted decor of the funeral home. “She loved the green ones. We should have green balloons there!”
The director's brows knitted. He gave a cough that was meant to be polite while at the same time indicating that Pinkie was being anything but. “I'm sorry, you are...”
“She's a friend,” said Applejack, halting Pinkie's bouncing with a hoof on her withers. She gave the director a small nod to continue.
“Yes.” He cast a wary glance at Pinkie's too-cheerful demeanor. “Um, is your family of any particular faith?”
“Nothin' specific,” Applejack said. “Jus' generally respectful of Celestia, is all.”
“Ooh,” interjected Pinkie. “We should invite Celestia! She can come and give you and Mac and Apple Bloom a great big Princess-hug!”
The director cleared his throat. “Would your friend like to wait outside, perhaps?”
“Well, I did see a pile of leaves out front that looked like a lot of fun to roll in,” Pinkie said, rubbing her chin, “but no. I promised Applejack I wasn't leaving her side.” She inched closer to Applejack and nodded.
Applejack's eyes wavered, and she cast an apologetic look at the funeral director. “She's fine.” Her voice cracked a little.
His eyes remained on Pinkie a little longer. “If you say.” He lifted a small notepad. “What kind of casket do you want to use? We have pine, oak, cherry...”
“Actually,” said Applejack, “there's some lumber on the farm we saved from her favorite apple tree. I don't suppose you could make it from that?”
“Y'know,” Pinkie spoke up once again, “funerals are kinda like birthday parties, if you think about it. Except maybe upside-down and backwards.”
“I... um...” The director did his best to ignore Pinkie. “Yes, I believe we can make arrangements for—”
“I should make a cake!” Pinkie declared.
Applejack stood in one place, shaking. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks.
The director placed a hoof on her shoulder. “We don't have to do this now,” he said. “Take your time, dear.”
Applejack sniffed and shook her head hard. “No, I... I wanna get this done.”
“How many candles would you put on a funeral cake?” Pinkie asked nopony in particular. “Would it just be one? Or would you start with seventy and take one off every year?”
Applejack choked on a sob. “Just... just one minute,” she told the director, and fled out the front door, dragging Pinkie with her.
Pinkie's ears flattened as the door swung shut behind them. A chilly bite of autumn rustled through their coats as they stood outside in the breeze. “I'm sorry,” she said.
Applejack just sank to her haunches, tears flowing freely.
Pinkie took a step closer, raising her hoof to wrap it around Applejack, but hesitating. “I just... it's so sad and frowny in there, and you looked like you were about to cry, and everything I tried to do to cheer you up just made it worse, and now you are crying...” She dropped her hoof to the ground with a dull 'thud.' “I'll stop. I'll be quiet, okay?”
Applejack turned and buried her face into Pinkie's shoulder. Her tears matted Pinkie's fur. “N-no,” she whispered between sobs. “D-don't stop, Pinkie. I... I need you to make me smile today. Please, don't ever stop.”
Applejack liked to think she took very little in her life for granted. She made certain to be thankful for all the little things that made it possible for her to live the life she chose. Fresh water. Good friends and family. The sun at her back and the earth beneath her hooves. Well, usually she had that one.
But she rarely thought so much about the air she breathed as she did now that a little pane of glass and a reflective white suit were all that kept that air from scattering into the aether like a puff of mist on a cold day. That kind of knowledge made the air just a little bit sweeter she felt, even if it smelled a bit like dust and stale nylon. It made her savor every breath. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Applejack's radio crackled to life, interrupting the steady rhythm. “This is Canterlot. How are those repairs coming, Applejack?” There were really some marvels of magitech at work here, she reflected, as Twilight's voice came as clear as if she were speaking to her face to face.
Then again, there were some innovations that hadn't quite been debugged all the way yet. “Slow,” she grunted, gritting her teeth as she tried to get the manipulators at the ends of her suits legs to behave. The little metal digits wriggled and twisted, refusing to properly grip her tool like she wanted them to. “How come I gotta use these claw-thingies, anyway? Couldn't y'all have made the suit so I could use my mouth like a decent pony?”
“They're called 'fingers,' Applejack,” explained Twilight's disembodied voice. Applejack glanced below her, trying to reckon with the fact that her friend was a speck on that great big blue thing hundreds of miles below her. “And like I explained during training, you have to use them unless you like breathing through a tube in your nose.”
Applejack scowled as she braced the fingers against the side of Harmony Station to force them to close around the little welder. “I'm startin' to think I'd prefer that,” she grumbled.
“Well, hurry up and finish fixing that casing,” Twilight said. “If you're still out there when that meteor storm hits, getting fingers to work will be the least of your worries.”
Applejack nodded. Getting hit with a rock hurt, but getting hit with a rock that was moving fast enough to put a dent in the plating she was busy welding over Harmony's oxygen tanks was not a thing she wanted to think about.
“Actually, Applejack, just leave it and head inside now,” Twilight said. “I don't want to take the chance we miscalculated the arrival time.”
“Sugarcube, if I thought you had a chance of miscalculatin' anything, I wouldn't be up here,” Applejack said, fusing the steel piece in place. “An' I don't fancy one of them rocks hittin' my O2 supply any more than I do gettin' hit myself. I'll have this done in two shakes, then I can hunker down.” One more weld would do it, she was certain.
“Applejack, this is serious. There could be smaller pieces we weren't able to track that could arrive early. Drop it and get inside now.”
Applejack finished the last weld. “Done. Copy that, Twi, I'm gettin'—” She stopped, blinking. Something just whisked past her visor, impossibly fast.
“Applejack? Come in, Applejack.” An edge of panic crept into Twilight's voice.
“Uh, I'm here,” reassured Applejack. “Just how early did you figure those extra bits might come?”
“Get inside now, Applej—” Applejack's radio cut to static as something grazed the back of her suit, sending her spinning. Her world became a whirling blur as the blinding sun, the black of space, the broad face of Equestria and the space station whipped in and out of her view.
Fiery pain ripped through her rear hoof, followed quickly by numbness as her suit automatically sealed the breach off, also clamping off bloodflow to her lower leg.
Something tugged at her midsection, arresting her dizzying spin. Applejack breathed in relief, until she saw what had countered her cartwheeling. Half of her safety line drifted out to her, tattered and frayed where a chunk of space rock had severed it. She watched as the meteor storm fell like a silent rain on Harmony Space Station. Little bits of the solar panels crumpled and flew off, but fortunately the core of the station held off the impacts, the hard steel plating weathering the blows.
“Canterlot? Twi, can you hear me?” Applejack called.
“Appl—zzk! Applejack, come i—zz...” The radio sputtered in and out. If she had to guess, Applejack would say the crystal that allowed communication over distances had been cracked by the meteor.
She reached back to the spot on her shoulder where it was housed and tried to hold it together physically. “Canterlot, this is Applejack. I'm still alive, and Harmony looks like it survived the storm.”
Twilight's voice crackled and buzzed. “Oh, thank goodness! Wait... it looks like it survived? Aren't you aboard?”
Applejack sighed. “Negative, Twi. I got separated. Rope got cut.”
There was a minute of dead air. “...Hang on, Applejack. We'll figure something out.”
“Don't see what there is to figure,” Applejack said, glancing at her oxygen meter. She had about twenty minutes before her suit ran out of air. At their absolute fastest, they could maybe get somepony up to help her in a couple of days. She wasn't an astronaut for her math skills, but Applejack knew that didn't add up to a pretty picture.
She glanced at her injured leg. Flash-frozen crystals of blood leaked out of a hole in the suit. An idea slowly came to her. It was a terrible idea, but it was the only one she had. “Canterlot, I think I might have a way back to Harmony. I'm gonna release the seal on the damaged part of my suit, use the venting air to give me a push.”
She heard a rustling sound over the radio as somepony wrestled the microphone away from Twilight. “Are you crazy? Don't you dare do that, AJ!” Rainbow Dash shouted
The radio crackled again. Twilight regained control. “Rainbow is right. You won't have enough oxygen to stay conscious, assuming you get the right angle to reach the airlock. Just stand by, Applejack, let me think.”
“Beg your pardon, sugarcube, but there ain't much you can do.” Applejack reached down to pull the string on the leg of her suit. She paused, pressing her hoof to the radio crystal one last time. “If this don't work... aw, hay, y'all know what I got to say.”
Another few seconds of static. “...We all love you too, Applejack.”
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Pull the cord.
Twilight stood at the console, all her weight on the hoof holding down the channel for the radio crystal. “Applejack? Come in, Applejack. ...Applejack? ...Answer me, please, Applejack.”
Four mares gathered behind her, their eyes fixed on the little crystal in the center of the console. It remained dark, no matter how many times Twilight tried to get a response.
“...Respond, Applejack. Come in. This is Canterlot. Come in, Applejack.”
Rarity bit her lip. “Twilight... it's been an hour.”
“Applejack, please respond.”
Fluttershy broke into quiet sobs, burying her face into Pinkie's shoulder. Rainbow kicked at her chair in anger.
Twilight's hoof shook as she pressed the button. “Applejack... please...” Her hoof slipped off and fell to her side.
The control room grew silent. Twilight's wings sagged to the floor.
The console crystal sputtered to life. “Canterlot, come in. This is Applejack.”
Twilight leapt to the console. “Applejack!”
Applejack's voice chuckled. “Sorry 'bout the wait. The communication array gave out. Coulda fixed it a lot sooner if it weren't for these danged finger-things!”
Applejack reached for her hat. Another orange hoof reached for it at the same time. She glanced up into a mirror of her eyes.
She withdrew her hoof. “You can wear it. I'll find the one Rarity made.”
Applejack's double shook her head. “No, you should wear it. I'll make do.”
Applejack opened her mouth to protest, but a knock at the door downstairs stopped her. With a sigh, she took the hat, settling it onto her head as she trotted down the stairs and opened the door.
There stood Twilight. She was beautiful. Her dress swept across her back from one wing to the other, and a gleaming pendant hung from her horn. Rarity must have helped her with her mane, because it was stunning.
Applejack moved to embrace her, but then she remembered herself. “Uh, are you number one or two?” she asked.
“One,” Twilight replied. “Two is finishing things at the library. She'll meet us at the restaurant.”
Applejack's ears sank half an inch. She showed Twilight inside. “Your Applejack is still upstairs gettin' ready. Go ahead an' have a seat.”
It didn't take the other Applejack much longer to get ready—she was Applejack, after all. In a few minutes' time, the three of them met up with the second Twilight and they headed into the restaurant.
“The reservation should be under 'Sparkle,'” Twilight number two told the maitre d'.
His brows quirked in confusion. “Of course, Princess, but... the reservation is for two.”
Twilight glanced at her three companions. “Magical accident,” she explained. “Is it a problem?”
He shook his head. “No, no problem at all. I will see if we can free up something.”
“Ain't no need to ask ponies to give up their seats for us,” said Applejack. “We're all right comfy with one another. We can all squeeze onto one table.”
The maitre d' looked to Twilight. “Are you sure? I am certain they would be happy to make room for such esteemed guests as yourselves.”
Twilight smiled. “Just move two extra chairs to our table, please.”
The table was more than a little cramped. Applejack's doppelganger kept elbowing her in the side, and Twilight number one had to levitate her plate in front of herself because it wouldn't fit on the table.
Twilight One sighed, prodding at her steamed spinach. “I can fix this. I promise.”
Her Applejack glanced up at her. “I know you can, Twi. But didn't we agree not to talk about that tonight?”
Twilight Two took a sip of water. “That's right. We've been planning this night since long before this happened. Tonight is about us.”
One gave them a tired smile. “You're right.” She leaned across the table and gave her Applejack a peck on the lips. “I love you, Applejack.”
Applejack leaned forward and did the same for Two. “I love you too, sugarcube.”
She sat back in her chair, taking a short glance around the room. Everypony in the restaurant was trying very hard not to look like they were staring. She chuckled. “It's like they never seen a princess an' a farmer double-datin' with clones of 'emselves before!”
Twilight One clapped a hoof over her muzzle and snorted. Their table broke into loud guffaws.
The other Applejack slapped her knee. “Hay,” she said, “I ain't never considered a foursome!”
“Applejack!” Two swatted her with her wing.
Applejack wiped a tear from her eye, and raised her glass. “Happy anniversary,” she said.
The other three clinked their glasses. “Happy anniversary,” they agreed.
((Prompt: Ship exactly five of the Mane Six together in a single relationship.))
“It's your eyes, darling.” Rarity leaned forward, her eyelids at half-mast as she stared across the table. “They're such a lovely, deep turquoise. I could get lost in those eyes.”
She sat at a table for five in the Chateau d'Celeste, Ponyville's finest Prench restaurant. It was widely known as a popular setting for romantic dates, and the lighting, the low-key music and atmosphere reflected this.
Twilight took a sip of her wine and grinned. “I know I have.”
Fluttershy shrank in her chair, blushing. “I-I like your eyes, too,” she said. A cautious smile formed on her lips. “They're very... nice.”
Pinkie Pie nodded her head vigorously. “Rarity's eyes are super-nice,” she agreed. “They remind me of two blue-raspberry jawbreakers!”
“This coming from the mare who earlier described my coat color as that of a marshmallow,” Rarity remarked. “I do hope our food arrives soon, or else Pinkie is liable to eat me!”
Pinkie grinned lasciviously and waggled her eyebrows in response.
The table rattled as Rainbow Dash arrived, panting. “You guys, we need to get out of here, now!”
Rarity lit her horn and tucked a lock of Rainbow's mane back into place behind her ear. “We are not going anywhere, darling, no matter how bored you are. Do you realize how hard reservations are to come by in this place? It's a good thing Twilight is royalty, or we would never have gotten in!”
Rainbow shook her head, dislodging the lock of mane again. “You don't understand. It's a code orange, you guys! I spotted Applejack in the bathroom!”
“Applejack?” Fluttershy repeated, her eyes widening.
“That's what I said.” Rainbow Dash nodded. “Now, come on. We need to get out before she sees—”
“Well, hug my haunches an' call me a horse! Howdy, y'all!” Rarity, Rainbow, Twilight, Fluttershy and Pinkie all sank a bit in their seats as Applejack sauntered up to their table, a wide, open grin on her face.
“Applejack, darling!” Rarity put on a nervous smile. “What... what a surprise to see you, here, of all places!”
Applejack tipped her hat. “I could say the same for y'all. What brings ya out here, all dressed up to the nines?”
Rainbow's eyes darted around the room. “Well, um, we were...”
“We were playing dress-up,” supplied Twilight.
“Yeah, dress-up,” Rainbow said, rubbing the back of her neck, “because that's a cool and totally not-lame thing to be doing.”
“But then we were just famished from all the dressing,” said Rarity.
“Really hungry,” Rainbow concurred. “So hungry, that we couldn't take the time to change out of all the fancy dresses.”
“So here we are,” said Twilight, her lips stretched into a rictus. “To get food. Because we're hungry.”
“And we're definitely not here because we're in a five-way relationship that we've never told you about because it would be really, really awkward to explain why you're not a part of it!” Pinkie nodded. The other four buried their faces in their hooves.
“I see.” Applejack's eyes passed between her friends. “So... at what point durin' all this 'dress-up' did Rarity get that hickey she's got there?”
Rarity shrieked, picking up a spoon to use as a mirror. “I thought I covered that up!” She quickly tied together several napkins into a makeshift scarf. “Why did none of you tell me it was still visible??”
Pinkie shrugged. “I thought it looked cute!”
Applejack tapped her hoof on the floor. “Is there maybe somethin y'all ain't tellin' me? Maybe somethin' along the lines of exactly what Pinkie said this ain't?”
Everypony's ears flattened guiltily. Twilight sighed. “We're sorry, Applejack. We weren't going to hide it from you forever.”
Rainbow raised her brows. “We weren't?”
Rarity kicked her under the table. “Ahem. You remember that one cruise, dear? The one you couldn't make it to because of your duties on the farm?”
“Well,” Twilight said, “while the five of us were there, we...”
“We had an orgy!” cheered Pinkie.
“We... discovered special, intimate feelings for one another,” Rarity rephrased, shooting a look at Pinkie.
“We really debated whether we should, erm...” Twilight coughed into her hoof, “'invite' you, but... what happened on that cruise was kind of a special moment for us, and it wouldn't be fair to expect you to understand what it meant for us.”
Fluttershy lowered her eyes. “We're sorry.”
Applejack studied the five of them. “So... y'all have been together since that cruise.” They nodded. “And I reckon y'all figured I would feel left out, so ya hid it from me.”
All five shared guilty looks with one another.
Applejack chuckled brightly. “Well shucks! That's awful considerate of ya, but y'all didn't need to be worried about me!”
Twilight raised her eyebrows. “What... what do you mean, Applejack?”
The farm mare grinned wide. “I reckon I ain't been entirely truthful, neither. See, I didn't have no farm-work to do when I said I couldn't come on that cruise. Truth is, I was seein' somepony. Hay, I'm here with her now!” She turned and waved her hoof. “Hey, Lulu!” she called. “Come an' say hi!”
The five mares' jaws collectively dropped as Princess Luna stood up from a booth in the corner and strode over to Applejack's side. She smiled for them. “Thou all make a very charming herd,” she said.
Applejack put a hoof at Luna's back. “Y'all, honeybunch. It's pronounced, y'all.”
Luna nodded at Applejack. “Ah yes, thank you, lover.” She turned back towards them. “Tis good to see y-all again.”
((Prompt: Write a story based on, structured around, or inspired by one of the following: The sound of this, the sight of this, the smell of freshly cut grass, the taste of sour milk, or the touch of a feather against skin.))
Y'know, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately.
Aw, don't look so surprised. That's right hurtful, it is. I think about things all the time, sugarcube. I think about trees; what they must feel. No sight, no senses, just knowin' that they gotta grow, reach for that sunlight they can't see. Do they know how warm it is? Do they wanna shiver when fall comes around? I think about kin, wonder just how many layers of cousins an' uncles it takes before two ponies ain't really family no more. Can you call a cousin three times removed still related to ya? Do you invite 'em to Hearth's Warming dinner?
Ah, but these days, I've mostly been thinkin' about honesty. What's that mean, 'honesty?' When you're honest, you ain't lying, so is an honest pony somepony who never lies?
Ain't no such thing. Everypony tells lies. I reckon you've told a lie to somepony just this morning, and it was such a little, inconsequential thing you don't even remember it. Tell a little filly they look taller than they did the last time you saw them. Smile an' wave at somepony you didn't really wanna see today. Spot somepony who's a little overdue to return their book, an' don't say anything 'cause you don't wanna make a fuss over a couple cents fine.
It's part of the equine condition. You can't get through life without tellin' lies. The pony that claims she can is the biggest liar of 'em all.
Which is why I find it funny, I guess, that y'all think I can't lie. 'Shucks, if Applejack says it, it must be the truth! I seen her try to lie, an' her face gets all scrunched up like she swallowed a bug!' I wonder if you would be so trustin' of me if it weren't for that fancy jewel around my neck?
But hay, maybe honesty comes in degrees. Maybe there ain't such a thing as a pony who never lies, but there's one that don't do it real often. I bet there's somepony out there that's only ever told a hoofful of lies in their life. That ain't bad, right?
'Cept, if they only got a few lies to tell, then they gotta be real important ones. Don't you ever trust a pony that'll only lie once, 'cause that one lie's gonna be all the bigger for it. That's a lie that takes lives, it is. It's a lie that'll hit you where you ain't lookin' and leave you bleedin' and forgotten.
They call me honest, though, so it must mean somethin'. Maybe it ain't in the lies a pony tells, but what she makes of 'em. I can tell you I don't like lyin', so maybe that's got somethin' to do with it. Every time I say somethin' I know ain't true, I get a funny taste in my mouth, like I just got a mouthful of somethin' rotten. Maybe that's honesty.
But then, that don't necessarily make me no guardian of truth or whatnot. Just means I don't like funny tastes.
The truth is—and there's a bit of irony here—that honesty's one big lie. You can be honest from moment to moment, but to say somepony's inherently honest, that she'll always be worth trustin' no matter what... yer makin' her a liar by doin' that. Yer strappin' daggers to her hooves, then askin' her to catch ya. Then lookin' mighty surprised when ya get stabbed.
I dunno. I ain't got it all quite worked out for myself. I just thought I'd give ya somethin' to think about while you're down here. You'll have plenty of time for it. Don't you worry none, these cocoons are nice an' cozy. You'll be plenty comfortable.
Green light flashes, and her rural accent gives way to that of an eager young princess, fresh from her friendship studies.
And I'll take good care of things in Canterlot for you...
((Prompt: The Cutie Mark switch only changed how they saw themselves for a while, but it changed how they saw each other forever.))
Her chores done for the day, Applejack found herself a nice comfortable seat beneath a shady apple tree. It wouldn't be long before it was time for dinner, but she could catch a moment's rest, at least. She tipped her hat forward to cover her eyes and leaned back, sighing in relief as the bark scratched against her sore back. Little moments like this made the whole day worthwhile, leaning against one of her favorite trees satisfied with a job well done.
“Applejack! I need you to marry me!”
Applejack tipped her hat back, blinking. Pinkie Pie stood before her, earnestness in her eyes. A little impatient tremor ran from her ears to her hooves and back again.
“I, uh... beg your pardon?”
Pinkie hopped from one hoof to the other. “You're right, I should have brought a ring. You're supposed to have a ring for this. I've always wondered about that... where are earth ponies like us supposed to put the ring? It's not like it'd fit on your hoof, unless you have really tiny hooves.”
Applejack sighed. “Pinkie...”
“But if we can figure the rings out, Rarity can make the dresses. Oh!” She gasped and clapped her hooves. “And Twilight's a princess now, she can totally perform the ceremony!”
“Pinkie, I think you're missin' a step,” said Applejack, shaking her head.
Pinkie bounced. “You're right! We need to plan the bachelorette parties! Should we have two of them, because there's two of us, or could we fold them together into a mega-bachelorette party?”
“Pinkie!” Applejack covered Pinkie's mouth with her hoof. It was only mildly effective in halting the stream of babble. “How about you back up and tell me why it is you suddenly decided you wanna marry me?”
Pinkie momentarily stilled her bouncing. “Okay. You remember when our cutie marks got switched around, right?”
Applejack nodded. She was still finding needles and mismatched scraps of cloth in her saddlebags.
“I had your cutie mark, so I was here, doing chores and being really bad at farming.” Pinkie raised her hoof to halt a denial before Applejack could voice it. “I was. It was awful. Farming is really hard work, fixing things and planting things and watering things, and there's never any time for fun, and it's really, really boring!”
Applejack flexed her jaw. “So far I ain't hearin' a real strong argument in favor of gettin' hitched, sugarcube.”
“But the work wasn't the only thing,” said Pinkie. “While I had your cutie mark, I was an Apple. And, well... I already knew before that Apple Bloom and Big Mac and Granny Smith were super awesome ponies, but getting to spend time with them as a family was just a whole other thing! Apple Bloom is really adorable, and she's really clever for her age. Big Mac doesn't talk much, but he works hard and is real nice. And then Granny Smith is pretty much the most fantastic lady in the history of ever!”
Applejack chuckled. “That she is.”
Pinkie grinned. “Coming home to all of them at the end of the day is totally worth all the hard work and the boringness and the stubbing my hoof on that drainage pipe over and over again. And when I got my own cutie mark back, well of course I was happy, because I get to be fun and make everypony smile again, but I was maybe just a little bit disappointed that I wasn't an Apple anymore.”
Applejack nodded. “I think I see where you're goin' with this...”
“I can't ask you to give me your cutie mark back, because one, you're using it, and two, I don't think you can do that,” Pinkie said. “So I thought to myself, 'Pinkie, how can you be an Apple without taking Applejack's cutie mark?'”
“An' marriage was naturally what ya came up with,” Applejack said, tapping her hoof on her knee.
Pinkie began bouncing again. “Apple Bloom's too young, Big Mac is busy, and let's face it, I don't have a chance with Granny Smith; she's way out of my league. So I need you to marry me, so I can be an Apple and spend time with your awesome family again!”
Applejack took a deep breath. “Well, I reckon I've heard of worse reasons to wanna tie the knot. But maybe you oughta slow down a bit. If you want, maybe a date or two would be a nice start, an' then we can see how we feel from there.” Her ear flicked as she heard Granny Smith ring the dinner bell. A smile spread across her lips. “An' in the meantime, ya don't need to marry nopony to spend time around here. Would ya like to stay for dinner, sweetheart?”
((Prompt: This great evil. Where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light? Mocking us with the sight of what we might have known?
Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow and the sun to shine?
Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?))
There is a beast that walks among us.
We cannot see her, but she sees us every day. She looks upon us with hungry, greedy eyes. Patient. Waiting. She stalks between us, a great predator, and we are her prey. Can she taste our fear? Does she see us shiver?
We cannot hear her, but she speaks to us every day. She whispers to us, tells us to grow till we are plump and juicy. She grins and tells us how sweet we taste, how good it smells when our flesh is roasted on a stove. If we could answer, what would we say? Would we beg her to leave us alone?
We think ourselves safe here, free of the dark forest that darkens the sky and chokes the life from us. We stand together in the sun and are given cool, fresh water, and life is kind to us. But the beast yet walks among us.
It is she who brings us that water. She who nurses our ill ones to health. She who cuts back the dark forest and guarantees our nourishment. She stood by us when we were small, grooming us, shaping us so we could grow tall and strong.
Surely these are the actions of a hero, not a beast. But a beast she is. All of the care she shows serves her designs for us. She weaves purposes for us we could never begin to understand.
But we understand that she is a beast.
Every year, when the chill of autumn begins to settle on the land, that is when she comes for us. Perhaps the cooler weather chills her heart, for the gentle caress of her hooves turn to brutal blows. She strikes us, one by one, with all the might of Tartarus behind her legs. But that is not all she does.
She takes our children away. She beats us, and wrenches them from our grasp. She makes off with carts piled high with our young. Where she takes them, and what she does with them, we never know, for none ever return to tell the tale.
The beast lives by the blood of our children. They are as fruit to her, sweet, succulent morsels and nothing more. We would weep if we could. We would wail in grief if we could. But we cannot. We can but stand in solemn silence as winter's frost takes us.
We do what we always do. We weather the assault. We pour sap over our wounds and live on, praying that autumn will never come. There is naught else we can do. We are but trees, and she is the beast. She is the master.
((Prompt: Write a story where the very first line and the very last line of the story are both chosen from the following list:
"I knew you hadn’t changed, Discord, not really." "And that’s how my trip to Manehattan went!" "Oh, did you think that would stop the Great and Powerful Trixie?" "Elementary, my dear Twilight!" "Up, up! It’s time to get up, Rainbow Dash!" "You know, things would have gone a lot better if you’d told me this before."))
“Y'know, things would've gone a lot better if you'd told me this before, hon.” Applejack ducked as a broken chair leg whipped past her head. Its wielder, a freckled little red filly no older than Apple Bloom, issued a ferocious war cry and charged forward, batting at Applejack's knees.
Babs Seed headbutted the filly in the side, sending her tumbling away. “What was I s'posed to write, huh? 'Dear cous', I accidentally started a gang war, please bring your war-hero friends?'”
“We ain't war-heroes!” Applejack sidestepped as a pie splattered on the ground next to her. “How's a filly like you start a gang war, anyway?”
A scrawny pegasus colt tackled Babs, biting at her ear. “The Cutie Mark Crusaders thing,” she grunted, fending off the assault. She plucked a feather out of his wing and tickled the bottoms of his hooves until he rolled off, giggling. “We were just s'posed to be a club, y'know, but it sorta turned into a gang.”
“It sorta turned into one?” Applejack repeated incredulously. “How's that even happen?”
Babs Seed shrugged. “That's the way things work around here, cous'. You got a group of ponies hangin' around doin' the same things, pretty soon they're a gang. That's how the 23rd Street Bowlers started.”
The red filly returned, howling with rage. Applejack hesitated to really fight back against a filly less than half her size... until she started biting. “That's it,” she said, “time out for you.” Applejack picked up her rope, dodged the filly's berserk charge, and lassoed her, hoisting the rope over a street lamp to suspend her above the fray.
“Nice job,” Babs said, picking up an empty pie tin and scraping mud into it. She heaved the projectile into the mass of warring fillies and colts around them, grinning as she heard it hit home on somepony's face with a wet splat. “See, I guess the Flankers didn't much like us comin' in with all our talk 'bout crusadin' for cutie marks. Blank-flanks was their turf, they said. They didn't want us musclin' in.”
Applejack rubbed her jaw. There was going to be a bruise there in the morning. “So wait. Y'all're warrin' over who gets to be the—” She was interrupted as an orange smacked her in the face. The peel ruptured, squirting juice all over her cheek and muzzle and soaking the brim of her hat. “All right, which one of y'all threw that?” she shouted.
Babs picked up a billy-club that had tumbled to the ground before them. “Well, I mean, we tried to talk it out, we really did. But, y'know, tempers flared, some ponies said a few things they shouldn't've...” She slung the club over her back. “So here we are.”
Applejack sighed. “Ain't there any way to stop this all before somepony gets hurt?”
Babs shook her head. “Not that I can think of. Not unless...”
A shriek rose from the middle of the melee. “I got a cutie mark!”
The fillies and colts suddenly stopped. All eyes in the street turned towards a young peach-maned filly who gasped in delight as she stared at her flank. A few magic sparkles remained in the air as three orange slices appeared there.
Regardless of their gang affiliation, all the fillies and colts in the area immediately crowded around her, chattering excitedly.
“Lemme see! I wanna see!”
“Oh wow, that's such a neat one! I hope I get a cutie mark like that!”
The red filly, still hanging from the street lamp, cheered. “Way to go, Marmalade!” Applejack could not reconcile the sweet voice she used now with the vicious snarls she had been issuing just moments ago.
“What were you doing when you got it?” somepony asked.
The newly marked filly smiled. “I don't know. I was just throwing oranges, when suddenly it happened!”
“Ooh, an orange-throwing cutie mark! Cool!”
“So, uh... that's about the point I got arrested for attackin' a minor.” Applejack rubbed the back of her neck, grinning sheepishly. Twilight and the gang sat before her, blinking. “Anyway, that's how my trip to Manehattan went.”
Though the barn was crowded with most of Ponyville's survivors and had a fire lit to keep them warm, frost still laced the hay at Apple Bloom's hooves. An icy sheen glinted in her eyes as she snarled, causing the refugees to back away from her in fear.
Sweetie Belle's lip trembled. “A-Apple Bloom? What's wrong with you?”
Apple Bloom rounded on her, hateful flecks of spittle on her lips. “I'll tell ya what's wrong with me. My only two friends are a useless pegasus with a sad, sick crush on a pony twice her age, and a unicorn filly who's too dumb ta spell her own name!”
Sweetie gave a tearful squeak and buried her face into Scootaloo's wing. “Hey!” Scootaloo shouted. “Sweetie's not dumb!”
Apple Bloom snorted derisively. “Maybe not compared to you!”
Worried murmurs traveled through the crowd. The word 'curse' hung in the air like a specter. The survivors had seen ponies break down into fits of rage like this before, many times since the return of the Long Winter, and it usually preceded deadly snows and chilling whinnies on the wind.
“Somepony quiet her down before she brings the windigos down on us!” shouted a fearful townspony.
“I hope I do,” shouted Apple Bloom. “I hope y'all freeze to death!”
Applejack put a hoof on her sister's shoulders, wincing as she noticed they felt like ice. “That's enough, Apple Bloom. Let's hush up.”
Apple Bloom batted her hoof away. “No! No, it ain't enough! You can't make me stop, sis! Yer jus' like the rest of 'em, hidin' in here like that makes us any safer.” She turned to holler at the rest of the barn. “Buncha cowards!”
Roseluck shrieked. “Get her out of here! Quick, before she gets us all killed!”
Applejack narrowed her eyes. “Nopony's takin' her anywhere. Twi, what the hay are ya doin'?”
Twilight Sparkle had glowing magic charged in her horn. “I'm sorry, Applejack,” she said. “You've seen what happens. Your sister clearly has the curse, and it's just a matter of time before the windigos come. We need to get her away from the rest of us if we're going to survive.”
Applejack wrapped her hooves tightly around Apple Bloom. “She ain't. Goin'. Nowhere.”
Apple Bloom squirmed in her grasp. “Quit actin' like you care, sis! Go on an' do as yer fearless leader says. You always do!”
Twilight frowned. “Applejack, let her go. If you're holding her like that, my spell will teleport you along with her.”
Applejack leveled a steely glare at Twilight. “I know.”
Rarity chewed on her hoof. “Applejack, please! Twilight knows what she's doing! If there was any other way, she would do it!”
Applejack simply hugged her hissing, snarling sister tighter.
A tear formed on Twilight's cheek. “I'm sorry, Applejack.”
A flash of light. Icy cold.
Applejack held on tight to her sister. The teleportation spell had melted a hole in a snowbank a few hundred yards outside of the barn. Already the blizzard was quickly refilling the gap. To the left, only the peaks of the tallest buildings in Ponyville stood above the snow. To the right, the Everfree forest was strangely untouched by the unnatural winter, but whatever fools had fled there had found a fate far worse than freezing to death. Wind whipped the snow into crystal needles that stung Applejack's face as they whizzed by.
Apple Bloom felt like a living ice-sculpture, still pushing spitefully against her chest, repeating, “I hate you, I hate you,” in tune with the rising and falling pitch of the wind.
Applejack felt a tear freeze to her cheek. “I love you too, sis.” She kissed her sister's forehead, her lips sticking like she had kissed a frozen pole.
The snow was suddenly lit up in a blue glow. Applejack turned to see a long, translucent equine face, regarding her with passionless indifference. The windigo stood a few feet above them as though the air were solid ground. The back half of it faded into the icy miasma of the blizzard.
Apple Bloom stopped her litany and looked up at the windigo. Her eyes locked with its, and the frosty gleam that had filled them slowly drained away. The filly went slack, and became warm once more in Applejack's hooves.
“S-sis?” she murmured into Applejack's chest. “What...”
“Shh,” said Applejack, staring up at the ancient spirit.
The windigo uttered a piercing whinny and galloped off into the wind, peppering the two of them with a spray of snow. The winds swirled around the creature as it closed in with savage speed on the barn.
((Prompt: Choose one or more of the following: A visit from an old friend, overcoming a fear, a slumber party, changing the seasons, cutie mark stories, a wedding.
Special rule: Your story must be set in the time period in between the founding of Equestria and the rise of Discord.))
I never got visitors on the first day of winter. It wasn't like I was a hermit or anything, just that my house was way out in the fields, and nopony wanted to trudge through all that snow just to have a chat. They'd wait for a couple days, til I could shovel a path.
So when I heard a hoof knock at my door, I assumed the worst. Pudding had been hurt, or the common house in town was on fire, or, the one fear I could never shake every time the snowclouds took root in the sky, the windigos had come back. I was breathless and a little out of sorts when I pulled my door open and saw her.
“C-Clover?” I stammered.
Her smile was as tired as her eyes were. Looking at the lines on her face, I couldn't help but think the years had been almost as rough on her as they had on me. “Cookie,” she replied. “Do you mind if I come in?”
I shook my head and stepped aside. She bowed her head, both in respect, and to keep from bumping her horn on the door frame. Most of the places in town had been built with a more universal architecture in mind, but I had built my farmhouse the way my father had taught me, so there were little details here and there that only made sense if you were an earth pony.
She hung her cloak on the rack while I hustled over to the stove to set some tea to boil. “Is everything all right?” I asked her from the kitchen.
“The common house is burning down,” she replied. “I lit it on fire myself.”
It took me half a moment and a glance at her wry smirk to realize she was joking. “Aha. Politics buggin' ya, then?” I carried a pair of steaming mugs into the sitting room, passing one to her.
Her horn lit up, stirring some sugar into her tea with a spoon. “Sometimes I wonder why I ever let myself get involved.”
I gave her a warm smile. “'Cause you know those blockheads'd run us right into the ground without ya.”
She smiled briefly, then was quiet for a while, sipping her tea. “We almost lost it all, that first spring.”
I felt a little chill travel up my spine as I nodded. We'd done the impossible, pulling together when it seemed like there was no hope. But the pony tribes hadn't been used to actually working together on anything. There'd been floods as the unicorns raised the sun too quickly, there'd been a lot of angry shouting over where the pegasi should move their clouds, and it'd quite nearly come to blows when the earth ponies had plowed all the snow from their fields into Princess Platinum's gem quarry. The fragile peace we had bought in that icy cave had seemed destined to fail.
“But we didn't,” I said, taking a sip from my mug. “We pulled through, together.”
Clover stared into her tea. Slowly, she nodded. “We did.” She took another long sip.
We both nearly jumped when another hoof knocked at the door. I set my tea down and got up to answer.
Pansy shivered in the doorway. Ice clung to her wings and hung in chunks from her armor. She blinked in surprise as she spotted Clover inside. “O-oh, I'm sorry. I d-didn't know y-you had c-company. I-I'll j-just go—” She yelped as I grabbed her by the collar of her armor and dragged her inside.
“Pansy, what happened?” Clover stood up.
“N-nothing,” the pegasus replied. “I-I was just on snow duty over the lake w-when I accidentally f-fell in.” She took off her helmet and chipped the ice off of it. “If I can j-just dry my wings, I can make it back to the barracks. Sorry to be a bother.”
“You ain't a bother at all,” I said, fetching her a warm wool blanket. “Yer welcome to stay as long as you want, hon.”
“Th-thank you.” Pansy smiled gratefully as Clover helped her out of her frozen breastplate and draped the blanket over her shoulders.
I poured a third cup of tea from the kettle. “Say, how's that song go? The one we sang in the cave?”
On occasion, I got visitors on the first day of winter. Those were the warmest and coziest of winters.
“No, I'm gonna beat you in a race. There's a difference.”
“Oh please! I'll run it twice before you even get to the halfway point! It won't even be fun!”
“I ain't talkin' 'bout no fluffy cloud-course. I'm talkin' a real race. I'm talkin' Mustang Run.”
“It doesn't matter if we're running to the moon! There's no way you're beating me!”
“We'll just see about that.”
“Yeah, we will.”
Time Turner's ears both flicked as two mares shouted his name simultaneously. The orange farm-pony and the blue weather captain were both well-known around town, but he was terrible at remembering names. It seemed like they were always changing on him. He raised his head. “Uh, yes?”
The pegasus puffed out her chest. “We need you to time our race so my awesome victory can be recorded for posterity.”
The orange one rolled her eyes. “What she means is, we need you to keep time an' make sure she ain't cheatin'.”
Time Turner nodded slowly. “Oh. Okay, I guess I can manage that. Um, when were you planning on starting?”
The orange pony grinned. “Right now!” She spun around and darted off down the road.
The blue one sputtered on the dust that had been kicked up. “What—hey!” She shot off after her. “And I'm the one you're worried about cheating?” Whoops and laughter echoed through the air as the two disappeared into the distance.
“Oh dear,” Time Turner muttered. He dug into his chest of supplies. Hopefully those two wouldn't mind it if he fudged the time just a little. They hadn't given him any time to prepare, so he would just add thirty seconds or so to account for the time it would take to find his stopwatch.
With a loud thump, he hit his head on the lid of his chest. “Ow!” He rubbed the back of his head and looked up to see a grey pegasus with very distinctive eyes. “Ah, Miss... ahm... Dinky-Doof?”
She shook her head, smiling. “It's Derpy Hooves.”
“Of course, sorry,” Time Turner apologized. “I'm terrible with names.” His brows furrowed. “Has it... always been that?”
Derpy blinked. “As long as I can remember. Why?”
The timekeeper waved his hooves. “No reason. What can I do for you, Miss Derpy?”
She pulled out a mangled heap of what had once been a wall clock. “I don't know what went wrong,” she said. “It was all safe and secure on the wall one minute, but then I bumped it and it came crashing down!”
Time Turner gave her an understanding smile. “Gravity sometimes does that. Have no worries, Miss Derpy, it shouldn't take me very long to have this in working order again.”
Time Turner heard a twin pair of thumps on the ground behind him as he handed off the finished clock to Derpy. He turned curiously to see the farmer and the weatherpony collapsed on the ground, panting.
The blue one raised a hoof in the air. “Ha, I win,” she breathed.
The orange one poked her in the ribs. “No ya didn't. I had you by a pace and a half at the finish.”
“You... did not.” The pegasus's chest heaved. “I was like, a whole mile ahead of you! I could've walked the whole last stretch and you still wouldn't have caught me!”
“I reckon you were walkin', considerin' how bad I beat ya.”
Both mares looked up at Time Turner. “Which one of us won?” asked the orange one.
“Tell her how much I beat her by,” demanded the blue.
Time winced. “Oops. I'm sorry, girls. I got distracted, and forgot to start my stopwatch.” He grinned weakly. “But, uh, if it means anything, it seems like you were both very fast?”
(There were other images to choose from, but for obvious reasons, I picked the one with Applejack in it.) ))
Tally Ho knew it was bad form to stroke his mustache overmuch. A little once in a while lent him an air of thoughtfulness, but too much stroking made him look like he had a compulsion. The framed print before him, however, had him stroking his mustache til he wore it nearly down to a bare lip. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. It was a divine experience, looking upon this piece. He felt as though he had not been a complete pony before his eyes fell upon it. Why, he nearly dropped his monocle!
“Ennui,” he said, beckoning to his companion. “Ennui, my dear, come look. You simply must see this!”
Ennui gave him a small, tired sigh, brushing a black forelock out of her eyes. “What is it zis time, Tally? Another basket of fruit, hm?”
Tally placed a hoof at her back and gestured to the photograph. “Look, love.”
Her eyes widened ever so slightly, and a soft gasp was drawn from her. “Oh my...”
“Indeed.” Tally nodded sharply. “I've never seen its like before.”
Ennui reached her hoof out, stopping short of actually touching the piece out of reverence. “Ze lighting... Ze raw, melancholic emotion!”
“Look at her expression,” Tally said. “You can truly feel her existential struggle to define herself in an increasingly consumeristic world.”
“Her eyes,” Ennui said, staring at the picture. “Zey reflect ze plight of ze working-class pony as she faces a future of uncertainty.”
“Whoever took this is a master,” said Tally. “I must meet them!”
A voice rose behind the two patrons. “Zen you are fortunate, for I, Photo Finish, am here.”
Tally Ho and Ennui turned around to see the strangely-dressed photographer striking a dramatic pose. Beside her, an orange pony fidgeted with the hem of her dress. “Can't believe Rarity talked me into goin' to this thing,” she grumbled to herself. “Wouldn't even let me wear my hat!”
Ennui gasped. “Is zat ze model?”
Photo Finish nodded curtly. “Zis is Applezach,” she said, pushing Applejack forward. “You may look and ask questions, but you may not touch.”
Tally dipped his head low. “Miss, it is an absolute honor! Your pose is so rugged and natural, you must tell me what your method is.”
Applejack blinked. “My... method?”
Ennui crowded her companion out of the way. “Miss, if I might ask. Your expression in ze piece... so contemplative, yet tempered with a touch of uncertainty and, dare I name it, fear. What thoughts were going through your head when zis moment was captured? I must know.”
Applejack coughed into her hoof. “Well, ya see...”
Applejack whistled as she strode through the last field between Sweet Apple Acres and Ponyville. She was due at Carousel Boutique at two o'clock, and she aimed to arrive a little early. Though not too early; last time she had shown up at the Boutique before she was due, she had learned a little too much about Rarity's activities with Fluttershy after their weekly spa dates.
Then again, privately, she could admit a part of her could stand to know a little more about what went on with those two. 'Test-fitting for a client,' Rarity had hastily explained, but that blush on her cheeks told a different story...
Applejack's ear flicked as she heard a noise behind her. “Is somepony there?” she asked, turning to see.
She was blinded by a bright flash.
“I, Photo Finish, have just captured ze perfect image!”
“Uh...” Applejack rubbed the back of her neck. “Pretty much what y'all were sayin'. 'Bout workin', an' the future existin', that sorta stuff. Yep.”
((Prompt: What fires stir in this lonely hearth?))
Winters were always tough out at the farm. The farmhouse was cold and drafty, and the roof always creaked and groaned under the snow. All the trees were silent and stripped of their leaves, lying dormant until Winter Wrap-Up brought the sun out again. A trip into town meant trudging through the cold wet drifts the whole way down the old country road that led out of Ponyville. They had to be careful about using too much firewood, or else make a dangerous trek into the Everfree to collect more, and they had to be more careful still with the food they'd saved, lest they run out before spring came.
But despite its perils, the Apple family loved winter, because those long nights were when Granny Smith always shared her stories. The lot of them would pile in close together, sharing blankets or scooting close to the fire. Warm apple cider would be passed around the room as Granny rested in her rocking chair, eyes half closed as she recounted everything from myths to folk tales to fairy tales to anecdotes from her own long and interesting life.
“Gather 'round, younguns,” she said, and her grandchildren knew it was time to listen.
Three pairs of eyes turned to their elder, expectation flickering alongside the wood stove's glow.
“I reckon y'all know the story of Hearth's Warmin',” she said, leaning forward in her chair.
“'Course we do, Granny,” said Applejack. “I played Smart Cookie in last year's play, remember?”
Granny Smith nodded. “That you did, hon. That you did.” She leaned back into her chair and built a slow rhythm. “But did you know that there was a pony who got left behind when the unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies set out for Equestria?”
Apple Bloom blinked. “You mean they forgot somepony, Granny?”
Granny Smith shook her head. “If anypony got forgotten about, I don't reckon there'd be a story about them. No, this pony meant to stay behind.”
Single Hoof was what ponies called him. Some ponies think he was a unicorn. Others say he was a pegasus. Still others think he was an earth pony, and there's a few out there who'll tell you he was all three. The truth is, it doesn't matter what he was. He was a pony, one who gets cold and hungry just like any of us.
Anyway, while all the others couldn't make heads or tails of all the snow that was making life miserable for everypony, Single Hoof knew right away what was going on. He knew about the Windigos, and he knew that if the pony tribes kept bickering, they'd all turn into pony popsicles.
When the pony tribes started moving out, he could see that they were all still bitter at each other, and he knew the Windigos would keep following them so long as they kept fighting.
So he stayed behind. He figured he had a better chance of making it on his own than by following the tribes and getting frozen on the road somewhere or in some far-off land. Once the Windigos left to chase after the others, he could work on rebuilding where he was.
So he stayed in his home, and he waited. He kept his fire stoked and he waited. “Soon,” he told himself, “soon the winter will be gone and I'll rebuild.” So he waited.
And he waited.
And he waited...
His pile of firewood shrank by the day, but the Windigos' big blizzard clouds showed no sign of clearing. His cellar grew emptier and emptier, but the drifts of snow outside just kept getting bigger.
Finally the day came when he no longer had any wood to feed his fire. Winter still howled outside his home, but the coals in his hearth just sputtered and threatened to go out. Single Hoof realized he needed to go outside and gather more wood for himself. He pulled on his warmest cloak and boots and pushed his door against the freezing swirls of snow.
He didn't get more than a couple steps from his house before it came for him. The Windigo. Its eyes blazed like the light of the moon on a frozen lake. Standing next to the thing, Single Hoof's jacket may as well have been a sheet of rainwater, because the wind whipped through it like it wasn't even there.
“Why are you here?” he cried. “There is nopony for me to argue with. Nopony for me to fight with. I have nopony to hate!”
The Windigo let out a whinny that would chill your bones just to hear. It reached out one long, icy hoof and tapped Single Hoof on the chest, right above his heart. In a snap, he froze to solid ice. They say he's still like that, out there somewhere, a frosted statue of a pony.
“The lesson,” Granny Smith finished, “is that it ain't lack of hate that drives the monsters away. It's lack of love that draws them in.”
Wide-eyed, the Apples held each other just a little closer. Big Mac passed a piece of wood to Applejack, who put it in the fire.
They all eventually fell asleep, piled together in front of the hearth. No Windigos came for them that night.
Bonus #2: Big Mac and Sombra Debate Philosophy [Slice of Life]
Big Mac's day had started like any other. He'd risen with the sun, had his oats and coffee alongside his sister—with minimal conversation, of course, because it was early and neither of them felt very chatty—and headed out the door to work the fields. There was a certain stability and rhythm to farm life that Macintosh felt he quite enjoyed.
Unfortunately, this was farm life in Ponyville, so the stability and rhythm parts of the equasion flew right out the window. Just as he was getting ready to hook himself into the plow, a magical accident involving an ancient chalice, Lyra and Bon Bon's anniversary, and something the Cutie Mark Crusaders wouldn't end up actually doing until ten years later tore open a hole in space time, throwing the stallion into another dimension.
That was about the point Big Mac realized it would be one of those days. He sighed. “Eeyup...”
Once everything stopped spinning, Big Mac pushed himself to his hooves. He wasn't quite sure what he was standing on, since it felt solid, but he couldn't see anything below his hooves. Whatever it was, a twisted chunk of the plow and a heap of dirt and grass also stood on it, no doubt having fallen through... whatever that was, with him.
Macintosh looked up, and couldn't deny that what he saw was impressive. Thousands upon thousands of colored crystals floated in the... what he was going to call the air, for the sake of his sanity... above him. Light from an unseen source reflected and refracted off of uncountable facets, showering Macintosh with a dazzling light show in every color he had ever seen, and a few he hadn't.
Big Mac nodded. “Eeyup.” He blinked, then jumped with a start as he realized the first voice had not been his own. He turned to see a black mist slowly shape itself into the form of a unicorn with a curved red horn.
King Sombra eyed Big Mac curiously. “Slave?” he hissed.
Macintosh fiddled with his yoke. “N-nnope.” He shook his head.
Oddly, or at least oddly considering what Mac had heard from his sister about the tyrant of the Crystal Empire, Sombra merely shrugged. He lit his horn, and a few small crystals floated down from above, orbiting the dark unicorn. “Crystal slaves,” he declared, a fierce grin on his face.
Big Mac frowned. As one of the crystals floated past him, he took it in his hoof. Sombra's magic aura faded from it, the tyrant hardly noticing its loss as he made several other crystals march in formation before him. Macintosh let go of the crystal, and it rose up to join the dizzying display above them.
A thoughtful look creased Mac's brows. After a long time, he finally spoke. “Nnope.”
Sombra's eyes darted up. A snarl formed on his lips. “Crystal... slaves!” he bellowed. At once, a dozen sharp crystals, bathed in Sombra's aura, hovered threateningly in a ring around Macintosh.
“Nnope,” Mac repeated, this time with more conviction. He tapped one of the crystals, shaking it free of Sombra's grip. The crystal drifted lazily upwards to join the spinning crystalline galaxies.
Sombra stared as the light glistened on the vertices of the free-floating mineral. He looked at the crystals held by his magic, then back up at the whirling facets of color above. He blinked, slowly at first, then a few more times rapidly. With a grimace, he doused his horn. His 'crystal slaves' all floated upwards to dance in the sky. A look of wonder crossed the tyrant's face.
Hours later, after Twilight and the gang had finally managed to wrest control of the Song of Memory from the Dark Queen of Tears so that they could open a portal to the dimension Macintosh had been lost in, they found him sitting across from King Sombra, drawing things in the patch of dirt he'd brought with him.
“So what you're saying,” King Sombra said, staring wide-eyed at the dirt, “is if I have the courage to jump, the crystals will sparkle?”