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Doc Peace

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About Doc Peace

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    The Original
  • Birthday 05/05/1994

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    Doc Peace

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  1. Doc Peace

    Hello Everybody

    I could get Draayder to come back too I guess. Thanks for the warm welcome everybody.
  2. Doc Peace

    Create A Hero (Or Villian)!

    Name: Terragarig Gender: N/A Alignment: True Neutral (Villain) Universe: Marvel Powers: Plague, Famine, Disease, highly tough and resistant body. Weakness: Slow, does not think for itself (Not sentient), vulnerable to fire. Origin/Backstory:It is described as a horrific curse. A fleshy fungal mass from which spores fall and rot the ground they land on. In its wake nothing more is left than the putrid stench of dead plants, animals, and people. For people who witnessed it, but been blessed to be out of it's way, it is described as the stuff of nightmares. A shambling, rotting being surrounded in disgusting, pungent air so thick one could cut it with a knife. The ground on which it steps is left uninhabitable and barren. This being, known only as Terragairg, is considered by some to be little more than a myth, a fairy tale. In ancient times it was believed to be a vessel used by the Gods to curse the unjust or to spread plague when living was too easy. Fickle, the Gods were considered. Today, the rotting Avatar of Plague hobbles through the sewers of New York, out of sight and out of mind, forgotten by time. How it got there no one can claim to know. Some day, it may burst into the overworld and unleash its horrid plague upon Modern Man. Illustration/Appearance: Rough sketch of the head - The rest of the body would be something like a Quadrupedal Fungal Golem, some of which would be rotted or falling off and replaced over time.
  3. Doc Peace

    Super Smash Bros. 4 (Wii U And 3Ds)

    I'd be okay with PT using any gen's starters really. If they used gen 4 for some reason I'd never ever use the Chimchar form since that's the worst starter ever, but otherwise I'd be alright with it. One thing Sakurai has confirmed that made me happy is they are considering doing DLC, which is nice, and also that this game may see the return of Melee Style Airdodges and he's already confirmed L-Canceling is in again.
  4. Doc Peace

    Super Smash Bros. 4 (Wii U And 3Ds)

    I'm pretty hyped for Smash 4. It's already shaping up to be really good. Personally, I'd be okay with Mega Man to be featured alongside the other two 3rd parties from Brawl. I think it's silly to try and pretend like Sonic won't be in this if you take into account that exclusive deal Nintendo just signed with Sega. Snake may not be returning but he was a popular character in brawl so, we'll have to see. Also: Mega Man Mega Man Mega Man Mega Man, I cried a little bit when I saw he was confirmed. It's been more than a decade in the waiting and finally he's here.
  5. Doc Peace

    Hello Everybody

    Things are actually going really well with me, Nosoop, like I mentioned I'm going to university but it's summer break so I have time off for now. On the whole not much has changed since I left Nom but I'm a little older and a little wiser I suppose.
  6. Doc Peace

    Hello Everybody

    It's me, in the E-Flesh. It's nice to see everybody still doing well, I see the servers started back up a few days ago. How has Nom been since I left? It's certainly been a while, I figured since I'm on break from University right now I could drop in and maybe catch a few games with everybody.
  7. Doc Peace


    I'll be streaming some Banjo Tooie if anybody cares to watch.
  8. Doc Peace

    Happy Birthday Duke.

    Happy birthday Duke, I hope you have a good one.
  9. Doc Peace

    All Your Just Regulations

    A friend of mine and I have been writing a story on and off for a little while now and because I know some nommers are bronies at least to an extent I wanted to share what we've written so far. The story is very long so far, about 100 pages of text, so I would suggest reading it a few larts at a time rather than in one sitting. I wanted to post it here because thus far we've only posted it in one place and it's recieved well so far but we would like more people to read it and tell us how they feel. And so nommers, I present to you, our story. Please move this thread if needed and I will need to multipost as the forum does not allow me to post the entire story in one post. It was an average day in the small town of PonyVille. The sun rose to shine its bright cheerfulness upon the citizens of Equestria. As the birds chirped their morning songs by the window of Sugar Cube Corner, a certain little pink pony was just preparing to start the day. At the first millisecond of the birds’ chirping, Pinkie Pie ejected herself from her bed on the second floor of the building, already sporting a smile on her face as wide as a banana. “Oh goody!” she shouted to nopony in particular, “I can’t wait to help Mr. and Mrs. Cake bake some super-fantabulous yummies today!” Trotting down the stairs to greet her hospitable employers, she was greeted with a sight that could only be as captivating as it was to Pinkie alone. Before her, a 10-foot long table was placed, with a spread of countless pastries, breakfast items, and goodies. All of this was too much for one little pony to take in at once, but Pinkie had taken on a face you’d expect from someone who spoke to God Himself. Pinkie’s comically-long tongue darted out of her oral cavity to grasp a large cake in the middle of the table, but was halted mid-distance by the hoof of Mr. Cake. Mr. Cake wore a stern look on his face, unusual for the kindly father figure he was. “Now Pinkie,” he began, “this isn’t all for you, but the Misses and I did make sure to prepare your favorite: chocolate chip pancakes.” Pinkie’s face brimmed with the joy of a thousand angels. Before she could dart over to her beloved flapjacks, however, she was stopped once again by Mr. Cake. “Your parents, I’m sure you know, Pinkie, are going to be here soon. I hope you remembered that they’d be here to visit you. We’ve been planning this occasion for a few months now and-” “Ooh! Silly me! Of course my parents are coming to visit! I mean, doi! Silly me, right? Ahahahaha!” Pinkie rapidly blurted out a semblance of a response before being interrupted yet again. “Very well. Could you please go upstairs and get ready then? I’d like it if you made your morning trip to the bathroom before we begin breakfast. You remember the last time you didn’t go the bathroom before we ate?” “You mean that time when I was a little filly and had to leave school because the teacher left her coffee cup by my desk before she went outside to get some papers?” The pink pony asked, nostalgically. Mr. Cake, only half-following Pinkie’s rapid speech, replied, with a simple, “No, that time when Gummy ate that chocolate then got sick and…….uh….yeah, that time.” “I don’t remember anything about chocolate gummies. Why would you want gum and chocolate at the same time?” Pinkie questioned as she bounced upstairs. Pinkie began brushing her teeth (with her own teeth, which, mind you, is not easy to do), and giggled as she made comical facial expressions in the mirror. After swallowing the tooth paste, she rinsed her mouth with mouth wash, which she also swallowed. She didn’t give this common (for her) action a second thought, until her stomach began to ache, a reaction that Pinkie had never experienced under these circumstances. “Well, must be hungry.” she said to herself as she hummed her way back downstairs. ---------------------------------------------------- Breakfast with her folks was much more stoic than Pinkie had hoped it’d be. After leaving her home on her family’s rock farm shortly after acquiring her cutie mark and finding her calling in life, Pinkie had moved to PonyVille. With no formal education as a child, Pinkie was relegated to working at Sugar Cube Corner to help pay for her endless parties (not that she minded). Still, as a result, she had not seen her parents since then. Pinkie had patiently tried to postpone making the first comment, favoring the etiquette of allowing her parents to talk. However, after an agonizingly silent 2 minutes and 43 seconds, Pinkie had to speak up. “So, maybe after we’re done eating I can show you around PonyVille and introduce you to all my friends like Rainbow Dash and Rarity and maybe even Twilight I think you’ll like Twilight because Twilight has a dragon named Spike who likes to eat gems which are rocks and you guys like rocks so it all makes sense and we could hang out and talk and play games and party and tell stories and-” “Nah”, was all her mother said to cut her off, while taking a small bite of egg. “Oh, ok….” was all Pinkie could say before Mr. Cake attempted to change the subject. “Uh, Pinkie, you’ve spent so much time talking you haven’t eaten your pancakes yet….” “Oh, right! Yummy gummy ooey gooey pancakes!” she exclaimed, excitement renewed. Taking her first bite, Pinkie turned a pallor green and instantly spat out what she had just ingested. “Pinkamena”, her father started, “are you alright dear?” Not wanting to worry her parents, Pinkie assured him of her condition being “okey-dokey lokey”. However, though she could push the toothpaste and mouthwash into the back of her mind, Pinkie knew something wasn’t right when she couldn’t stomach Mrs. Cake’s chocolate chip pancakes. “My tummy tickles, though….” Pinkie said under her breath. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom.” Trotting upstairs, Pinkie inspected herself. She opened her mouth up wide to see the back of her throat. No sores. She didn’t have strep throat. She kinked her neck, but she had slept perfectly fine. She felt for her pulse, but everything felt fine. “Maybe I’m just going a little loopy at the thought of seeing my mom and dad,” she reasoned to herself. “Yeah! That must be it!” Pinkie Pie, content with her reasoning, hopped back downstairs. The rest of breakfast consisted of routine trips to the bathroom. ------------------------------------------------------ “Bye mom! Bye dad! Seeeeya lateeeeerrrr!” Pinkie shouted as her parents left at noon that day, bound for home in their horse-drawn horse-drawn carriage. “Ooh….Pinkie….” she thought to herself, “that was a DOOZY!”, in reference to a migraine she had been experiencing for the past hour. “Whatever this is, this is way different from my Pinkie Sense!” Pinkie decided she needed an afternoon of rest, and began to make her way upstairs. However, being dizzy at the time, she tripped over the top stair step, and rolled all the way back down stairs, knocking herself unconscious. -------------------------------------------------------- So she didn’t even know? Nope. Do you think we should tell her? You mean when she wakes up? Yes. Right when she wakes up? Yes. I don’t think so. Who’s the doctor here? When she awoke, Pinkie found herself in a hospital bed with several bandages on her. Looking around in curiosity, she found Mr. Cake talking to another male pony, who had a stethoscope around his neck and wore a white lab coat. She noticed that he had a name-tag that read Dr. Charlie Horace and a red cross as a cutie mark. “Oh, she’s awake now,” Dr. Horace said, turning to look at her. “Miss Pie, are you feeling alright?” “I’m feeling a little dizzy. But what happened to me?” The doctor had a bewildered look on his face. “Well, you fell down a flight of stairs, but don’t worry. You’re going to be fine. No major damage. However, we took an X-ray scan to make sure you hadn’t fractured anything, and well……..how can I put this delicately?” “Ooh! Ooh! Is this about that cavity I had? Because that’s ok. I eat a lot of candy,” Pinkie uttered. “Uhm, no, you’re…….” Was all Doctor Horace could respond with before being cut off by Mr. Cake. “Uh, Pinkie, when a mommy mare and a daddy colt love each other very much….you know the story, don’t you?” Pinkie’s eyes shone with excitement. “Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!” You and Mrs. Cake are gonna have a baby?! This is SO awesome! I’m gonna have to throw a party! I’ll give you guys the best baby shower ever!” “Uh, no Pinkie. Why don’t you let us throw you a shower?” “Oh silly! Baby showers are for the mother! Not the-” Suddenly, Pinkie’s eyes dilated in a manner so horrific the doctor nearly fainted. ---------------------------------------------- “Woah nelly! You sure y’aint yankin’ our chains now, Pinkie?” “What ever compelled you to let this happen, darling?” “Wait, so babies don‘t come from magic?” “Don’t tell me we’re gonna have to pitch in for the abortion!” “Umm….Pinkie Pie, are you going to be alright? You’re not going to die are you?” Pinkie Pie had broken the news to her friends at a meeting in Twilight’s house. Having been excused by Twilight at the behest of Pinkie Pie, Spike was gone. The 6 friends were the only ones that knew Pinkie Pie’s dark secret. Pinkie, with a look somewhere between horror and depression frozen on her face, simply looked down, ashamed at herself for having to admit such a terrible thing to her closest friends. “Rainbow, don’t go sayin’ things like that. We’re here fer ya Pinkie. We’ll support you every way we can.” Applejack put her hoof around Pinkie’s neck in a consoling embrace. “You don’t seriously want her to keep it do you?” Rainbow Dash blurted scoffingly. “No offense to Pinkie Pie and all, but I think out of all of us, she’s the least prepared to take care of a baby.” “She certainly wasn’t the least prepared to make one,” Twilight Sparkle commented, still recovering from the shock of discovering where babies came from. “I agree with Applejack,” Rarity asserted, hoof in front of chest and eyes closed. “You do?” AJ questioned in disbelief. “Why of course. Obviously, the stallion a girl like Pinkie found will most certainly take care of her, and as our friends, we must do the same. Why, I have just the idea for a gorgeous maternal dress for you!” “So you’re not bothered by this news at all, Rarity?” Fluttershy spoke up. “Well, there is one thing that may have flustered me a bit, Fluttershy.” “And what’s that?” “How come Pinkie found a man before ME?!” Rarity slammed her head against the ground and began crying in jealousy. Pinkie finally decided to speak. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do guys. I don’t have very much money. I’ll have to get another job, and I’ll need to find babysitters, and I won’t have any time to throw any parties….” Pinkie Pie had never before seemed so depressed. It nearly broke the hearts of her friends. “Wait, what about the lucky stallion?” Rarity asked, instantly recovered from her façade of depression. “Yeah, who’s the guy anyway, Pinkie Pie?” Twilight added, “I don’t remember you having a coltfriend to begin with.” “That’s the thing guys,” Pinkie answered in a squeak of sorrow, “I don’t know….” There was an awkward moment of silence, until Pinkie spoke again. “But I don’t want to make any more decisions until I find out.” ---------------------------------------- “This spell,” said Twilight Sparkle the next day, “will let me see the genetic makeup of the fetus once I hook you up to this machine. Then, it’ll provide us with a lot of information about who the father may be.” As the machine began printing its data, Pinkie couldn’t help but feel sorry for herself. Oh Pinkie, you’re so stupid. How could you not know who did this to you? Why do you have to be so silly and stupid and silly and not smart and stuff? “There! All done!” Twilight began to analyze the findings of her data, only to find a dozen sheets of jumbled, meaningless text. “Wait, what!? How could this have happened? Let’s run the test again.” They ran the test 4 more times. --------------------------------------- “You really expected Twilight’s sciencey magic stuff to help you?” Rainbow Dash scoffed. Pinkie didn’t respond. After Twilight having failed her in her quest, she had decided to turn to Rainbow Dash, who was renowned for finding quick answers to complex problems. For some reason, Pinkie Pie didn’t feel like thinking hard about subjects. She wanted immediate answers, rather than the experience of finding those answers. “Ya know, you should just get an abortion. I know a guy who can do this kinda stuff real quick, real cheap. Trust me. I’ve experienced the uh-quality-of his services.” “But Rainbow Dash, I want to keep the baby. My mom and dad would never forgive me if I got rid of it.” “Pinkie, what’d you rather do? Make your parents happy, or be happy yourself?” “Well, I like to make others happy, but I can’t stand not being happy myself.” Pinkie had still not yielded her depressed mood. She could barely speak up, and was holding back her tears of self-pity and sorrow. “Ugh,” Rainbow was growing impatient with Pinkie’s somber attitude and indecision. “has Applejack been tying to brainwash you into keeping it still?” “You said you would help me find out who the dad is.” “Ugh. Fine, fine.” Rainbow had given up trying to drive her opinion home. Suddenly, a dark blue pony with a yellow mane walked by. Rainbow Dash flew in front of him to cut him off in half a second. “Are you the dad?!” The colt, shocked by Rainbow’s assertiveness, dashed off, but not before shouting “You’re crazy, lady!” Another colt walked by, this time a brown pony with a spiky mane and an hourglass cutie mark. “Are you the dad?!” “What the-what’re you talking about?!” Was his reply. “So it is you! My friend here is pregnant, and it’s all your fault you little slug!” Dash shouted in infuriation as she tackled him to the ground. “Help! Get this psycho pony off of me!” Was all he could utter before a hoof collided with his face and the lights went out. ---------------------------------------------- “Don’t worry Pinkie, Princess Celestia will be here shortly. She’ll be able to figure this out for us.” Twilight reassuringly comforted her friend. “Oh look! There she is now!” Pinkie and Twilight, standing outside Twilight’s house, gazed up at the sky as Princess Celestia descended on her golden chariot, with two royal guards by her side. Twilight bowed before her beloved mentor while Pinkie, hair now straight as a board, looked down in shame. “My faithful student Twilight Sparkle, I am honored that you would seek my personal opinion on such a matter. I understand that one of your friends is having a little issue, am I right?” “Yes, that’s right.” Pinkie assured the Princess, keeping her head sunken in misery. “Why so solemn my child? The magic of being a mother is nothing to be ashamed about.” Celestia’s words were almost as radiant as the sun she made rose every morning, warming the cold sorrow in Pinkie Pie’s heart. But Pinkie didn’t respond. Perhaps she still felt too ashamed to even talk to the Princess. Or perhaps she was basking in the sunlight of her comforting words. Celestia continued without a response. “I’m sure we can sort this whole mess out. Here, let’s go inside.” -------------------------------------------------------- It was dumbfounding. The Princess’ royal guards could not, even after searching the house of and interrogating every male pony in town, find any evidence to point toward who the father was. The Princess herself had tried to telepathically figure out the same information, but was unable to get a reading on the developing fetus that was being housed in Pinkie’s womb. Hours passed. Midnight came. Twilight and Celestia had attempted every spell in their vast repertoire of knowledge, but could not find anything to give them a semblance of information. Eventually, Celestia had to retire back to her castle, and Pinkie and Twilight bid her farewell. Just as Celestia had left long after the sun had set, her warm reassurance had already been replaced by the cold gloom in Pinkie’s heart. --------------------------------------------------------- Days turned to weeks, and those weeks, to months. Pinkie Pie had ceased throwing parties. In fact, she rarely left her room in Sugar Cube Corner, having rationalized no reason to deserve seeing her friends. Sometimes, Twilight would bring her a card, signed by all of their friends, encouraging Pinkie to “get better soon”. Dash had at first stubbornly attempted to drag Pinkie outside, but eventually gave up. Applejack had even tempted Pinkie with some delicious apple deserts, but was refused every time. Not once in the period of 3 months did Pinkie Pie’s hair give the slightest indication of a curl. Pinkie Pie had essentially given up, and as a result, so had her friends. The “search for Pinkie’s colt” had been virtually canceled. As the pregnancy continued in its course, the little pink pony became, well, fat, to say the least. Rainbow Dash couldn’t stand witnessing Pinkie’s ever-nearer approach to the point of no return, when an abortion ceased to be an option. “Alright guys, I called this meeting because we need to find out who the dad is,” Dash irritatingly stated. “You all heard her. Pinkie’s not going to make her decision until we find out who this guy is. And since we’re doing no good finding him, I say we make him come to us.” “What in tarnation are you proposin’ girl?” Applejack responded, still skeptical of any moves Rainbow Dash planned to make. “I say we guilt trip this guy into coming out and confessing.” “Oh no,” Fluttershy piped up, “that’d be much too embarrassing for him.” Rainbow put her hoof to her forehead. “Look, whoever we’re dealing with is obviously a weasel. I say he deserves what’s coming.” “Now hold just a darn minute.” Applejack rebutted, “Why don’t we just let her keep the filly?” “She should have the option of getting an abortion, before it’s too late!” Rainbow shouted. “Well ah think she-” “Look,” Twilight interrupted, “it doesn’t matter what your guys’ opinion on this is. What we all have to agree on is that Pinkie Pie is entitled to her own choice. But, in order to give her this choice, we’re definitely going to have to find this guy. And soon.” “Twilight’s right,” Rarity began, “we’ll just have to bring this guy to us, then.” Fluttershy had a defeated look on her face. “How are we going to do that?” ------------------------------------------------------------- Pinkie Pie lay on her bed, looking up at the ceiling. It had become easier to lay in that position lately. She had decided to pass the time by envisioning images in the ceiling’s acoustics. “Pinkie….you gotta stand up tall……learn to face your….fears. You’ll see……..that they can’t…….hurt………you…just laugh to make them disappear…….*sigh*.” “Uh, Pinkie?” Mr. Cake’s voice sounded from her doorway. Pinkie didn’t respond. “Um, Pinkie…..your rent for the month’s due. But, the Missus and I just want to let you know that we’re willing to support you in this time of need, so we’re not charging you.” And with that, he left Pinkie to her misery. And just as soon as he left, her eyes welled up with tears. “I don’t deserve all the compassion and sacrifices everypony’s making for me.” Deep in the back of Pinkie Pie’s mind, she knew. She swore she knew. But she didn’t want to believe it. She didn’t tell her friends out of fear, and in a way, doubt in the validity of such a confirmation. But now, she couldn’t take it any longer. After months of rationalizing how it couldn’t be, she realized that it was all it could be. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- $5,000 DOLLAR REWORD FOR ANY INFORMATION Dash nailed the poster to a tree near the center of town. “Um, Rainbow?” It was Fluttershy. “I don’t think that’s how you spell reward. You wrote re-word.” “Ah, who cares? It gets the point across.” Rainbow replied in defense. “I knew we should’ve had Twilight write the posters…” Fluttershy said under her breath. “Oh, Rarity,” Dash said, changing the subject just as the white pony walked up to meet them. “Did you get the Mayor to put our article in the newspaper?” “I still think that doing such a thing would embarrass the poor girl to no end.” “She’d be more embarrassed to take care of a kid she doesn’t know the father of. Sometimes, the ends justify the means, Rarity.” “Well, I suppose you’re right. But yes, I got her to publish the article.” “Great. The Equestria Daily is the most popular newspaper in, well, Equestria. Whoever the dad is bound to see the news eventually.” Twilight Sparkle and Applejack, walking together, approached the group. Twilight spoke up, in her usual business-like tone. “OK, Applejack and I took Pinkie to the doctor-” “After the girl put up a heck of a fight,” AJ added. “-Right. So we took her to the doctor, and he said she was about 7 months in. Which means she was already pregnant for 4 months when she found out.” “Oh dear…” Rarity gasped. “Oh dear is right. That means, if she wants to have the…..you know……we’re gonna have to find this guy really soon.” Rainbow Dash was confident in this feat. “Don’t worry Twi, we got the posters and newspaper article taken care of. We’ll find this guy, and then we’ll teach him a lesson.” “Well, that’s good news to hear,” Twilight said with stress in her voice. “but I just hope this all works. And just so everyone’s on the same page, I have to warn you guys.” “What about?” Fluttershy had a tone of deep worry in her reply. “The doctor says that legally, we’ve got 2 weeks before she can’t have the……canceling of the pregnancy, so we’re going to give ourselves a deadline. We’ll give this little campaign of ours exactly one week-no more-to find this guy.” “Uh, and if it doesn’t work?” Applejack broke in, with an uneasy expression, both in voice and in face. “I really don’t want to think about it yet.” ----------------------------------------------------------- Twilight really should have begun to think about it. In one week’s time, the only responses the ponies received were shocked concerns from the few townsfolk still unaware of Pinkie’s condition. Rarity’s initial worry became increasingly justified, as Pinkie Pie became secluded to the point where by the end of the week, no one had heard from her in days. Drastic measures were now required, and even before an approach was decided upon, the groups of friends all knew what had to be done, though nopony wanted to admit it. Meeting in Applejack’s barn in Sweet Apple Acres had became customary at this point. The books in Twilight’s library proved useless, and Spike couldn’t be trusted while discussing such touchy information. “I’m reaaaalllly worried about Pinkie Pie,” Fluttershy began, the to-the-point attitude being rare for her. “Well, what’re we supposed to do now? We’ve tried everything in the book, and then some…” Dash responded, losing her determination. “We’ve been neglecting poor Pinkie this entire time. If we can’t do anything to help her, then we should at least comfort the darling.” Rarity adamantly stated, stomping a hoof for emphasis. “As hopeless as Rarity’s suggestion sounds, I’m going to have to agree,” Twilight began, “I mean, we’ve tried everything. The best thing we can do at this point is be there for Pinkie when she needs us most.” Applejack quickly concurred. “And boy howdy does she ever need us. Everypony in town’s been sayin’ she hasn’t been heard from in days. Poor thing’s prolly starvin’ herself out of pity. Y’all saw how depressed she was last time we saw her.” Applejack was right. They all knew it. It was unanimous. They would visit Pinkie Pie, and pour their hearts into doing anything they could for her. That is, if they had any heart left to give. Their fruitless efforts had taken a massive toll on all of their wills. ------------------------------------------------ Pinkie Pie’s bedroom had seen better days. Any light in the room, if there was any at all, was dim at best, and the blinds were closed shut. Multiple colors of streamers lay draped and dangling around the entire capacity. Pieces of paper, snipped into every possible shape one could imagine, were scattered all over the floor and furniture. Intricate lines and blotches of marker and paint darted the walls in no particular direction or pattern, putting on a display of wallpaper pulled from an abstractionist museum. Confetti dotted every inch, spilling out of nooks and crannies, making its presence known everywhere. Perhaps the most alluring “features” of the room were the crudely-crafted paper-mache dolls of Pinkie Pie’s five best friends, their eerie, googly-eyed expressions set to look upon anyone who entered through the door. Buried underneath an avalanche of half-eaten food, craft goods, and countless other doodads, lay Pinkie Pie, her nose peeking out from beneath the rubble, in a deep slumber. Snoring with the unpleasantness of a bear, she noticed not the crumbs of food in her hair, nor the sticky, matted, and frizzled texture various unknown substances had given it (but surely among them included sweat, fruit punch, and saliva). The bedroom door creaked open as a purple hoof lightly pushed against it. “Uh….Pinkie? Hello? Are you here?” Twilight’s voice was but a whisper. “Twilight, is she here?” Rarity followed closely behind Twilight, making sure to step quietly. “I want to make sure we’re not intrudi- WHA HA HAAA!!” “What is it, Rarity?” Twilight was confused. The startled white pony covered her eyes with her right hoof, but peeked out to point her other one at a shelf in Pinkie’s room. Following her friend’s direction, Twilight caught notice of the grotesquely uncanny models Pinkie had crafted. “Oh my.” Rainbow Dash shuffled through the door next, with Applejack cautiously following right behind her, and Fluttershy tip-toeing her way not far behind. Applejack appeared ready to say something, but instead, as they all did, fixated her gaze silently upon the shelf-displayed dolls. Only after what seemed like a matter of several minutes did Applejack decide to speak up. “What uh……What are those?” “Is that supposed to be me?” Dash arrogantly questioned, hovering towards the doll to observe it. “My hair is not that tangled. And I’m way cooler looking than this thing is.” “Are those really supposed to be us?” Fluttershy commented, still only halfway through the door. “I can’t believe she thinks I’m that lame,” Dash continued to complain. “Now hold your horses, girls, we don’t even know it was Pinkie who made these things,” Applejack added, trying to keep everyone calm. “Applejack’s right,” Twilight said, “and besides, I kinda like mine. The horn looks accurate.” She brought her hoof to the hastily-glued on horn, and it snapped off. “Oh……” The ponies, all distracted by the unnerving anatomies of the dolls, had not even noticed Pinkie Pie’s snoring. Twilight Sparkle tried to change the subject. “So…where’s Pinkie?” The five ponies gazed at the bed (which could just barely be identified as such), and noticed the still mound of what could only be collectively referred to as garbage. If a candy wrapper hadn’t been fluttering out of place due to Pinkie’s snoring just right beneath it, they probably would not have noticed that there was indeed somepony piled under all of that junk. Gathering around the bed, Dash and Applejack began dragging the junk onto the floor, revealing a still-sound asleep Pinkie Pie, snoring with gusto under a blanket of garbage. Just as Twilight was about to awake the sleeping mare, Pinkie began to stir in her sleep, kicking and flailing her legs near her body, and muttering to herself. “Breaking a……trust is…..fastest……to lose………forever.” The five other ponies, gathered round the bed and observing their sleeping friend, gave each other a bewildered stare. “Should we wake her up?” Fluttershy questioned after a moment of awkward silence. “Ew, look at how fat she is,” Dash made sure to point out. “Worst part is I ain’t sure if it’s the filly or all the snacks,” AJ added, gesturing to the candy wrapper which had now draped itself atop Pinkie’s nose. “This is a disastrous predicament,” Twilight spoke up with, “and we need to talk to her anyway. Let’s wake her up.” “Ahem,” Twilight cleared her throat, then questioned, with a firm, but not overtly loud, voice, “Pinkie?……..Uh, Pinkie?” The sleeping pony ceased her flailing and had resumed her remorseful snoring. “Here, let me try,” Dash assertively stated, hovering over Pinkie Pie’s face, “Hey! Pinkie!” Pinkie stirred, then resumed her snoring. “Pinkie, darling?” “Uh, Pinkie, y’all alright?” “She’s not waking up guys,” Twilight stated. “Oh, no. Really?” Dash sarcastically replied. Fluttershy, worried, fluttered over to her sleeping friend, and gazed straight down at her face. Pinkie seemed…disturbed. At a glance, her deep slumber would suggest a state of content dreaming. But something in Pinkie Pie’s face told a story. A story of anguish, worry, anxiety, and uncertainty. As if she were trapped in a nightmare over which she had no control, and yet did not wish to escape, for fear that whatever she may wake up to could possibly prove far less appealing than the gruesome manifestations of her subconscious. In Pinkie Pie’s unaware emotions, a warm light bathed her dark feelings, offering a sliver of hope for which to awake to. And awake she did, greeted by what was initially promised as a harbinger of salvation. However, accepting the call of her “savior” was a decision Pinkie Pie immediately came to regret. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Pinkie Pie had wanted to fall into a never-ending sleep. Compared to what she was now witnessing, her nightmares had been tamely bearable. It was as if lasers were being fired from the gandering eyes of her five friends around her bed, looking down at her. Their gaze pierced into her, dissecting her with surgical precision, targeting the cancer that was her regret. She craned her neck up, lifting her front hooves to protrude from her chest. Her eyes tightened in an expression of pure, savage terror. Her mouth trembled as if she had seen a ghost. The horrendous image of fear evoked by her face was enough to startle the other ponies. “Pinkie, what’s wrong?” Twilight asked, with deep concern in her voice. “Oh, we didn’t startle you, did we? I’m so sorry,” Fluttershy atoned. Pinkie stayed in this position, her facial expression concrete, not moving an inch. In nearly statue-like stillness, not even blinking, and eyes fixated on nothing in particular, Pinkie eerily resembled one of her paper-mache dolls. Applejack, greatly unsettled by this point, stood beside Pinkie, offering to help her out of bed. “Hey Sugar Cube. We all came to visit ya, see?” The other ponies smiled and nodded in reaffirmation. Pinkie’s fixed posture did not change. “Now I know we haven’t really seen ya in a while, but we’ve been a little….busy lately. But we want ya to know that we’re here for you.” Applejack spoke in a voice as comforting and patient as she could muster, and brushed her neck up against Pinkie’s in a way that was somewhere between “c’mon and get out bed” and “everything’s gonna be alright”. Pinkie may have interpreted this gesture as the latter end of the spectrum, and returned the “hug” offered to her. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she looked down in utter shame. She tugged a filthy blanket out from underneath her, and threw it over her head. “Pinkie? Whassa matter girl? Why aren’t ya talkin’ to us?” Applejack was now on the verge of tears herself. The little pink pony threw herself onto her stomach, cowering under the blanket and holding her hooves to her head in strain. “GO AWAY!” It almost sounded as if she were directing the demand at herself rather than her friends. The room fell into deep silence, if it hadn’t already been silent before. Rarely did Pinkie Pie shout, and rarer still did she shout in frustration. Still, this situation had obviously become too dire for anyone to even consider leaving, and so they waited. And waited, and waited. Nopony said anything. It could have been 5 minutes, or an hour, but eventually, Pinkie, still crying into her bed, let out an exasperated whimper of a question. “You guys have been trying to find him, haven’t you?” Twilight Sparkle couldn’t find anything to say other than “Yes”. Pinkie paused again before responding. “And you didn’t find him.” “No,” Applejack replied, “we didn’t”. She cringed at hearing Pinkie let out a tear-accompanied sob. “You shouldn’t…….have even…….tried.” “Pinkie Pie,” Twilight broke in, unable to deal with the situation as it was any longer, “we need to talk.” ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Pinkie Pie pulled the blinds of the window behind her bed open, and sunlight filtered into the room, revealing a blizzard of dust in the still, non-circulated air around them. Then, she fell back against the mattress, and with one sudden, quick thrust of both legs, knocked away the pile of junk that had been encompassing her for an unknown number of days. The garbage landed at the foot of the bed, where Fluttershy had been standing before quickly getting out of the way. But Pinkie didn’t say anything. She continued to lay on her back, bed still a mess; Herself still a mess. “Pinkie,” Applejack began, “we, uh, put up some posters and -” “Why?!” Pinkie shouted, “Why?! You didn’t have to do anything! I did a bad thing, and it’s my fault! I deserve to be punished!” “Why? Because we love you. We’re your friends, Sugar Cube. Besides, y’all don’t need to be punished. You’ve taken enough of a lickin’ as it is.” Pinkie had become enraged. AJ’s words were like someone poking another person who had a sunburn. “I DON’T WANT YOUR HELP!!!” Applejack turned down, hurt by Pinkie’s words. Her ears drooped, and she tilted her head to look away. “Well ah’m mighty sorry, Pinkie Pie. I was jus’, y’know, tryin’ to help ya when you were down on yer luck, is all”. Pinkie had felt awful about what she had said. Applejack was so forgiving, so loyal. So…..motherly. She was willing to sacrifice so much, when Pinkie deserved nothing. Why was she doing this? Friends don’t want other friends to suffer for them. Why did everypony want to help Pinkie, when she didn’t expect anything of them? “What makes you think you should be punished, Pinkie?” Twilight asked. Pinkie brought her thoughts back to reality. She sat up, her pregnancy-wrought physiology making itself very apparent. “Oh guys, I’m so sorry.” “What ever for, though?” Rarity asked in genuine concern. Pinkie was tearing up again, and her voice choked. She found it hard to speak, but continued on. “I…I made a terrible mistake, guys.” “What, you ate too many cupcakes?” Dash asked, tying to lighten the mood. It didn’t work. At this point, Fluttershy was on the verge of tears, but said nothing. Pinkie continued. “No, I…you all worked so hard…and I don’t deserve any help. I should’ve just told you in the first place….” “What are you talking about, Pinkie?” Applejack asked, although still patient as ever. Pinkie glanced over at Applejack, and swallowed another burst of tears. Very quietly, eyes closed, assuming the worst, she said, “I did this to myself”. “Wait,” it was Fluttershy, “you mean you know…know who did this to you?” “I DID THIS TO ME!!” Pinkie screamed, making the yellow Pegasus back off and bury her head in fear. That only made the pink pony feel worse. Twilight’s goal now was to keep the tension under control; “Pinkie, just tell us who the guy was”. Hesitantly, Pinkie looked over at Applejack, and said, after a deep breath, “It was…..your cousin”. -------------------------------------------------------- “My…….my cousin? My cousin Braeburn?” Applejack stuttered, in pure disbelief. “When were you with Applejack’s cousin?” Twilight asked. Pinkie was reluctant to say any more. “It was when we were in Appleloosa that one time”. Applejack was still silent out of pure shock. Twilight was perplexed; “But, we were only there for two days. And you were with us most of the time. How could you have…..” “It don’t matter none how,” Applejack interrupted, with a stern look on her face, “but why”. Pinkie began to sob again. “He told me not to tell anypony! He said that it was going to be between him and me only”! “How do you know it’s him?“ Dash felt the urge to speak again. “He’s the only one I’ve…..been with”. Fluttershy was not expecting this revelation in the least. “Pinkie Pie, why did you tell us you didn’t know who it was if you’re so sure now?” Pinkie’s head hung low as she stuffed her face into the mattress. She only had one thing to say: “Breaking a friend’s trust is the closest way to lose a friend…….forever. He told me not to worry…..that nothing bad would happen, and most importantly……he told me not to tell anyone. And I broke his trust…..” “Pinkie Pie,” Dash nearly had to strain to keep herself from “face hoofing”, “that guy broke your trust first by telling you nothing bad would happen. Now look at you!” The pink pony looked down at her stomach, and sighed at the bulbous shape it had taken on recently. Well, she had done it. She had relinquished the last semblance she had of her own self: her strict adherence to the belief that one should absolutely never speak of something that somepony requests one not to speak of. She had broken her personal commitment to Braeburn. But what Dash had said…it somehow made sense. Hadn’t he broken his promise (ie; her trust), by promising nothing bad would happen? That she’d be safe? That she wouldn’t regret it? And if that was the case, was her life-abiding belief a false philosophy? Undecidedly, should she be feeling better or worse? It was as if the weight of the world had been removed from her shoulders, only to be replaced by weightless toxic gas. Had anything really be resolved? Or had she just been given a new problem in place of the other? Or had she simply be given one without trading away the other? Pinkie barely had time to consider these conflicting emotions before she was brought back into her filthy, friend-filled bedroom. It appeared as if she had missed nearly an entire conversation in her thoughts. “Well, if you know, then, have you decided on whether or not to…keep it?” Twilight asked, professionally. Pinkie Pie didn’t know whether or not Braeburn should even have had an opinion. Actually, she herself didn’t have an opinion. She had spent so much time in sorrow and regret; what she didn’t deserve. She hadn’t considered what she wanted. Maybe Rainbow Dash was right. Maybe she wasn’t mature enough to be a mother. And yet, she needed resolution. Not resolution concerning the baby; no, this was a desire to resolve her philosophy, her very outlook on life. She had a decision, even if she didn’t surely believe in its validity. But with no surefire position, she concluded that the option that provided the most information was the safest one to take. “I want to see Braeburn”. “Huh?” the ponies questioned in unison. “That’s fine, Sugar Cube. We can arrange that. Ah’d like to see ‘im too.” Before anypony could question Pinkie‘s decision, Applejack had already given her definitive reply. --------------------------------------------------------- It was early morning, but already sunny, the next day. The group of five friends waited patiently in front of the gate to Sweet Apple Acres. On the road right in front of them was a large coach wagon; large enough to carry 10 ponies. Featuring a driving platform up front, the wagon was relatively high-quality in comparison to what one would expect of the Apple Family. Still, it was little fancier than your average canvas-covered wagon. In front of the wagon, there waited patiently two male earth ponies who, with a combination of Applejack’s money and Rarity’s charm the night before, had agreed to pull the vehicle. Big Macintosh, Applejack’s brother, lifted a large, 50-pound bushel of hay into the back of the wagon, pushing aside a 10-gallon jug of water in order to fit it in. Having finished an hour of strenuous work in making sure everything was in order and working fine, Big Mac hadn’t even broken a sweat. The colt of few words, content with his labor, walked over to the mares, nodding in etiquette. Nopony said anything, however, but soon Applejack arrived from the barn, carrying a blanket on her back. “Woowee! Took us about 3 hours last night to get this ol’ thing here in tip-top shape, but she’s in fine condition, yesiree. Well, I’m ready to go. Why don’t y’all go ahead in girls?” Big Macintosh, although unprompted, pushed a small wooden ramp over to the front of the wagon, and bowed in respect as Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, and finally, Pinkie Pie, made their way inside. Applejack ran up the ramp and sat down at the front near the reigns. “Alright ladies, we’re off! Next stop, Appleloosa! Thanks again for the help bro.” “Eeyup,” Bic Mac customarily replied, “take care-a yerself now, sis. Oh, and Miss Pinkie Pie,” he said, slightly speaking up so that she could hear from inside the wagon, “I hope ya find what yer lookin’ for”. Pinkie didn’t reply. She didn’t deserve all the help he had given them. Then again, his contributions did make it easier on Applejack…. AJ pushed her hat down, and, wielding the reigns in her mouth, brought them down on the two Earth ponies in front of her. “Giddy up!” The two colts turned their heads back in a disdainful glare, but Applejack quickly responded by pulling 3 golden coins out of her hat with a smirk. Obediently, they took off, pulling the wagon with them. The ride had just started, but it was already bumpy. The wagon’s inside was shady, but somewhat cramped as well, with a somewhat low ceiling and a confining square shape. Even further restricting, a good 5x2 square feet in the back were taken up by various containers of supplies. Six old, matted blankets were preparedly spread out on the platform, and each of the five ponies had already claimed their “territory”. Knowing that the trip would be long, Twilight Sparkle found it in good taste to start a casual conversation. “So, this is it, I guess”. Rainbow Dash, having already decided that the trip was going to be a snooze-fest, leaned back against the side of the wagon, put her fore-hooves behind her head, crossed her hind hooves, and closed her eyes. “I don’t see why we just couldn’t have taken your balloon, Twilight,” Rarity complained, “as it’d probably be much faster”. “I told you, Rarity. We didn’t want Spike to come, since you know how he’d get in a situation like this, and we need him to power the balloon.” Rarity sighed. “Oh, very well. But some ponies do need their privacy. I can already tell that I shan’t be getting very comfortable sleep”. Pinkie had already begun to regret her decision to see Braeburn. She was already making her friends miserable. “Don’t worry Rarity. The trip shouldn’t take awfully long,” Twilight said, trying to console her fellow unicorn friend. “Hey Applejack, how long did you say the trip would take?” She yelled it so that the orange pony out front would hear her over the hoof-clops of their drivers. “’Bout a week! Three days to get there, one day to stay, and three more to get back!” Applejack shouted back, her loudness irritating the two colts right in front of her. They picked up the pace to get a little further away from her. Three days, AJ. Three more days, and then you can stop worryin’ yourself. Everything will come together, and it’ll all make sense. Either way….. “Three days in this dirty little wagon before we get to the dirty little town. How nice to know,” Rarity said, rolling her eyes. “I’m done. I’ll be stitching if you need me.” The unicorn telekinetically retrieved a needle and thread from a saddlebag she had laying next to her, and went to work. Fluttershy, who had been hoping to start a conversation with Rarity before that, had turned to see Rainbow Dash still sleeping against the wagon’s side. She then looked to Twilight, who had already buried herself in a book. She couldn’t tell if Pinkie was sleeping or just feeling sorry for herself; the pink Earth pony was laying stomach-first, legs radiating out in a vague star shape. Fluttershy quietly and carefully sat up and made her way out front. “Um, Applejack?” She said, peeking her head out of the canvas. “Dang nabit! Ya really startled me there, Fluttershy!” The orange Earth pony yelled in frustration, turning her head around to look Fluttershy in the eyes. Then she noticed how hurt the sensitive pegasus was. “Aw, I’m sorry Fluttershy. I’ve just been…doin’ some thinkin’. C’mere and sit next to me.” Fluttershy pattered over to sit at Applejack’s left. There was a brief moment of silence. “Is Big Macintosh going to be alright running the farm all by himself?” “Heh. Big Mac? The pony can buck every tree in PonyVille without breakin’ a sweat. ‘Course, add to the fact that he has to look out for Apple Bloom, and I could see why he might have his hooves full.” Fluttershy laughed at the remark. “Yesiree, Pinkie just might have her hooves full.” Fluttershy’s laugh turned into a small frown when she realized that Applejack had said “Pinkie Pie”, rather than “Big Mac”. “Are you worried about Pinkie Pie, or Braeburn?” the pegasus asked. “Hehe. You sure read me well.” Applejack kept her voice low so that Pinkie wouldn’t be able to hear. “Well, I don’t really know. Ah mean, I’m constantly worried about Pinkie Pie, but let’s just say a certain possible scenario in my head makes me worried about Braeburn. But, the worst scenario I can think of definitely has me worryin’ for Pinkie’s sake”. “Do you want to talk about it?” Fluttershy asked in sincere interest. “I’m not one much for talkin’.” Applejack said with a straight, focused face, looking ahead at the road in front. They were now leaving PonyVille behind. Going straight down a dirt road, surrounded by trees and bordered by fences on both sides, Applejack could tell that they were entering wooded territory. “Pinkie Pie’s supposed to be really talkative,” Fluttershy said calmly, “but she isn’t lately. Maybe you can become talkative in the same way?” “Is there something on yer mind, Fluttershy?” “No, I just want to know what’s on yours”. “Eh, it’s nothin’ we need to worry about,” Applejack, still looking forward, looked at Fluttershy out of the corner of her eyes, “honest”. --------------------------------------------------------- “No Pinkie! Don’t do that! Hey! Y’all put that there apple pie back in the tray! It’s for the customers!” Pinkie devoured the pie in one single gulp, then bounced around the apple stand. How a little filly such as Pinkie could still prove energetic after a meal half her body size was beyond AJ’s rationale. “Aw, lighten up, Applejack! You’re the best salespony in town! Surely such a minor setback won’t be a problem for you.” “Hey, listen here Missie. What’d I tell ya about callin’ me by mah first name? I’m your guardian. You’re s’posed to call me Miss, or Mom.” Applejack attempted to hide a trace of anxiety in her voice, but it showed itself quite obviously to the rambunctious pink filly. “I can call you whatever I want. You sound like you don’t trust me.” “I don’t trust you, because you never give back any of the love or support I give you. I let you live in my house, eat my food, and look after yourself, but it’s like you take that all for granted!” “Wow, I thought I could trust you to love me unconditionally. But it looks like I can’t. Oh well, I couldn’t say I expected much more.” Pinkie Pie took a bite out of a big, shiny red apple after having retrieved it from one of AJ’s sales barrels. “Howdy, Pinkie.” A deep voice greeted. It was Big Mac, walking up to meet his sister and niece. Applejack was relieved. “Oh, Big Macintosh! Thank ponydom yer here! Help me put some sense into this girl!” “Now AJ,” the red work pony began, “We’ve talked about how you get when you get a lil’ overworked. I thought you said you’d remember to go easier on the lil’ darlin’”. “Wha-” AJ was dumbfounded, “I can’t believe you’d put them words in mah mouth. I sure as salt licks didn’t say nothin’ of the sort!” “Yer overworkin’ yerself again AJ. Why don’t ya take a load off? Here, I’ll run the stand today.” If Big Macintosh was known for his straight face normally, he was absolutely emotionless at the time. “I have not been overworkin’ myself! I jus’ don’t want this little…brat - there, I said it - to get away with bein’ ungrateful for everything I do for her!” Applejack turned to Pinkie Pie to emphasize her point, but found that the filly was gone. “What in the…where’d she get off to?” “Uh, AJ?” Big Mac questioned, absolutely no inflection in his voice. He nodded towards a nearby building. Applejack looked up to see Pinkie Pie tottering on the edge of the 2-story house’s roof, as if contemplating whether or not to jump. “What in tarnation!? Pinkie Pie! You get down from here this instant young lady!” Pinkie calmly replied with a smug smirk; “Well, obviously, Applejack, you don’t trust me. So, maybe I should just end it. How does that sound to you?” “Why would you ever consider that? I love you, sweetie! I only want what’s best for you! Now I know you’re not actually considerin’ jumpin’! Yer outta yer mind if you think you’d do somethin’ that stupid over what I said!” Pinkie grew a very disappointed, slightly angry frown on her face. She sighed. “You really don’t trust me, do you? Oh well, I guess that’s the price you pay for breaking my trust.” Before Applejack could even contemplate a response, the little pink filly stood on her hind hooves, held out her front legs, and dropped straight forward off the top of the roof. “Pinkie! NOO!” Right before Pinkie Pie hit the ground below her, everything went black. Applejack was alone in a blurry, black void. Nothing could be seen, felt, or heard. Well, that is, until a quiet, but distinctly Rainbow Dash-like voice uttered only once, in a barely interpretable clarity: “You shoulda gotten rid of it”. ---------------------------------------------------------------- Applejack had fallen asleep; still sitting up, but leaning on Fluttershy’s shoulder. The quiet pegasus pony didn’t feel a need to disturb her, so she decided to stay and take in the scenery as the woods became denser and wilderness gradually replaced all signs of civilization. The two earth ponies pulling the wagon were far up front, casually talking to each other and apparently, from what Fluttershy could tell, were enjoying a good laugh. Poor Applejack, she thought to herself, she must be tired, what with getting up early this morning, and all her worrying about Pinkie Pie. Not to mention the revelation that the very cause of Pinkie’s problem is…her own cousin. I can’t even imagine what kind of stress that would cause. Fluttershy looked up to stretch her neck, and saw a glimmering décor of topaz light cascading down from the forest canopy. Although the dense foliage nearly prevented an accurate interpretation of the time of day, it was quite obviously sunset, likely around 5 o’clock. Fluttershy hadn’t thought about what they would do during the night. Did they plan to stop, or keep moving? Surely Applejack couldn’t expect her “employees” to work so diligently without a good night’s rest. Glancing over at the orange Earth pony nestled against her shoulder, Fluttershy noticed how deep; how content Applejack appeared in her sleep. She decided not to wake her. The glimmering amber shade of the sun quickly became a dark orange. Twilight Sparkle’s head projected from the inside of the wagon. “Hey Fluttershy,” She spoke audibly and clearly, not considering the possibility of a sleeping Applejack. Groggily, Applejack craned her neck and rubbed her eyes with her hooves. She turned around to see Twilight, who had a nervous smile on her face. “Sorry about waking you up, Applejack. It’s just, I noticed it had become too dark to read my book, and I wanted to know where you packed the flashlight, if you brought one at all”. Applejack was still recovering from her state of drowsiness. “Huh? Uh, yeah, I uh, put it in mah saddleback in the back”. “Thanks, Applejack. Say, I didn’t really notice you leave earlier, Fluttershy. How long have you been out here?” Fluttershy didn’t know the answer. “When did we leave this morning?” “About 9,” Applejack informingly answered. “Then I’d say about 4 hours”. “What’ve you girls been doing, if you don’t mind me asking?” Twilight asked out of curiosity. It was apparent that she had been buried in that book for quite a while. “Oh, we just talked a little,” said Fluttershy, “and Applejack here got a bit of shut-eye”. “That sounds nice,” Twilight said, then, surveying the road ahead, noticed the dark shade of orange that had highlighted the woodland floor. “Say, it looks like we’re still not out of the woods, and it’s starting to get dark. Did we ever decide what to do during the night, Applejack?” “Uh, no. Musta forgot about it. But don’t worry none about that, we’ll stop and rest for the night when it gets dark”. “Are you sure? According to my map, we don’t seem to be making very good time. Maybe we should keep moving at night”. Fluttershy butted in. “Oh no, those poor earth ponies over there simply must get some rest”. Twilight looked over at AJ for reassurance. “It’s fine Twilight. We’ll make good time if we start up early tomorrow. I don’t mind stoppin’ for a bit”. Twilight was still a little unsure, but her stomach rumbled, begging for something to eat. “Well, there’s a reason you’re the Element of Honesty, Applejack. If you say we’ll make good time, I believe you. We’ll stop as soon as it gets dark then”. With that, Twilight began to retreat back into the wagon. “Oh, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked “Yeah?” “How is Pinkie doing?” “I don’t know. She hasn’t really spoken much”. Applejack sighed. Fluttershy dropped the topic with “Alright, see you back inside”. Fifteen minutes later, the wagon had pulled to the side of the road, ceased its moving, and Applejack and Fluttershy joined their friends under the canvas. ---------------------------------------------------- Rarity had already set up a candle on a small wooden box in the front corner of the wagon when the two ponies that had been outside joined them all. Rarity herself had been wearing her glasses, reading a fashion magazine, when she looked up from its pages to see the two sit down on their respective blankets. Beyond the collective guesses of Applejack and Fluttershy, she had already somehow gotten her hair into curls and was wearing a night gown of some sort. Pinkie Pie also had her hair in curls; probably something she fought Rarity over, Applejack assumed. Still, it was better than the feather-duster Pinkie had sported on her head the day before. There were 3 blankets laid out along each of the side walls of the wagons. On the right side, Rainbow Dash was reclining with her eyes shut, with Rarity next to her, and Fluttershy right after. On the left side, Twilight lay on her stomach, a flashlight and book in front of her. In the middle sat Applejack, and next to her, Pinkie Pie lay on her side in a slump. Applejack got up, crampingly making her way to the back of the wagon to open a crate. She pulled out six decently-sized bags of oats, which she passed around to everypony else. She managed to throw Rainbow Dash’s bag at the pony’s face, which stirred her from her light sleep. Preparing a complaint, Dash noticed the bag of oats and decided to enjoy eating instead. Applejack made her way back to her blanket. She looked over at Pinkie Pie, who hadn’t shown any signs of noticing her bag of food. “Pinkie, sugar, d’ya wanna eat yer oats? Yer eatin’ for two ya know”. Pinkie only sighed in response, strenuously rolling over onto her back, and, picking up the bag with her front hooves, poured the contents into her mouth. She fished the rest out of the bag with her tongue. AJ could have sworn she saw Pinkie give her a quick glare, but maybe she was just tired. Looking down at her own bag, Applejack experienced a feeling of…a lack of an appetite. Sighing, she slid her bag along the floor to Pinkie Pie. “Y’all can have it. I’m not so hungry anyway”. Pinkie sighed in return, and devoured the bag reluctantly, while simultaneously in a gluttonous fashion. “So here’s the plan,” Twilight spoke up, noticing that most of the oats had been devoured at that point, “tomorrow we’ll get up early, and make our way out of the forest. There’s two ways to take once we reach the badlands; we can go through the valley, which is essentially a barren canyon, judging by the map, or we can cut through the mountains, but we’ll have to go up and down, which our wagon might not be able to do. However, it shaves almost a day off of our time if we go that way”. Nopony replied. Rarity had been glancing back and forth between her magazine and Twilight. AJ and Pinkie had been paying full attention, while Fluttershy and Dash, though attentive, could be heard and seen munching on oats. “Well, why don’t we sleep on it, and decide when it comes, eh?” Applejack suggested. Everypony nodded in agreement. “Alright then,” Twilight said, “then I guess we should get to sleep”. Rainbow Dash swallowed a mouthful of oats. “I’ve been sleeping all day. I don’t think I’m tired enough anymore”. Twilight reached her neck out to blow out the candle, and flicked off the flashlight. “I’m gonna go talk to the guys…” Dash said to nopony in particular. She attempted to blindly step over her friends’ bodies on her way out. She was stopped before she had gone outside. “Rainbow Dash”. It sounded more like a statement than a question. “Is that you, Pinkie Pie?” “Yes”. “What is it? Do you need something? I think I still have some of my oats…” “No. Could you just…come here?” Dash sighed in aggravation. “Fine, sure”. She knelt down next to Pinkie so closely that the mother-to-be could speak directly into her ear. “Promise me you won’t help me”. “What?” “Promise me you won’t help me. Don’t do anything to help me”. “What kind of promise is that?” “Just promise me please”. “OK, fine. Anything to make you happier, Pinkie”. She really had gotten sick of her mopey attitude. Just as she turned around to leave, Pinkie spoke again. “Do you Pinkie swear?” “Do I what?” “You know, Pinkie swear. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye”. “Ugh, yes, fine, I Pinkie swear”. “You need to say it”. Dash sighed. “Crossmyhearhopetoflystickacupcakeinmyeye. There, I said it.” “Ok, I trust you”. “Good”. “Thanks”. “You’re welcome”. “Good night”. “Good night!” Ugh, I need a nap. I’m going back to sleep, Dash decided, and laid down on her blanket in the top-right corner of the wagon. ------------------------------------------------------ The wagon jolted as it passed over a small obstacle in the road. Twilight Sparkle awoke. A bright yellow glare from outside filled the room, tinting it with light. Rubbing her eyes, Twilight let out a satisfying yawn. Looking around, she saw Fluttershy nestled snuggly in her blanket, and Rarity sleeping on her side with a dreamy smile on her face. Glancing to her right, she saw Pinkie Pie laying on her side as well, with one leg up in the air. The leg moved around in the air, as if she were trying to right herself after a fall. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were gone. Twilight quietly made her way over to the cargo, and found what she was looking for: a distinctly purple box. Opening the small container, she located the brass pocket watch that lay inside. Flipping the lock open, the time was displayed by the small hand on the 7, and the long hand on 9. Though she had been hoping for a slightly earlier start-up that morning, the lilac unicorn remembered to keep her faith in Applejack’s timing. After all, the wagon was already moving, so perhaps they had been making distance long before she even woke up. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were both sitting out in front, joking amongst themselves over minute details of their everyday lives. Occasionally, one of the two colts pulling the wagon (who Dash had heard AJ refer to as Bill and Lou), would join in on the conversation as well, but mostly kept to themselves. Well, it wasn’t actually a conversation, as for the most part Applejack kept an intent, almost stern gaze at the road ahead, while Dash observed the scenery in boredom. They had cleared the woods an hour ago, and found themselves in slightly more rugged terrain. Although grass was abundant, trees were not, and thus, there had been a noticeable increase in the level of aridness in the air. However, a cool breeze blew down through the plateau, helping to displace some of the hot air trapped within its confines. Unlike the forest, where the light tan of the dirt road had contrasted with the dark green of the undergrowth, the track of dirt here was barely noticeable among the patches of dry grass and the occasional rock. Twilight had learned her lesson from the night before, and casually made her way outside. She carried with her the map, which she planted next to Applejack. She sat in between Applejack and Rainbow Dash, taking up essentially all of the space on the front platform. “Good morning. Wow, this valley sure is gorgeous, isn’t it?” Applejack, although putting on a half-smile to greet her friend, had a stressed look in her eyes. Twilight could simply tell by looking. The insomniac-like bags under her eyes added much to the effect, and her mane was poorly kempt. “Ah gave the rest of the oats to the boys,” Applejack responded, “so we ain’t eatin’ breakfast t’day”. “That’s fine. We ate well last night. But what about lunch or dinner?” “Ah made sure to pack some extra food, so there’s a bushel of hay in the back, and the jug of water. But if ya want some fancier fixin’s, I think there’s a diner along this road. ‘Course, t’aint for about…eh, ah’d say another 75 miles. Might not get there ‘til sunset”. “I didn’t see a diner mentioned on that map when I took a look at it,” Dash contested. “That’s a geographic map. ‘Sides, last time I made this trip I was just short of bein’ a filly. Place could be gone for all I know”. Twilight grew a look of investigative interest. “I thought you make this trip all the time, Applejack”. Applejack really didn’t want to talk at the moment, and she pronounced this by grasping the reigns in her mouth, and whipping them down. Bill and Lou weren’t happy at that unnecessary action, and their backward glances showed this. The orange pony decided to reply anyway. “After that, I started buckin’ full-time. We made enough money to just afford train tickets out to Appleloosa instead. Wish we coulda taken the train this time, but we’re sorta in a tight spot right now, and them tickets don’t come cheap, ‘specially this time of year”. The three ponies spent the next forty-five minutes in utter silence. Twilight admired the scenery, while Rainbow Dash daydreamed about her future inauguration into the Wonderbolts. Applejack kept her stern, focused gaze on the road ahead the entire time, scarcely blinking. Whenever Twilight did look at Applejack, she couldn’t tell if she was lost deep in thought, or hardly thinking of anything at all. Finally, Applejack spoke up. “How’s Pinkie Pie?” “I don’t think she’s gotten up yet,” Twilight responded, getting up to go back inside, “I’ll go check on her”. Everypony was awake. Pinkie Pie was reclining against the wall, playing with a paddleball she had seemingly conjured from thin air. Twilight brimmed at the sight of Pinkie at least attempting to entertain herself. Rainbow Dash followed in after Twilight Sparkle and retrieved herself some water from the jug in back. After drinking like a camel, she gasped for breath. “Heh. It’s hot out there”. Rarity and Fluttershy both nodded to each other, and filed outside. Sitting down on the platform next to Applejack, they addressed the gargoyle-stanced pony. “I could really use a little rest stop sometime soon”. “And I would most enjoy observing some of the field rabbits and meadow quails”. Applejack turned to them, her eyes so tired they seemed to themselves be yawning. Fluttershy instantly regretted her words. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot for a second that we have to get to Appleloosa as soon as possible”. Applejack opened up the map beside her and quickly scanned over it. “Actually,” she said, “we may have some time for a little rest stop. We gotta fill up our water anyway. Rainbow and ol’ Lou and Bill already drank most of what we brought. Lemme think…” Applejack strained to recall the journey she had made so many times as a youth, and kept flicking her eyes back to the map to help her. “Ah, that’s right. There should be a spring about 45 miles from here. If we get there by the afternoon, we’ll have time for a 30-minute rest stop. “Oh, I am sooo relieved to hear that, Applejack. I could really use some Rarity-time”, the white unicorn said. The next several hours saw most of the ponies do little but lay around inside the wagon. Applejack and Twilight spent their time alternating on “driving duty”, a system Applejack seemed reluctant to cooperate with. At around 2:30 in the afternoon, all six of the girls were inside the canvas. The orange earth pony had just finished off the last drop of water in the jug. Satisfied with the hydration she had just provided herself with, Applejack licked her lips and took one step before the steady pace of the wagon slowed down. The sound of creaking wooden wheels could be heard as she went outside to investigate the cause of this slow-down in pace. By the time she had reached the front of the wagon, all movement had ceased, and she noticed Bill and Lou standing right in front of the driving platform, nervous looks on their faces. “Excuse our leisure, Miss Apple, but this here mud is awfully difficult for us to pull this whole wagon through”, the latter one said. The duo’s employer looked down at the ground, and noticed the amorphous mess of water and mud that had replaced the road they had been following since they left Ponyville. When she lifted her head, her eyes were drawn immediately to the image of a large, blue spring, no more than 20 yards ahead. ------------------------------------------------------------- The spring was a pond of sorts on the top of a large cliff. None of the six girls had really noticed the gradual slope they had been traveling up from the valley they had been in, but there they were, on top of a cliff. It was like an oasis; the grass was dark and the foliage lush. The spring was crossed by a cobblestone bridge that had been eroded from years of neglect and moisture. Trees surrounded the cliff-top, their leaves spreading shade across the pool of water. This oasis was pure, for lack of a better term, and was almost like a fresh new biome birthed from the deadness of the surrounding valley. “A’right,” Applejack spoke in authority, “we’re gonna stop here fer no more than half an hour. Then we gotta get movin’ again. I suggest y’all get in the water to clean yourselves off. Yer all startin’ to stink to high heaven”. “Well, I never,” Rarity began, but stereotypically, didn’t finish. The wagon was parked on the side of the front of the bridge, underneath a large, shady tree. The girls had all gotten out to get some fresh air and move around. Rainbow Dash sporadically flew around, darting from tree to tree, the adrenaline replenishing her cramped muscles. Applejack bucked a tree that dropped a fig, which she promptly ate. Even Rarity was trotting in place to help work off some of the restlessness caused by the claustrophobic “room” she had been relegated to for more than a day with five other ponies. The two male Earth ponies, Bill and Lou, had laid down in the soft grass under the tree to get a little rest. Applejack had gone down to the water’s edge to refill the jug she had packed. Kneeling down with her face to the water and the jug’s head in her mouth, she winced as water splashed into her eyes, soaking her mane and hat. “Hehe, sorry Applejack,” was Rainbow Dash’s half-hearted reply. The restless pegasus had just dove straight from the air to the water, and was now laying on her back, attempting to float while basking in the cool shade. “Come on, Pinkie. It’ll be easier for you to stretch in the water”. Twilight was attempting to push, with her head, Pinkie Pie down the small slope that lead to the water hole. “Fluttershy, give me a hoof here”. The shy pegasus looked up from the ground, where she had been spying on a nest of quails under a bush. She cantered over to Twilight, and lightly helped nudge the sitting Pinkie Pie into getting up. Reluctantly, the pink pony slowly made her way to the water’s edge. She nearly slipped and fell headfirst into the pool, but Fluttershy had bit down on her tail to prevent this. Placing the tip of a hoof in the water, Pinkie found the temperature suitable, and walked right in, submerging herself up to her neck. Twilight and Fluttershy smiled and nodded in agreement, and joined Pinkie Pie in the water. Dash, all parts of her submerged except for her wetly-spiked mane (which now resembled a shark’s dorsal fin), came up with the brilliant idea of sneaking up on and spooking Fluttershy, but decided against it; the easily-spooked pony was too sensitive and may have taken such a prank too seriously. Rarity, sporting a red bathing suit of sorts (and a protective swim cap, for her mane‘s sake), cantered into the water as well, cautiously avoiding getting in deep enough to possibly get her hair wet. Dash was kicking herself around the pool on her back, using only her hind legs. “Rainbow Dash, could you please relax yourself and avoid such rough behavior? I would like to avoid getting splashed, thank you very much”. Needless to say, Rarity was met with a splash to the face. “Oh, that’s it. It. Is. On.” Rarity splashed back at Dash’s direction, but the pegasus dove underwater, dodging Rarity’s counterattack. Twilight and Fluttershy, who had been wading in the shallower water together, giggled at the feud that had started between Rarity and Dash. Pinkie Pie was sitting on the bank a few feet away from the two, and was splashing the water in front of her with her hooves. Noticing this, Twilight paddled over to her. Fluttershy followed. “Here Pinkie, let’s get some stretches in, huh?” Twilight suggested, putting on an encouraging smile. “OK Twilight, sounds like fun!” Pinkie said, perhaps her first genuine smile since the trip started. “Great! Now, just let yourself fall backwards. Fluttershy and I will catch you,” Twilight said, Fluttershy nodding in agreement. Pinkie Pie had never heard of this way of exercising before, but trusted her friends, and allowed herself to fall back. Twilight and Fluttershy performed, and assisted Pinkie in, a variety of underwater stretches for the next several minutes. Laughing and splashing around, the three friends were enjoying each others’ company, and for the first time, Pinkie Pie didn’t regret making this trip. The fun was short lived, however, and before Rarity and Dash could settle their dispute, Applejack’s voice echoed through the concave cliff-top. “EVERYPONY BACK ON BOARD! WE GOTTA HEAD ON OUT!” Pinkie Pie’s smile flipped into a frown, and her playful splashing ceased as Twilight and Fluttershy each hooked an arm around Pinkie’s, helping her out of the water and back up the slope to the wagon. ---------------------------------------------- Getting everypony coordinated and back on board was easier than Applejack had expected, and they left exactly at the planned time of 3 o’clock. Inside the wagon, everypony was drying off with some admittedly rough towels that Applejack had packed just in case they were needed. Due to the bright, sunny weather, everypony dried off surprisingly quickly, and the wagon was kept dry and clean. What was best was that the girls were all content. Dash had worked off some steam, Rarity had gotten her “Rarity-time” (albeit, with a minor inconvenience), Fluttershy had gotten to observe the quails, and even Pinkie Pie enjoyed herself. The only complaint any of the girls could’ve made, should they have chosen to do so, would be that they were more than a little hungry, especially after swimming. Applejack was on “driving duty” again, and Pinkie Pie was in a reassuringly good mood. She had even held a deep conversation about Gummy with Twilight, who had recently read a reference guide on crocodilians. “and that’s probably why Gummy doesn’t have any teeth,” Twilight finished explaining. Pinkie shouted in revelation. “Oh, that makes so much sense! Thank you thank you thank you, Twilight!” Twilight blushed out of flattery, having felt proud to have helped improve Pinkie Pie’s mood in such a way. Fluttershy, who had been waiting patiently to respond to something Twilight had brought up half an hour before, finally spoke up and said, “Twilight, I found that part about the Egyptian plover bird and how it eats out of the crocodile’s mouth so interesting…do you know anything else about that bird?” Twilight turned herself from Pinkie Pie to talk to Fluttershy, and began elaborating on what she knew of the subject. Pinkie’s mood mellowed out a bit, having lost a stimulator for her thoughts. She decided to go see how Applejack was doing. Lifting up her impregnated body slowly, she cantered over to the driving platform. Applejack had her face buried in the map that lay beside her when Pinkie arrived. “Not now, Twilight. We won’t be there until later-” she then caught the sight of pink out of the corner of her eye. “P-Pinkie Pie! I haven’t seen ya out here before! How ya feelin’, Sugar Cube?” “I’m feeling okey-dokey,” Pinkie replied with her infamous “boooring” smile. “That’s what I was hopin’ to hear. Say, you hungry? I know we all haven’t eaten much since early last night. I’m hopin’ we make it to this diner I think is about another 30 miles. We should get there by maybe 7:15 tonight, but no earlier. I just hope y’all can hold out ‘til then. We wouldn’t want you or the lil’ one to go hungry now”. Pinkie had been pestered with so much after the question that she had to think a bit before answering. “Yeah, I’m pretty hungry. My tummy’s been rumbling since we left the spring. I think everypony else is hungry too. Do they have pancakes Applejack? Ooh, I hope they have pancakes! I could really go for some pancakes because it’s my favorite food and it sounds so good, oh and ice cream for desert! Maybe with some pickles! I don’t think I’ve ever had ice cream with pickles before, have you Applejack? I don’t know why but it sounds so good and…..” Pinkie continued on as Applejack tuned her out. “Heheh, yeah, I can promise you they’ll have pancakes, Pinkie. Can’t assure you they’ve got ice cream and pickles, though I’d agree it’d be fun to try”. Well AJ, would ya look at that. Pinkie seems just like her old self. This trip may be less of a hassle than I thought. ---------------------------------------------------- The coach eventually reached the bottom of the cliff, still sticking to the road. When they had reached the bottom, the view of the mountains up ahead were clearly visible in the dusty, cloudless skyline. Twilight, who had been up front with Applejack, shuttered at the thought of possibly having to cut through the stone giants. To make matters worse, all the ponies could see from that point was desert. Gone were the grasses and ponds that were fairly common on the other side of the valley. Only sand, rocks, and heat awaited them from this point on. The dirt road barely contrasted the sand on either side at all. It was 4:13 PM. Twilight, discouraged by the foreboding scenery and suffering from hunger pains, went back under the canvas. --------------------------------------------------- The wagon pulled up to a tall sign, bearing no words but featuring a picture of a hamburger. Off the left side of the road was the diner accompanying the sign. Twilight and Rarity were out front with Applejack. Being the average pony (that is, one with a strictly vegetarian diet), Twilight pondered the implications of a pony-run, pony-serving diner advertising a fried patty of beef. She decided that the less she thought about it, the better, and checked her pocket watch. “It’s 7:18. You really have mastered this trip, haven’t you Applejack? I wish I had memory like that. Hey wait, I thought Appleloosa was a brand new settlement. But you’ve been telling us you’ve been doing this trip for years”. “Appleloosa is a settlement town. It’s reason for bein’ along this route is because it’s a halfway mark for a larger apple community. That’s where I used to go as a filly”. Twilight didn’t understand the term “apple community”, but didn’t bother to ask for an elaboration. The desert landscape was a flurry of deep, dark orange, purple, and blue. The sun shone as brilliantly as the princess who made it rise every day; a large yellow explosion of light in the sky. The wind chilled and a cold breeze blew through as the hot rural day of Princess Celestia prepared to be replaced by the cold desert night of Princess Luna. Applejack hopped off of the stage and helped Bill and Lou out of their harnesses. The girls stepped out, relieved for another stop. Rarity went back inside the canvas after only having stuck her neck out the front, and re-emerged with a scarf. No doubt she would be complaining of the chilly weather the entire night had she not. Everypony stretched or trotted in place. Fluttershy let out a tiny yawn that could barely be heard under the desert wind. The group of friends, minus Applejack, waltzed over to the entrance of the diner, waiting patiently for their last member. Applejack finished liberating Lou from his harness (she seemed to like Bill better), then reached out of a saddlebag she had on her person, giving them 10 gold coins each. “This ain’t comin’ outta yer pay, fellas. Don’t worry. Now get yourselves a nice meal. You’ve earned it”. “You’re giving us 10 gold pieces each? That’s a lot for one meal,” Bill stated. “Now, I won’t hear nothin’ of it. I trust ya guys. Go ‘head. Take it”. And with that, Applejack trotted over to her friends, and the group went inside, Rarity holding the door open for the rest. There seemed to be almost nopony in the diner. From what the girls could see, there was a waitress reading an Equestria Daily newspaper behind the counter, a cook in the back kitchen, and a sleeping colt in one of the back corner tables. The group of six sat together in a line at the diner’s bar counter. Pinkie Pie, who was in a generally good mood, quickly discovered the entertainment value spinning around on her stool provided. The waitress, without even looking up from her paper, rang up the cash register. Walking over to the six friends, she prepared to take their orders. She addressed them, in a way that almost seemed like she didn’t acknowledge their presence. Which was fine, considering nopony but Applejack even noticed her presence, as their faces were buried in the menus in front of them. Pinkie grimaced. Applejack was right! They really do have pancakes! Then her smile disappeared; she hadn’t brought any money. “Heh, my friends are still choosin’,” AJ said, “just git me a glass ‘a orange juice and a hash brown dish”. She threw 5 gold coins onto the counter. The waitress, whose nametag read “Glass Dish”, wrote down the order on a small notebook in front of her. “Pots!” she shouted, in an accent not awfully dissimilar from Applejack’s, “Get me some shredded taters, n’ a glass ‘a OJ!” A large, dark gray, older male pony, who had a scar on his eye and wore a nametag reading “Pots N. Pans”, popped his head out of the kitchen window. “Comin’ right up, Dish!” Glass Dish spoke again, in an almost irritated tone, “So, what’re yer friends want?” Twilight spoke first. “Hello, Glass Dish (she read it out), I’d like to order the fried daffodil sandwich and fruit punch”. Twilight normally stayed away from fried foods, but was also easily lead astray by hunger. “I’ll have an iced tea and Caesar salad,” Fluttershy politely requested. “I’ll have what she’s having,“ Rarity said, nudging up against her friend sitting next to her. “Gimme a big old plate of fried oats. Extra sauce. Oh, and a root beer,” Dash said definitively. She was ready to chow down. “What do you want, Pinkie Pie?” Fluttershy asked. “I’m not gonna order anything,” she muttered, “I didn’t bring any money”. “No worries Pinkie Pie, I’ll pay fer it,” AJ said, craning her neck over the counter to see past her friends, and look Pinkie in the face, “You wanted them pancakes, right? Waitress, get my friend here a big ol’ plate ‘a pancakes!” After everypony had payed out of their wallets (and Applejack paid for Pinkie), the group sat around and chatted back and forth, likely as a way to push the excitement of finally having a meal into the backs of their minds. It wasn’t long before all of their orders had simultaneously arrived, and they began tearing at the plates of food with ravenous delight. Pinkie soon stopped feeling bad about having Applejack pay for her food, and focused entirely on the delight the pancakes had brought her. She was so happy, she simply had to share this feeling with her friends. “Hey everypony,” she shouted perhaps a little too loudly, as the colt sleeping in the back corner had woken up, and did not appear very happy, “I’ve got a great idea! A great time like this calls for some music!” Pinkie bolted over to a jukebox that hadn’t been playing anything, and selected an instrumental of the song “The Pony Pokey”. She jumped back up on her stool, standing on it, and began singing. “You do the pony pokey and you turn yourself around,” she sang out, spinning her stool at the last bit, “C’mon everypony! That’s what it’s all about!” Her friends, although not singing with her, were “head dancing” to the music, and laughed. They hadn’t been this pleased to see Pinkie having fun in months. The fun was soon interrupted, however. “Hey! Ladies! Turn that racket off!” A loud, assertive voice bellowed. Pinkie, having stopped dancing on her spinning stool to see where the voice had come from, was launched off of the rotating seat, and fell on her back on the tiled floor. “Pinkie!” all her friends shouted. Twilight, Fluttershy, and Rarity got up from their seats to help their fallen friend back onto her feet. The colt who had recently awoken stepped slowly over to the distressed group. He stood over Pinkie, and said, in a threatening manner, “We don’t take kindly to that sorta music ‘round here”. Twilight was outraged at this. “My friend is pregnant, and she hurt herself all because you didn’t want that music on? Why didn’t you just leave?” He glared at the unicorn, giving her a stare that spelled death. “And who are you, little missy, to tell me to leave? This here is my diner.” Rarity was a tad frightened to get involved, but said, “B-but, if you don’t like the song, then why is that record in the machine?” “Why that’s simple, little lassie. We put it on there so we can tell pampered city ponies like all y’all to turn it off”. “Y’all tell her, Shard,” Glass Dish said from behind the counter. “Sh-Shard?” Fluttershy gulped. “Name’s Glass Shard,” he shouted, anger in his voice, “Dish here’s mah sister. Y’all wanna know why they call me that, little missy?” Applejack had seen enough of this disrespect. She got out of her seat, and asserted her way over to the colt. “Now hold yer horses, Mr. Shard. Ya can’t just treat my friends like that”. “Heh, if it ain’t a traitor. A perfectly fine country pony who’s allied herself with these…these…no good, two-timin’, trust-breakin’ city ponies!” He smacked Applejack with the side of a hoof, causing her to reel back in defense. Discouraged in her ability to resolve the conflict, she grunted in anger. “How’s about one of you girlies takes me on in a hoof-wrastlin’ match? Tell ya what, I’ll even let y’all alone if ya can impress me”. “Hehe, y’all know nopony can take you, Shard,” Glass Dish said. “That’s the point. Let’s see ‘em sufffer”. He grew a wide, evil grin. Applejack ran over to Rainbow Dash, who had a very distressed but angry look on her face. “Rainbow, you gotta take him. Yer the best hoof-wrastler in Ponyville. Y’all can beat me for cryin’ out loud!” That’s just what Dash had wanted to hear. “Alright, I’ll -” she looked down at Pinkie Pie, who was having trouble getting up from the floor, even with assistance. “I-I don’t think I can,” she said, looking down and drooping her ears. “What?! Of course you can! Remember, it’s not about strength, it’s about technique! And you’ve got that technique!” “Dash, you have to hoof-wrestle him!” Twilight shouted. “Do it Rainbow Dash! Show this guy what’s what!” Rarity said. Dash looked at Pinkie again, who, despite the tears welling up in her eyes, was subtly shaking her head “no”. “I-I just can’t,” Dash said again, “I just can’t”. “Aw look, the little filly’s cryin’”, Glass Shard said, his gaze piercing Pinkie Pie’s attempt to hide her tears. “C’mon Rainbow! Give this guy a run for his money!” Twilight shouted. “For Pinkie Pie! You can’t let him treat her like this!” “But Pinkie Pie-” Dash was beyond stressed at this point, “AGH! I JUST CAN’T!” Dash shouted at the top of her lungs and flew out the door before anypony noticed the tears that were beginning to form. Pinkie Pie had finally gotten herself off of the ground, and without warning, vomited her recent meal all over the floor. “I have to go to the little mare’s room!” She shouted, tears trailing behind her as she ran to the restroom. “Ah, forget you girlies,” Shard said, spitting in their direction, “I’m done with you. Just, clean up that mess on the floor and git out!” Applejack and Twilight mopped up the mess while Fluttershy and Rarity waited by the restroom door. When Pinkie finally emerged, tears still falling down her cheeks, her friends escorted her on either side to the exit, where AJ and Twilight were waiting. Bill and Lou, who had pieces of grass sticking to their lips, pulled the coach up to the girls, who had begun consoling their victimized friend. They quickly got inside their mobile sanctuary, and started back up the road. The stars shone big and bright over the little wagon in the pitch-black desert. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Everypony was inside the coach, but nopony said anything practically the rest of the night. Pinkie Pie had ceased her crying, and Rainbow Dash seemed…disillusioned the entire time. Despite the fact that no words were present to be attentive towards, nopony made an effort to go to sleep. They just lay, looking around, occasionally locking eyes when they happened to glance at each other. Eventually, the weariness of fatigue eclipsed the girls, and sleep overtook them without any one of them noticing. Well, nopony but Rainbow Dash noticed, at least, because she didn’t fall asleep that night. Why had Pinkie Pie asked her, and her only to promise “not to help” her? She couldn’t have asked anypony else; there was no time of privacy in that cramped wagon. So why did Pinkie Pie only want Rainbow Dash to not help her? Rainbow Dash couldn’t decode this perplexing conundrum. Something eventually connected in her brain, however. Pinkie Pie must have something against me, she concluded. Why else would she not want my help? What, does she think I’ll mess everything up? I’d be tons more helpful than pampered little Rarity! So, I’m not good enough for her, that’s it. Suddenly, Dash’s face, which had shown a status of deep thought, became a devilish expression of pure anger and nigh-on hatred. This is all that deceiving Applejack’s fault! First she brainwashed Pinkie Pie into keeping the baby, and then she acts all goody-goody during this trip to keep her on her side, and against me. I knew that cowgirl was up to something suspicious. She’s just using Pinkie Pie to push home her agenda. And Pinkie thinks I’m the villain here. Rainbow Dash, finally realizing this truth, lay her head down and closed her eyes, but did not fall asleep. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Everypony seemed to be up early (earlier than the sun, for the sky was still gray), but not with the vigor of previous days. Lethargic and tired, speech was still foregone for fatigued facial expressions as the preferred form of communication. The only thing that differed from the night before was that Applejack was no longer inside. Rainbow Dash took notice of this as soon as she opened her eyes, and walked outside without a peep from anypony else. The orange work pony was sitting on the stage, gazing forward at the foggy, gray road ahead. This level of mistiness was a rare sight in the humid valley of the desert. It must’ve been the time of year. Bill and Lou were barely visible just 5 yards ahead. Applejack’s usual stern expression had been retired for a disdainful one, just as still and unmoving as its predecessor. Rainbow Dash, her face just as spiteful, forcefully jumped off of the platform, causing the surface to creak, and hovered over it, looking down on Applejack. This position gave her a sense of…power. “Haven’t seen you out here very often,” Applejack said, her face unmoved. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t sure there was much room out here, considering how much space your big head takes up”. Dash felt proud of herself for the clever remark. Applejack decided to interpret that as an immature, but friendly joke. “Rainbow, what happened at the diner last night…” “I told you I wasn’t going to do it!” Rainbow raised her voice, already prepared to defend herself. “I wasn’t going to get involved!” “But Pinkie Pie needed yer help!” Applejack had raised her voice as well. “And you just ignored her! What happened to the normal Rainbow Dash who always has somethin’ to pick a fight over? The one time we need ya to open yer trap, and ya clam up!” “Are you saying that’s all I’m good for?! Picking fights?!” Rainbow Dash upped the ante on the arms race of vocal authority. “Y’all haven’t been no good since this here trip started! All ya’ve done is drink all our water and let poor Pinkie Pie get picked on!” “Everything turned out fine! He left you guys alone!” “Because poor Pinkie lost her lunch out of stress!” “She lost her lunch because she’s a pregnant cow!” The orange pony didn’t respond. There was a long pause, and nothing could be heard but the clopping of the hooves of two ponies up ahead, which began to awkwardly change pace to a slower trot in response. Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, and Fluttershy peered out from the inside of the wagon. The lilac unicorn had deep concern in her voice. “What in Equestria is going on out here?” Dash landed on the platform. Neither Dash nor AJ said anything. Pinkie Pie shoved her way up front. “Stop arguing!” Everypony turned to face her. “Everything’s my fault alright?! Just - stop it! Let’s forget about the diner, ok?” AJ, waiting for any excuse to stop the increase in tension, agreed. “Yeah, let’s just…forget about it,” then quickly added “And ain’t nothin’ yer fault, Pinkie”. Everypony but Pinkie went back inside, and Pinkie added, in an unstably quivering voice, “Applejack?” Rainbow Dash felt ignored. “Yeah, Sugar Cube?” “Just…promise me nothing else bad will happen”. AJ, determined to prevent the trip from becoming any more stressful for Pinkie Pie, replied without hesitation. “I absolutely promise that nothin’ else bad will happen. I’ll see to it myself nothin’ else goes wrong”. She glanced over at Rainbow, then returned to her fixed position on the road. Pinkie Pie, still with a look of concern, looked at Rainbow Dash, who looked back with an expression of what could only be described as betrayal. Pinkie Pie mouthed the words “Thank you”, then retreated back behind the canvas. Dash and AJ said nothing more to each other. The arms race had been put on détente, but the reserves were still ready to launch if need be. ------------------------------------------------------ In her effort to avoid tension, Applejack had hoped they wouldn’t be required to make the unspeakable decision so quickly. However, not long after the morning sun painfully burned away the coolness of the fog, the wagon stopped in front of a large ravine, over which dangled a narrow, wooden bridge. For the first time since they had left Ponyville, the road split off, leading to a makeshift “ramp” down towards the bottom of the canyon. Twilight knew exactly why they had stopped, although she wished she didn’t. Looking up from a book she had been reading, she galloped outside. “What’s the plan, AJ?” Rainbow Dash’s ears perked and she intently listened to what the two ponies were about to discuss. “This is day three, Twilight. I was hoping we’d be there by the end ‘a the night, but this is the longest, hardest stretch of the trip”. “Then we should go through the mountains,” Twilight said scholarly, “because that saves us the most time”. Looking over at Bill and Lou, who had been panting impatiently due to the heat, Applejack had second thoughts. “I dunno. I don’t wanna overwork these fellas, plus if we find out we can’t make it over the mountain, then we’d be wastin’ even more time by havin’ to come back and take the lower route”. “Well, you’ve done this trip before. Were you able to make it up the mountain previously?” “Yeah, but we used mah daddy’s wagon, which was a lot fancier’n this. Plus, we had a whole team of ponies, not just two. Not that I don’t have faith in ol’ Bill an’ Lou’s abilities”. “I think that’s a load of -” Dash began. “What? A load ‘a what, Rainbow?” Applejack dared her to finish the sentence. Dash didn’t, but went on. “You just want to take the longer route so we don’t have time to get the abortion. You want to drag this trek out as long as you can just so you can have it your way”. “Rainbow Dash, Applejack would never do something like that. I’m sure she wants to get there as quickly as the rest of us,” Twilight said, scolding her judgmental friend. “And there we go again, everyone taking her side,” Dash complained, crossing her arms in defeat. “Fine Rainbow, fine,” Applejack said, “You wanna take the mountain path so bad, why don’t ya use that fancy speed of yours to fly over there and see if the mountain looks passable?” Rainbow Dash considered taking on this challenge, but remembering her promise to Pinkie Pie, decided against it. “No. You just want to get rid of me”. Twilight gasped in shock. “Rainbow! No she doesn’t! You know, it wouldn’t hurt for you to help us with this task. It might even make it up to Pinkie for how you ignored her at the di-” She suddenly remembered the agreement to not bring up the incident again. Dash couldn’t stand it any longer. Maybe it was the pressure. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe she even felt guilty. But she couldn’t take it any longer. No holds barred; she had made a promise, but that promise didn’t include not telling anypony. “I REFUSE TO HELP PINKIE PIE! SHE DOESN’T WANT MY HELP!!” The exclamation echoed throughout the canyon. The other ponies’ faces emerged from the wagon. Rarity in particular displayed a face as if she were possessed by demons. “Everypony stop arguing and somepony just make a decision already! This heat is ruining my mane!” Pinkie Pie had felt a sense of relief. This whole time, she had been expecting and helping Rainbow Dash to keep their little promise a secret out of pure suspicion of the preference of doing so. But now, the bars were removed. “Thank you so much for keeping your promise, Rainbow Dash!” She shouted, embracing her friend from behind, nearly choking her. Dash shoved her off, rather violently. Everypony was silent at Dash’s reveal. “Wha-What?” Twilight began, “what promise are you talking about, Pinkie?” “Pinkie made me promise not to help her, that’s why I’ve been avoiding doing so,” Dash explained aggravatingly. “Why didn’t you just say that?” Rarity asked. “Because I thought it was a stupid promise!” Rainbow said, “and maybe I was…a little mad about it…but that doesn’t matter! I made a promise, and I’m keeping it!” “But why would you make Rainbow promise you that, Pinkie?” Twilight asked, turning to the pink pony. “Because,” she began, solemnly, “she’d be the one most likely to help me in the first place”. Pinkie, now once again depressed, went back inside, and everypony, although still confused, decided it best to drop the conversation; At this point, nopony wanted to talk to a moody Pinkie Pie. “We’re goin’ up the mountain,” AJ said, in an expressionless whisper. She took the reigns in her teeth again, and brought them down. Bill and Lou slowly made their way across the narrow, rickety wooden bridge. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy instinctively hovered above the wagon, helping lift it and lessen the pressure it put on the bridge as much as they could. When the party reached the other side (nopony knew how that bridge didn’t break, although a few panels fell off), the mountains loomed over them only 300 feet ahead. -------------------------------------------------------- There they were; the wagon stood in front of a mountain; the road climbing it up it at a steep incline. Applejack didn’t know the measurement of the slope, but just the thought of guessing (and doing math) deterred her from trying to figure out. She went under the canvas to mentally prepare the others for the challenge up ahead. Bill and Lou talked to each other under their breaths, looking at each other only out of the corners of their eyes. “The lady’s loaded,” Bill stated. “I don’t wanna pull all this up that mountain…” Lou complained. “We don’t have to. You still got that money she gave you last night?” “Yeah.” “Good. Now, I’ve got a plan. That white one, with the purple mane, we can easily trick her”. “Why’d we wanna do that?” Lou asked, dumbfounded. “She played us, and we can play her right back. We’ll tell the cowgirl to let everyone get out and run around for a few minutes. Then, we get the white one’s attention with the money. While one of us distracts her, the other one goes and snatches all the money from the back of the wagon. I saw the orange one pull some coins out of there before. I know she’s loaded. After we get the money, we bail!” “Oh, that’s a good idea,” Lou was starting to catch on. “But why would you want to leave six young ladies out here on their own, in the middle of nowhere, and one of them’s pregnant?” “They can take care of themselves! We’ve done our jobs long enough! I say we take the money and go!” “Well, if you say so…” “Shh, she’s coming back!” Applejack returned from the canvas. “You boys ready fer this?” Bill responded. “Uh, about that, Apple…what was it?….Applejack, Lou and I gotta take a lil’ sit. Our hooves are killin’ us”. He jabbed Lou in the side. “Oh, yeah, killing us,” he grimaced nervously. Bill continued, “So, I think it’d be a good idea to let everypony get out and move around for a few minutes. What do you think?” “Well, I suppose everypony’d wanna get out and stretch a bit, alright, thanks for the suggestion, boys”. Soon, everypony was out and about. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie had been sitting on a red boulder, and Twilight had been cowering under a rock jutting out of the mountain-side in order to shade herself. Bill and Lou went off about 15 yards, behind a large boulder. They watched the wagon as Dash flew out, and landed on the rock Twilight lay beneath. Finally, Rarity exited, cautiously stepping down off of the driving platform. She was carrying her saddlebag. Bill jabbed Lou’s side, and the colt attempted to gain her attention from behind the boulder by sticking his hoof in the air, shaking around his sum of money. Rarity turned, noticing the shine of the coins, and made her way over to see what the signaling was about. As she turned around to the other side of the boulder, Bill crept around the far end and made his way to the wagon. “Why hello…gentleman,” Rarity said, not knowing Lou’s name, nor caring to ask. “I see you’ve got quite a nice amount of money”. “How’d you like to have some, Missy?” He responded with a cheesy smile. “Why, I couldn’t do that, although I’m flattered. Applejack gave that money to you, for you to have”. Bill turned around to the back of the wagon, but bumped into Applejack, who had been drinking some water. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Bill said, “I shoulda seen ya”. He frowned, wishing she’d leave. “Oh, you want some water?” Applejack politely asked, moving aside for him to drink from the jug. “How ya been doin’, by the way?” Bill really wanted to avoid a conversation. Lou noticed this, and, placing one hoof on the back of Rarity’s neck and the other against her mouth, forced her against the boulder. She gasped in fear. “Alright girly, you’re gonna say exactly as I tell you, and everything’ll be fine. I want you to call your friend Applejack over here, now. Don’t scream, or else”. Lou had never felt this sort of sensation before. “Oh, um, Applejack?” Rarity called. The orange pony peered over at the boulder. “Oh, hey Rarity! What’cha doin’ over there?” “Could you just…ouch, come over here please?” “Well, I’ll talk to ya later Bill,” AJ said, walking over to the boulder Rarity was calling from. Nice one, Lou, Bill thought, and in a matter of seconds, looted every container and sack for their monetary contents. Applejack had just made it to Rarity, and made her way to the other side of the boulder, when Lou shoved her against the rock as well. “What in tarnation?!” Was all AJ could let out before he had shoved a hoof over her mouth. Applejack struggled to get out of the colt’s grip, but he was physically bigger and stronger an Earth pony than she was, simply by being a male. However, Applejack bucked and writhed, and Lou had to jump on her, pinning her to the ground. Applejack bounced him around like a rodeo horse, but couldn’t muster the strength to throw him off. Luckily, Lou’s attention was fully devoted to keeping Applejack under control, and he had forgotten about Rarity, who, by focusing as much as she possibly could, telepathically slammed the assailant face-first into the boulder. “Girls!” Applejack called, attempting to get her friends’ attention, “Over here!” Everypony quickly arrived, and Twilight magically restrained Lou from moving. Bill had noticed the commotion, however, and knowing their cover had been broken, piled all of the money into Fluttershy’s saddlebag, and made a break for it, dashing across the bridge. Applejack saw this, and knew there was only one way to prevent his escape. “Rainbow! You’re the fastest! Go get him!” Dash was reluctant to take action, given her limitations during the trip, but, seeing her helping as beneficial to everypony, rather than Pinkie Pie specifically, she put on a devilish smile, and darted towards the escaping villain. Noticing this, Bill, looking back, picked up the pace, running as fast as he could. But this was fruitless. The fastest flier in Equestria tackled him straight from the air, and busted right through the weak bridge, sending Bill careening into the canyon below. Luckily for him, there was a small river at the bottom he had just happened to land in. Dash hovered in place, looking down through the hole in the bridge at the colt who was struggling to battle the river he had fallen in to. The scene was amusing to her; that was the slowest-moving stream she’d ever seen. The other girls had seen the whole thing happen, and ran over to meet Dash (well, they ran to the bridge, as nopony dared set foot on it at this point). Lou, left unattended, followed them to see what had happened to his partner in crime. He stopped in front of the wagon. Let’s see their faces when they don’t have this anymore. Hehe, no evidence. He horse-kicked the front of the wagon as hard as he could, and it began rolling backward toward the ravine. Lou then darted towards the rest. He looked down at the bottom of the canyon, seeing a brown figure splashing about. “Bill!” he cried, “Don’t leave me Bill! I don’t know what to do just by myself!” And with that, he ran to the center of the bridge, and jumped through the hole. He made the jump, landing in the water, but the girls didn’t see the colt resurface. Bill, meanwhile, was still flailing around in the water. Dash considered going to retrieve the saddlebag of money, and decided it best. Bolting down to meet the struggling male pony, she pulled him out of the water, dropped him on the ground, and took back Fluttershy’s bag. Lou had actually managed to drag himself out of the water, and was laying on the bank, when, while looking up, his eyes grew wide as he prepared to be bombarded by a two-thousand pound stage coach. What remained of the wagon and its contents were nothing but splintered wood and shredded bags and blankets. Dash flew back up to the top of the canyon, and handed Fluttershy her sopping wet saddlebag. “Girls,” Twilight said in disbelief, “the wagon’s gone. All our stuff…is gone”. Turning to the mountain, the group of six instantly reconsidered the implications of this trip. Applejack, particularly, also reconsidered the implications of trusting others. And of being trusted. ---------------------------------------------------------------- The girls all stood in front of the imposing mountain slope, the dusty road scribbling its way up until it became untraceable. Even the wagon would have had trouble with such terrain. “Look at these mountains,” Twilight, normally an optimist, said, “there’s no way we can make it through these things”. “Is it time to start panicking?” Fluttershy asked. “Twilight’s right,” Rarity, nearly pouting, said outright. “We’re just six ladies without a carriage, no map, no water, and no time. Even if we could make it over this…this overgrown rock, there’d be no time to make it back in time for Pinkie’s decision to matter anyway. And Pinkie! Oh, poor Pinkie! There’s just no way she can walk! Just look at her! Face it, it’s hopeless!” The unicorn sat down in the dirt, and turned around. Crossing her arms, she closed her eyes, driving home the point that Rarity had given up, and nopony could make her continue any further. Tears began welling up in Twilight’s eyes, the stinging contact of the sandy wind causing her to wince. “W-Why,” she sniffled, “didn’t we just try harder in the first place? There was a period of at least three months where we just gave up on Pinkie. We could’ve done more. We could’ve started sooner. We could’ve tried harder”. The young magician cleared her throat; never before had she ever experienced such a sensation of choking on her words, normally being very articulate. “We’ve failed our friend, girls. We failed her when she needed us the most. Wasn’t our intent from the start to be there for her?” Fluttershy attempted a consolation. “Twilight, don’t-” “WELL?! WASN’T IT?!” Twilight shouted, tears now seeping from her eyes. “WASN’T IT?! WASN’T IT, FLUTTERSHY?! YOU TELL ME!!” The yellow pegasus recoiled, whimpering and eyes glossy. Twilight had given up. It was time to start panicking. The broken-hearted unicorn repeated herself. “YOU TELL ME, FLUTTERSHY!! YOU TELL ME!!” “Twilight, the heat’s gone to you,” Dash began, “just calm down and take a breather, and I’m sure-” “No Dash! It’s useless! It’s not the heat! I’m just realizing for the first time how hopeless this all is!” Everypony was silent. To say the heat was dry would be an understatement; humidity was a welcome condition at this point. The girls’ visions were blurred just feet in front of them. Sweat cascaded down all of their bodies; their manes were sopping wet rags of perspiration. Sand painfully bombarded and stuck to their coats, caught in the glaze of bodily fluids. Applejack hadn’t said anything until this point. She hadn’t even paid any attention to her friends’ breakdowns. She only stared up at the mountain, unmoved. The sweat dripping from her forehead slipped down her motionless eyes with no reaction from the pony who, until now, had played a leading role on this journey. Finally, she spoke, her voice softer than the howling winds of dust that chipped away at not only their bodies, but their spirits: “I’ll take her”. There was a momentary silence before Fluttershy, wiping the sweat off of her forehead with a hoof, spoke up. “Pardon?” “I’ll take her”. Applejack’s tone was perfectly unchanged. “I’ll take her. I’ll carry Pinkie Pie across the mountain, and into town. If I push all the way through, we should get there in maybe two days”. “Don’t be stupid, Applejack,” Twilight said critically without raising her lowered head, “I know you’re determined, but that’s suicide. No water, no food. Carrying Pinkie the entire time. You’ll kill yourself”. Fluttershy, although still intimidated to comment on anything Twilight said, agreed. “We won’t let you do that,” she squeaked. “I’d rather die tryin‘,” Applejack said, with pure determination, “than sit here and wait for Death to come get me. If he wants Applejack of the Apple Family, he’d better expect a fight”. Pinkie sat, hunched over, the heat impairing her ability to interpret the more complex themes of her friends’ decisive words. Panting, she gasped for air. The extra weight, stress, and the strain of deep thinking was not boding well for her heat tolerance. “Girls,” she said, gasping for a breath, “it’s,” she gasped again, “my fault…It’s all my fault. I haven’t been with anyone but Bra…Brae…” “Braeburn”. Applejack stated. “Yes.” Pinkie had taken on a delirious migraine as another assailant on her condition. “I haven’t been with…anypony else. I should have just told you…earlier. Shouldn’t…shouldn’t have…made you all…do this trip…it was a dumb idea”. “Pinkie, please stop saying things like that about yourself. It’s not good for anyone’s mental health,” Twilight said, swiping her soaking bangs, which had begun to stick to her forehead, out of her eyes. “Oh, now Twilight’s all smarty-pants again,” Dash said. “Don’t berate Twilight for trying to help Pinkie!” Rarity shouted in genuine anger. “I don’t think it’s nice to shout at Rainbow Dash,” Fluttershy muttered to no one in particular. Soon, the group of accomplices were exchanging insults and arguing, but Pinkie heard none of this (and this was likely for the better). The little pink pony’s eyes batted, then shuttered, then slowly faded into blackness. The last thing she saw were two large dark, green spectrums with shimmering white sparkles; pools of enticement, that hypnotically blanketed her with relief through darkness. ------------------------------------------------- When Pinkie Pie awoke, the blanket of darkness was still present, but its green palette had been replaced by the darkest of blues imaginable. The two white shimmers had multiplied into a countless amount. She blinked. The image remained. She turned her head to the left, then the right, but the spectrum of darkness and light seemed to stretch on forever, scrolling on in an infinite embrace. Turning over on her side to see below her, she felt herself fall on her back, and hit a hard surface; one with the cold hardness of stone, rather than the burning caress of sand and dirt. Looking up, the blanket of deep blue and white, shimmering sparkles was moving upward. She was falling; falling through this abyss. But then, suddenly, she felt a tightening in her tail; the green pools had returned. They must have been a benevolent force, as Pinkie found the blue spectrum scrolling back up; she was rising. Floating. Being elevated. And then her ascent stopped. The dark shroud was still once again. “Pinkie? Are you alright? She’s awake girls!” The green pools spoke. Pinkie heard hoof-clops approach her, and as her eyes adjusted themselves to the darkness, she saw four more pairs of dark, shining pools hover above her. Laying on her back and looking up at Applejack’s eyes, she suddenly realized how badly she was hurting. And boy, was she hurting. All of her joints ached savagely. Her eyes burned, and her migraine returned, or perhaps it had never gone away. Her hooves were pulsing in pain, and her back and lower neck were stinging with a less familiar pain; they must have been hurt during her fall. She ignored the cries her body was emitting, but chose not to move an inch of her aching muscles. Still laying on her back, the hurting pony questioned her friends. “Where are we? Why can I hardly see anything?” “We’re…up on the mountain,” Twilight responded. “We, I mean, Applejack decided to climb the mountain, and we’ve been taking turns carrying you all day,” Rarity informed her. “Well, except for Rainbow Dash, that is. It’s probably nearly 2 in the morning and we haven’t gotten any rest”. Pinkie looked over at Dash, who had been standing a bit farther away than the others. Dash looked back, her shadowed face emotionless. Fluttershy, reminded of her tiresome condition, yawned. “But it seems you’ve been sleeping well, Pinkie Pie. We were so worried about you”. “You passed out earlier, Pinkie,” Twilight informingly stated, with worry in her voice making up for the near lack of visible facial features the dark night made for, “we think you had a heat stroke. Are you feeling ok?” “I…” Pinkie remembered how much her friends had already been worrying about her. “I, feel fine. It’s just…my back hurts…a little”. “Y’all just fell offa Twilight and Rarity’s backs, and I caught ya before you fell down…there,” Applejack said, pointing a hoof downward. Following this gesture, Pinkie noticed that she was just a few feet away from slipping off into a nasty fall; how four small female ponies had carried her up from that bumpy mess of a mountainside, she had no clue. What was even more perplexing to her was how they had all agreed and cooperated on such a system when they had been arguing to no end the last time she saw them. Twilight, having just ended her turn carrying Pinkie, was exhausted. “Let’s stop a while, shall we? Pinkie looks a little beat-up, and now that she’s awake, we don’t want to make her walk, especially after that spill she had. Besides,” she added, “it’d be dangerous to progress in the dark like this, and I’m finding it hard to keep a light spell going”. “I agree with Twilight,” Rarity and Fluttershy simultaneously said, and thus, deciding it. The impatient Rainbow Dash and determined Applejack couldn’t counter this argument if they wanted to, being outnumbered three to two, with Pinkie’s feelings at stake as well. They decided to make “camp” at their current location; a cliff jutting out of the mountainside, only one of the many layers of random rock and sediment that made up the sculpture of the formation. A dead, nearly petrified tree stood on the cliff top, spindly and only about 7 feet tall. The useless trunk was quick to be uprooted by Applejack and set fire to by Twilight Sparkle with a flame spell. Laying around the fire as close to the inside of the cliffside as possible, the group of six remained motionless, in an effort to absorb the heat of the flames, and conserve energy in order to downplay their hunger. Nopony even attempted to find food; it was dangerous just to move. Rockslides, erosion of the cliffside, and falling were major threats in the dark, even with the fire going, and the chances of finding anything to eat up there was like finding a cupcake in an apple orchard. Due to the crushed spirits of everyone in the group, Pinkie Pie had become by default the most talkative of the ponies once again. She decided some conversation would be better for improving everypony’s moods than idle disregard of each others’ presence “Rainbow Dash,” she began. The left side of the pegasus’ face was visible from the other side of the flame, and she had been laying slightly farther away, faced away from the other ponies. Pinkie Pie continued: “Thank you for keeping your promise. Thank you so much”. The sincerity in those words both exulted and pained Rainbow Dash. Applejack scoffed at Pinkie’s thankfulness, and turned her neck to spit on the ground in disgust. Rainbow Dash declined to respond to Pinkie’s gratitude, and looked back away, laying her head down on the forelimbs she had crossed in front of her. And just like that, Pinkie’s initial attempt to spark a flame burned out. Talking was unanimously unfavored; sleep was the other option. -------------------------------------------------------- “You should have gotten rid of it,” the familiar voice echoed into the black abyss. “What? Who said that?” Applejack called out, hoping someone; something, would reveal itself. Applejack hated nothing more than being in a place where directions didn’t exist. “Oh, Applejack,” the voice echoed, laughing, “you know who I am. You should have gotten rid of it”. “What are you talkin’ about?!” “You should have gotten rid of it”. Applejack was covering her ears with her hooves, shaking in fear. What in the wide world of Equestria was tormenting her like this? “Mommy!” It was the distinctive voice of Pinkie Pie. “Pinkie? Is that you? Pinkie! Are you there?!” Applejack called, looking for a sign of connection to something real; anything that was physical enough to wrap her head around. A pink filly ran across the horizon (or what would be the horizon), of the abyssal realm, directly past the vision of Applejack. “Pinkie Pie! Over here darlin’!” AJ called, waving a hoof to get the young one’s attention. “Mommy!” the filly called again, continuing to run in the distance. She stopped underneath a dark thundercloud, which began pouring rain, converting the filly’s curly mane into a straight mop. Baffled, Applejack winced as light shone down upon her. She looked up, and found several white clouds, parting over her head to reveal a brilliant yellow sun, casting its glow directly upon her like a spotlight. She looked back at the filly under the thundercloud, nearly black as the abyss it existed in, crackling with blue electricity as the filly danced underneath it. A sensation of extreme concern overcame AJ. “Pinkie Pie! Get out from under there this instant! You’re soppin’ wet! You’re gonna get shocked! Or catch a cold! Or slip and fall!” “I love you! I looove you!” Pinkie Pie chanted, giggling and dancing under the downpour. She got up on her hind legs and jigged about, her hooves clicking against the ground. “You’re gonna slip and fall Pinkie! Get outta there this instant!” The dark cloud suddenly drifted away, fading into the black horizon from which it had emerged, and there lay a sopping wet Pinkie Pie, soaking wet and sniveling in a puddle. She began crying at the receding stormy assailant. “Mommy! Mommy! Don’t leave me Mommy!” Applejack started tearing up, but she didn’t know why. “I’m right here Pinkie! Mommy’s right here!” At the same time, the light shining over Applejack intensified, glistening with radiance and comforting warmth. “Pinkie darlin’, come over here with Mommy and get dry, won’tcha?” The filly continued sobbing and wiped her tears with her hoof. Applejack was heartbroken. She quickly galloped over to meet the neglected filly, but a thunderbolt struck just before she had gotten to her. “Woah nelly!” She expected to get a heart attack. An ashy gray imprint had been engendered on the ground where the lightning had struck, and smoke rose from its center. The dark cloud of steam soon began expanding, changing, forming itself into a shape of sorts. The smoke sculpture took a shape so familiar, that Applejack didn’t even consider what it could be; it would be too expectable. But soon the smoke figure shifted into an actual manifestation of its final shape: there she had appeared; Rainbow Dash. The little filly’s face beamed with joy. “Mommy! You came back!” She embraced the newly-formed Rainbow Dash, who showed no awareness of the young one. The pegasus simply gazed at Applejack, eyes red as fire. Slowly, the pink filly faded away. And then, the pegasus followed suit, gradually disappearing into the abyss; becoming part of it. The last thing to disappear was the piercing fire of the gazing eyes. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The mountain winds picked up. Nopony could sleep under all of this blusterous noise. Fluttershy had to hold on to her saddlebag of gold to prevent being blown back from the fire, and Rarity had given up on attempting to save her hair from being ruined; it had already been split by the heat of the fire. The chilling turbulence blew from all directions, roaring with an inanimate ferocity. Applejack’s hat nearly blew into the flames, before she caught it with her mouth, a spark landing on her cheek. She winced and bit down on the hat’s rim in order to muffle a scream. Rainbow Dash was the only one to notice this, as she was still awake. She gazed at Applejack with her magenta eyes; their sheen made pure red by the contrast of the fire she lay on the other side of. Twilight pulled her knees to her chest, trying to ignore the cold infiltrating her perimeter of heat. I wish Spike were here. She then noticed the effect that the wind had on the bonfire, blowing it out while simultaneously flailing it around dangerously at the ponies that encircled it. “Twilight,“ Rarity calmly addressed, in a similar heat-saving position, “don’t let it go out”. Concentrating on a flame spell, the magic student attempted to revive the wild but shrinking flame. “C’mon!” The flame rose up a bit. The wind blew it back down. “C’mon!” The same reaction. “C’mooon!” The flame burst up, and the wind blew it violently around the area of sleeping ponies. Sparks flew onto some of them, although it was a barely noticeable disturbance among the chill of the wind. The wind then swept up in an upwelling of flame, bringing the fire up into the air as a towering inferno. Twilight now had to worry about controlling the immense flame. Grunting in mental strain, her horn glowing with as much magic it could focus on such a small spell, the fire slowly receded to the ground, but the stinging wind and the sparks it blew into her face impaired her concentration. The wind blew now to the North, and straight into the magician’s face. “NOOOOO!!“ She let out a disgruntled scream that made sure anypony still asleep was now awake, her rage echoing throughout the mountain. The wind bombarding the bonfire, and all was done. The fire was receding into a small ember while her horn’s glow faded into the pitch-black canvas of the night. All that could be heard for the rest of the night were the rush of the wind, and the soft whimpering of a small purple unicorn. ---------------------------------------------------------- “Get up”. The smell of burnt hair still lingered. Twilight’s eyes slowly flickered open. Applejack’s image was blurred by the sun, which was already beating through a layer of fog in the air. The solar rays passing through the fog created a golden mist encasing the mountain at this level; the image was surprisingly beautiful to wake up to. Twilight didn’t let this scenery distract her, however. She hadn’t enjoyed the scenery since they had been down in the grassy valley. It had seemed like such a long time ago. What day was it anyway? Her internal clock had been thrown off; she hadn’t gotten any sleep that night. “Get up,” the voice of Applejack said again. “C’mon Twilight. We woke up late. It’s gotta be at least 6:30. We gotta get goin’”. Twilight shakily pushed herself up onto her feet. Her stomach growled, demanding nourishment. She was a wreck; even without a mirror, she could tell. Her mane was a mess; full of dirt and smelling of soot. Various parts of her pelt, including her cheeks, were splotched with ash and charred. Her eyes were bloodshot. Twilight had never felt so terrible in her entire life. Finally noticing her traveling partners, who were waiting patiently for her to get up, she saw that they were in only slightly better condition. Particularly noticeable was Applejack’s hat, which had a bite mark in the front of the rim, as well as small burnt-off “nips” throughout its structure. “Alright, let’s go,” Twilight Sparkle said unenthusiastically. Ugh, how many days have we been at this? It was the fourth day. The ponies made their way up to the next level by climbing a series of dangerously-tottering rocks piled against the mountainside. It was decided that Pinkie would simply have to be dragged, pulled, and pushed up the rocks in order to continue upward. Applejack was in the process of helping pull the now much-heavier Pinkie Pie from a large boulder up to another cliff, which she had reached before any of the non-winged ponies. Dang nabbit! I remember this thing bein’ so much easier to cross when I was a filly! Were there a buncha rock slides or what?! I can’t believe a gosh-darn road used to go through here; it’s just a wall of jagged rocks now! AJ placed a hind hoof against a small rock behind her in order to gain support, but this caused a small amount of sharp pebbles to roll down from a pile and bombard her back. “It’s just one thing after another,” she said, pulling Pinkie Pie up as she received a few small scrapes on her back. Twilight and Rarity, who were keeping behind to keep an eye on and assist Pinkie (and because they were among the least physically fit), hopped up off the rock right after the pink pony had made it up. “Alright,” Applejack said, panting, “that’s one cliff we made our way up. Now we’ve got about….” she looked up the mountain, shielding her eyes from the now very-visible sun, “perhaps another twelve to go?” It was her best estimate. The farm pony wasn’t renowned for her math skills. It took about two hours to haul Pinkie up another eight cliffs, but the smooth rocky platform they reached at that point was a unique sight; absolutely no dirt (the rough winds had practically carved it all out), and a smooth, red-brown rocky surface. A large, pointed boulder jutted out over the back of the cliff, providing a slightly concave, and shaded, shelter. “Shade!” Rarity bolted to lay underneath the enclave. Applejack and Fluttershy helped walk Pinkie to rest underneath the shelter. “We need water so badly,” Twilight said, voice a tad hoarse. “Wait. That’s it!” Her face gave way to an excited smile. “Rainbow Dash! Can’t you just make a cloud rain so we can drink that?” Fluttershy and Rarity excitedly grinned at this proposition, and even Applejack had a look of interest. Instantly, she remembered a familiar image of a black storm cloud. “No,” Dash replied, and everyone frowned in near horror. “For that, I’d need a cloud to work with. And in case you haven’t noticed…” her voice dropped to a near-whisper, and then “there isn’t a cloud in siGHT FOR MILES!!!” She exploded, her last words echoing throughout the mountains. Twilight buried her face in her hooves. Dash flew into the air to hover about 6 feet off the cliff. “Why are we even doing this?!” she exclaimed, gasping for breath, her ears irritatingly popping, “Pinkie has no choice in the matter at this point! Why didn’t we just head back home?” “Because Pinkie...” Applejack had to pause to breath, “Because Pinkie wanted to see Braeburn. We can’t just leave her pregnant…without talking to the one that caused this. Besides…we’re so…close”. She wiped her forehead. “But we tried our best! If the end result’s going to be the same, we should just call it quits! Look at Pinkie! Do you think she wants this anymore?! Our stuff…got stolen. Our carriage was broken, and all you care about is this futile mission to get to Appleloosa! It’s not realistic at this point! Nothing has gone right! Everything you promised, Applejack, everything that matters, didn’t come true! Why should we continue to trust you anymore? You‘re the only one who believes we still have something to gain by finishing this!” “But didn’t you all choose to come and finish the trip?” Pinkie asked in distress, hoping for a “yes” response. “No,” it was Twilight. “We only came because Applejack was carrying you up the mountain, and we wanted to make sure you were safe”. That was the first thing, and also the last thing, that Pinkie had wanted to hear. Her friends had actually given up on her, what she had wanted them to do the entire time, for their sake. But at the same time, they cared so much about her that they climbed a mountain to ensure her safety. And because they climbed that mountain…they were now having this terrible argument. Pinkie Pie turned to Applejack and asked, “Applejack…why? You promised. You said you’d make sure nothing else bad would happen. But only bad things have happened since you told me that”. Applejack stared back blankly. Everypony watched her. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she buried her face in her hooves. She bawled, and in such fervor that it was disillusioning; nopony had ever really seen Applejack truly cry before. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed, “I’m just so sorry girls. I’m just one pony, I know, and I tried to take on this task all by myself”. “Applejack,” Twilight exhaustingly tried to console her friend, “we all made a commitment to help Pinkie Pie in this trip. We’ve all helped during this little…adventure of ours”. “Ah know,” Applejack sobbed, “Ah know, but I just try,” she sniffed, “and I try, but…I can’t help but feel Pinkie’s…” she looked at Pinkie, not wanting to say what was truly on her mind, “why does Rainbow Dash get all the praise for doin’ nothi?” She couldn’t even finish her sentence, and started bawling tears, choking on her words. Nothing would come out but loud, moaning sobs. “I get all the praise? I get all the praise?!” Dash shouted, “What happened to me being a coward at the diner, and good for nothing? And drinking all the water?! How come Pinkie Pie promised me, and me only, not to help her? I don’t get any respect! You think Pinkie’s occasional so-called praise of me makes me the hero here?! You know what I think?” She addressed all of the ponies, “I think you all don’t want me to even be here!” “Well, m-maybe we don’t,” AJ stuttered. “I sure as hay am sick an’ tired of seein’ you get off easy, while I work my flank off to get treated like this! I knew I should’ve trusted my conscious, and avoided takin’ you with us on this trip!” Applejack was angry, and she meant it. It was as if the tears had been burned away by the boiling heat of her anger. Rainbow flew up to hover right in front of Applejack‘s face. “I should’ve never come in the first place! If nopony wants my help, I’d sure as hay be better off somewhere else!” “But we did want your help, Rainbow,” Twilight exasperatingly said, in a last-ditch effort to curb division. “We asked you for the water, remember? And AJ asked you to catch Bill when he was making off with our money”. “Asked? More like ordered! And I never did get any praise for getting the money back!” She glared at Fluttershy, then further invaded AJ’s personal space, pressing her forehead against her rival’s, “By myself, might I add!” “You get outta my face, Rainbow, or you’re gonna seriously regret it,” Applejack threatened. “I don’t believe you,” was the pegasus’ reply. “Say that again, I dare ya,” AJ said between clenched teeth. “You. Don’t. Have. The. Guts.” The next thing Rainbow Dash knew, she had an enraged Applejack on top of her, pinning her down. The orange earth pony stomped her victim with her front hooves, but Dash threw her off. Applejack instantly recovering, the two went in for a headbutt, charging each other. They both dove, and tackled each other to the ground. AJ “punched” Rainbow Dash in the face, but the feisty pegasus returned the blow, and kicked AJ in the side. “Stop it! Stop it this instant, you ruffians!” Rarity shouted. “Oh, I can’t watch,” Fluttershy commented, covering her eyes with her hooves. Ignoring these petty cries for resolution, the two continued to fight. Dash tackled AJ onto her back, then pounced on top of her victim. However, AJ flipped backward, launching Dash right into a rock wall. Pursuing her toss, she turned around to horse-kick the near-helpless Rainbow Dash, who managed to roll out of the way as hooves collided with stone. “Get the hay back over here, you little varmint!” AJ raged in pure, bloodthirsty vengeance. Twilight could barely fathom that such a scene was actually happening. “Stop it you guys! Somepony’s seriously going to get hurt!” Dash darted over to AJ, biting her ponytail, and causing its owner to wince in pain. With a quick, jerking tug, Rainbow managed to make the Earth pony fall hard onto her back. Hovering above the ground, she began to drag the blonde mare to the edge of the cliff, but AJ flipped onto her back, and kicked Dash in the stomach with her hind legs, nearly knocking the wind out of her. Dash flew straight back at her assaulter, however, and grabbed her by the legs this time. Applejack simply sat up, using her forelegs to knock Dash off the edge and into the air again. Dash bit down onto AJ’s foreleg, however, and dragged the orange pony with her, nearly pulling her clean off the red-brown cliffside. “Applejack! Rainbow Dash!” the other ponies shouted in unison. Applejack held onto the edge, attempting to pull herself up with just her two front hooves, as Dash lost her grip (the force of the pulling bite nearly tore her teeth out), and was unable to catch a drift to keep herself aloft. She bit down on AJ’s tail, almost causing the orange pony herself to let go. The earth pony strenuously attempted a pull-ups maneuver, but found her hooves sliding against the smooth rock. Rarity dashed over to help pull Applejack up, and Fluttershy flew down to push Rainbow Dash from below. Twilight’s telekinetic assistance finally brought the brawling mares back onto the rusty-rocked cliff-top. Panting and gasping for air, the two lay collapsed, baking under the searing sun. Applejack managed to pick herself up, however, and facing her friends rather than the exhausted Rainbow Dash, said calmy, but sternly, and with her eyes closed: “Get out”. Dash panted, then said, “What?” “You heard me. Get out. I don’t want you here no more”. Her tone was unmoving. “I can’t believe this. You’re just kicking me out?” “AJ,“ Twilight pleaded, “she doesn’t have anywhere to go. We don’t have anywhere to go”. “We’re going to Appleloosa. Rainbow Dash can go wherever she likes. But I ain’t dealin’ with her no more”. She turned to face Dash, who was still laying down, but rearing her head up, “And I don’t want to see you no more. Get outta here. Go”. Dash, in a maddeningly hateful expression, slowly rose up into the air. “Go on, get”. Looking at her friends’ exhausted faces, Dash came to a proposition. “Fine, I’ll leave,” she responded as calmly as possible, “but anyone who wants to come with me, is welcome to come. I’m gonna try and find us a way back home, or across this mountain. Whichever way’s faster. Come with me, and I’ll make sure you’re safe and protected”. The girls all looked at one another, analyzing the offer amongst themselves. Then, they all looked at Pinkie. Rarity put a hoof forward to approach Dash, but then, looking back again at Pinkie, repealed her advancement. “My hair’s already ruined, I’ve chipped a hoof, and honestly, it can’t get any worse from here on…” she reasoned out loud. Dash couldn’t believe it. She glanced over at Fluttershy. “I-I’m just going to stay and see that Pinkie’s alright, if that’s ok…” she nearly whispered. In a last bit of hope in the one pony reasonable amongst themselves, Dash turned her attention to Twilight, who, shamefully bowing her head, said, “I’m grateful for your offer, Rainbow Dash, but don’t go. Stay with us”. Dash’s entire world had collapsed, and she didn’t know if her heart had hardened, or shattered. “So nopony trusts me, eh? Old Rainbow Dash has gone crazy. She doesn’t care about us, right? Alright, fine. Continue following Applejack, and see where that gets you”. She gave one last glance at Pinkie Pie. “I’m sorry Pinkie Pie. I really am. But you guys obviously don’t need my help, and you’ve made it perfectly clear you don’t want it”. She turned her back, and began flying to the East, away from the others. Applejack made one last statement: “Why couldn’t ya just have broken that promise? We’ve all been there for Pinkie, even when she didn’t want our help. We can’t make promises we know will be impossible to keep. That’s what makes our ways of thinking different”. “You’re right,” Dash said, barely audibly, “maybe I should’ve gotten rid of it”. And with that, she flew off, the glare of the sun hiding her advance from their sight, burning the spectating ponies’ eyes like a fire. ---------------------------------------------------------------- “Just…a little bit…farther,” Applejack uttered, straining herself to climb up another amorphous wall of jagged stone. “That’s right, Rarity, just like that,” she commented, looking down at the white unicorn who had put her right front up on a small protrusion in the face of the wall to hoist herself up to another, larger protrusion to stand on. Fluttershy, now the only pegasus pony in the group, ascended slowly, making sure that Twilight and Rarity made it up safely, while simultaneously assisting all of them in helping Pinkie up. When the next flat surface was reached, several spires piercing the sky were the only things extending farther up the mountain. Essentially, they were finally at a point where they could start heading down. It had only taken another hour and a half. Applejack surveyed the area, looking down among the canyons and valleys around them. They must have been at least two thousand feet above sea level. An insanely high distance, but only average for a mountain. It was now apparent how much time was lost due to the loss of the road, and Pinkie Pie’s predicament. Rarity, and then Twilight Sparkle, finally arrived to join Applejack, and were both exerting all their telepathic energy in helping pull Pinkie along. Fluttershy gave the final shove, and Pinkie was hoisted clear up to the top from a protrusion about six feet below. The pink pony landed on her flank, ignoring the shock out of pure relief. Applejack could see down the other side of the mountain, the road reappearing in between it and another mountain right beside it. So they had to descend through a crevice in between both hills. What Applejack had yet to notice, however, was that the road started on the other mountain’s side, and there was nothing connecting the two peaks. The road ended at the mountain’s base, not appearing again at sea level (or maybe it was just too difficult to make out from that distance). Drawing an imaginary route in her head and following it with her eyes, Applejack could make out a tiny spec in the desert below; that had to be it. It must’ve been it. That was it! Appleloosa! Rainbow thought we couldn’t do it! Well there it is! Now all we gotta do is make it down the mountain and- Applejack noticed the road down - on the North side of the other mountain. She plopped down on the ground, half of her thinking, the other half giving up. She had to come up with something to distract the others with until she could find out a way across. “Hey girls?” Everypony cantered over to Applejack. “I was thinkin’, and I know we probably shoulda thought of this earlier, but…how’s about we leave Pinkie here, with someone to look after her, and the other three of us head to town to get someone to come back for the two we left behind?” “Applejack,” Twilight replied, brow furrowed in sudden realization of how stupid she‘d been not to think of that, “as attractive of a plan that sounds, I thought we made a commitment together to stick to Pinkie and be with her to the end. Besides, it can’t be that long from this point; it’d be faster to just all go downhill together. I can see Appleloosa just a few miles down, assuming that brown spec over there is what we‘re looking for“. Analyzing the height of the mountain, she added to that statement. “Actually, I think the distance to the bottom of the mountain is greater than that from the base to the town”. “Well, uh, ok Twilight,” AJ responded nervously, “but, we’ve got one more tiny problem on our hooves before we do that”. “And that would be?” Rarity asked, her voice halfway between worry and sarcasm; an odd combination. The orange pony simply pointed a hoof to the road about two hundred feet away, on the face of the other mountain. Twilight‘s pupils shrank in shock. “No…No…No!” She shouted in disbelief, stomping her hooves. “We were so close!” She plopped herself down, sitting in defeat. Fluttershy, Pinkie, and Rarity followed her example. Looking to the left, Applejack noticed something peculiar against the wall they were standing by. Being on the edge of the East side of the mountain, she noticed the curve of a very narrow, near fully eroded, “edge” that wrapped along from the East into the South side. “Applejack, what are you doing?” Twilight asked as AJ approached the wall, leaning nearly over the edge of the cliff to get a look at the other side of the mountain. “Girls,” she said with excitement, “by gosh, I think I’ve found a way over there. This here ledge creeps over to the South side. It looks like it runs until being right straight away from the road on the other side. If we follow it, we can at least get closer than any other way”. “That’s insane,” Twilight argued, “it’s still crazy far away, even from that distance”. “Well, it’s all we’ve got to try right now. ‘Sides, maybe we’ll come up with somethin’ as we go”. Everypony sighed in reluctance, and watched Applejack stand up on her hind legs, back to the wall, and, standing on the narrow ledge, inched her way sideways around the mountain. Shrugging, Rarity followed suit, and Fluttershy fluttered after her friend, ready to catch her if she fell. Twilight decided it best to do the same, and stuck close to Rarity. Pinkie, head hung low in the sun, approached the ledge where her companions had begun their inch across the mountainside. “Um, guys?” Twilight, already on the other side, stopped moving and turned her head so that Pinkie could hear her. “What is it Pinkie Pie?” Rarity and Fluttershy stopped their advance as well. “Are you sure I should be doing this?” Nopony had really given that much thought. “Uh, Pinkie, we’ll go around and see what we can figure out. You just wait there, ok?” Twilight suggested. “OK, but don’t take too long! Don’t leave me here, ok?” Pinkie shouted back. “Got it! Don’t worry! We’ll be right back!” She bumped Rarity with her side to encourage her to continue moving, and they resumed onward. They didn’t even know where Applejack was; she had already gone around a corner they couldn’t see past. Looking across to the other mountain, Twilight gained a sense of confidence (perhaps it was simply the adrenaline given off from her current predicament). It didn’t look that far away. Maybe they could find a way across. And then, she heard a terrible scream that sounded that resonated through the canyon. Her ear drum nearly split from the white unicorn being right beside her, Twilight faced her companion, who was emitting the fowl scream. “Rarity! What’s wrong?!” Rarity instantly ceased her shrieking, and explained herself in a panicked state: “I looked down!” This of course, lead Twilight to look down herself, and she gulped after realizing the sheer height they were all at. One simple mistake, and they could easily be sent careening down the jagged mountainside. Twilight wished they hadn’t been moving with their backs to the wall; they could support themselves with their front hooves if facing the other way, and their hind legs would fit more easily along the thin rim they were standing on. The unicorn made a mental note to use the other position if she ever had to do this again. Fluttershy also reacted instinctively to Rarity’s concern, and looked down herself; she froze up. Her wings locked into place, and she fell, scrambling for the rim jutting out of the wall. Rarity offered Fluttershy her front left hoof, helping to pull her up, and Fluttershy was now standing on her hind legs, facing the wall. This position would have been a major improvement over the one everypony else had adopted, but this advantage was balanced by the heavy and off-putting saddlebag she was carrying on her back. The weight of all of the ponies’ money behind her tugged at her, ready to rip her from the face of the wall at any moment. Looks of terror and panic plagued both of their faces, and Twilight nearly had a heart attack. “Is everything ok?! I heard a scream! What’s wrong?! What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” Pinkie’s voice echoed, curving around the side of the mountain. “Everything’s fine! Uh, I think.” Rarity shouted back, her eyes gazing downward again. There was no response from Applejack. Twilight, in a lowered voice, informed Rarity to “Quiet down, because there may be a rockslide”. Rarity nodded, then lightly bumped Fluttershy, who reluctantly pressed on, the other two in tow. The sound of hooves on hard rock echoed off of the wall and into the valley. It seemed as if the rim scrolled around the mountain forever, but finally, the cautiously slow ponies reached the end of the rim, and it tapered down and rejoined the surface of the rocky wall. Applejack stood still, scanning the area for anything to get her brain working. Fluttershy, eyes closed in fear, nearly bumped into the orange pony. Applejack said nothing, however. Looking up, she noticed a desert plant’s long, spindly branch extending from a crevice in the mountainside only about six and a half feet diagonally upward. She looked from the end of the branch to the road on the other mountain across the ravine; about seventy feet. “What’s the plan, AJ?” Twilight asked, peering over the other two to get a look at whom she had addressed. “Ah’m thinkin’. Just gimme a sec,” she replied, her cognitive gears working in overtime. Everypony gave AJ a period of silence to think. Fluttershy kept her eyes closed, the only thing she could hear being the frightened beat of her heart. “I figured somethin’ out girls,” AJ finally said. “Well, please do tell us, Applejack, because the stress is starting to take its toll on me,” Rarity begged. “I’ve concluded, through careful examination,” she spoke in an awkwardly scientific manner, “that…” “Yes?” Twilight questioned. “there’s absolutely no way across here without killin’ ourselves”. Needless to say, hopes were shattered. “But,” Applejack spoke again, “I think Fluttershy can carry us this distance, one at a time”. “Oh nononono,” Rarity reasoned, “Fluttershy’s much too tired from hunger and fatigue. We couldn’t expect that of her”. “I could always try…” Fluttershy whimpered, already reluctant to try. Applejack had already made her decision. “Here, Twilight’s probably the lightest one here. Let her go first”. Twilight had little faith in Fluttershy’s ability to carry heavy loads, especially in a weakened state, but decided that there was no alternative but to try. “OK, I’ll do it,” she agreed. Fluttershy fully opened her eyes, slowly extended her wings, and lightly pushed herself off of the cliff. She hovered in the air just inches away from the wall. “Fluttershy, gimme the bag,” AJ politely requested. The pegasus carefully unstrapped the saddlebag, and delicately handed it to AJ, who had it hang from her arm. With an expert toss, she landed the bag onto the branch above her, where it hung in place, causing a slight sag in the plant’s stature due to its weight. “Alright, now we’re good to go,” Applejack said confidently, “just make sure you don’t look down”. Fluttershy almost looked down right on the spot, but fought the urge to do so just in time. “Ok Twilight, let’s go…” she reluctantly said. Wrapping her front legs around Twilight’s abdomen, she began to fly to the road only seventy feet away. Twilight heard the winds howl as the breeze wafted over the heat trapped within the ravine below. Looking down,, she saw a surprising sight: trees. The “empty” space between both mountains contained a wooded area, full of large, dense trees, their unattended leafy branches extending the canopies into clouds of green. Peering past a small break in between the arboreal landmarks, Twilight could make out a small creek, running through cool, dark soil. Images of their time at the spring returned to her; it was a truly breath-taking experience, and a beautiful sight to behold. But just as quickly as the experience had been, it had ended, and Twilight felt herself lightly released onto the twisted road on the other side of the ravine. One of them had finally made it. Fluttershy stretched her limbs behind her head, relieving her strained muscles, and although Twilight questioned her well-being, she insistently returned to the other side to a relieved Applejack and cheering Rarity. Rarity went next, upon Applejack’s insistence, and experienced for herself the same feeling Twilight had. Halfway through, however, her excitement was disturbed by a slip, which Fluttershy had to recover from. Rarity reached the other side with a relieved feeling; she could have easily fallen. Applejack went after, and nearly slipped out of Fluttershy’s fumbling grip three times. The yellow winged pony relinquished her hold on Applejack less delicately than she had with the other two; the muscles in her front legs were severely worn out. She landed herself, and took a few seconds to recuperate, breathing heavily; she could really have gone for some water. The flight from the other side had been such a mixed experience; fear, excitement, awe, relief…they had nearly forgotten their conditions from before they had crossed over. Almost forgotten about…Pinkie! “Pinkie!” Applejack shouted out loud, alarming everyone, all eyes dilating in realization, “What about Pinkie!?” “I don’t think….I can….carry her,” Fluttershy said between breaths. “She’s got to be much heavier than we are,” Twilight said, stating the obvious. “Just one more…Fluttershy,” Applejack said in exasperation. “Then we’re done…just…one more…” Fluttershy trotted in place for a few seconds, stretched her legs a bit, then quickly took to the air, rounding the side of the other mountain. Pinkie Pie sat on the cliff, head hung low in an attempt to block the glare of the sun with her bangs. Fluttershy floated around the edge of the rocky wall, then lightly grounded herself in front of Pinkie. “Pinkie, I’m just going to carry you across, ok?” Fluttershy asked. “I don’t think you can lift me though,” Pinkie glumly pointed out. “Oh, I lift heavy stuff all the time, like when I pull wagons of animals,” Fluttershy reassuringly reasoned to Pinkie, and herself. “Well, ok…” Fluttershy hovered in place above Pinkie Pie, then wrapped her front legs around her waist. Or, at least, tried to. Pinkie’s stomach was just a tad too extensive to get her hooves around. Without fingers or even hands, this was a dangerous way to grip something. Fluttershy, face a little angry, decided she would just need to power through the obstacle. She squeezed Pinkie as closely to her as possible, then took off, rising into the sky. Or, tried to take off while rising into the sky. She managed to lift Pinkie a good four inches from the ground before having to put her back down. She tried again. Three inches this time. A third try. The results were no better. Fluttershy landed, and pouting, kicked a pebble off the side of the cliff. She wiped her bangs out of her eyes, and looked back at the rim starting on the cliff that they had earlier traversed. No, she couldn’t. She looked at Pinkie Pie. She couldn’t. But…how else would they get her over there? They had succeeded just by trial and (lack of) error earlier, so what’d be the harm in doing that again? She looked over the side of the cliff, and gulped. “…utter…y! Flu…er…y!” The call of three voices faintly echoed throughout the canyon. “Um…Pinkie Pie?” She nervously asked. Pinkie only looked her in the eyes as recognition of her words. “How about you make your way around the rim over here, and I’ll carry you when it gets to the closest point?” She put on a large, nervous smile. Pinkie just pattered over to the rim, and pulled herself onto it. Oh gosh, she’s not going to be able to do this. Pinkie got up on her hind legs (after several failed attempts), and began creeping her way across the rim. She turned the corner, and Fluttershy flew over to make sure she was safe. Pinkie looked down, but saw only a mass of pink protruding from her midsection. She sighed in remorse, then continued on, inching her way much more slowly than her high metabolism would have liked. Her stomach grumbled, and she looked back down at her stomach. A shot of pain went up into her ankles, and she felt dizzy just putting pressure on them; but what could she do? She was locked into that position. She began to falter, and wheeled her front legs as she toppled forward, finally seeing the ravine that her stomach had been blocking. Fluttershy caught her mid-fall, however, and pushed her back up onto the rim. “Pinkie Pie, how about trying it like this?” She suggested politely, helping rotate Pinkie into the wall-facing position. As soon as she took her hooves away though, Pinkie fumbled backward, her protruding abdomen pushing her off the wall. Fluttershy caught her and returned the impatient Pinkie Pie back to her original posture. “Perhaps your initial approach was better…” she nervously smiled. “Don’t worry Pinkie, I’ll be here to catch you. You’re doing great. Just keep moving”. “But my ankles…are killing me,” Pinkie pouted, and looked back toward the direction from which she had come; she’d made a total distance of about four feet so far. ----------------------------------------------------- The other three ponies were gazing at the corner of the opposite mountain, looking for signs of Fluttershy and Pinkie. The sun blazed brilliantly and painfully, despite it moving behind them, in the West. “Just where is Pinkie Pie?” Rarity impatiently asked nopony in particular, “She’s been gone for at least five minutes”. “That rim took us longer than it felt, Rairty,” Applejack said without even looking at her, “’Sides, Fluttershy ain’t the fastest flier around”. “I’m sure that’s an understatement,” Twilight chipped in. “I just hope those two are alright,” Rarity said. “And I’m just so excited we’re finally so close to getting down this mountain!” ------------------------------------------------------------- Pinkie painfully moved one foot at a time, as one would if their feet were asleep. Fluttershy patiently coaxed her friend along, encouraging her constantly. “That’s good, just a little farther. Alright, now take a little rest. Ok, now put your foot here”. Pinkie strained herself, suppressing the tears by biting down on her tongue. The sweat and tears harassed her entire face, and she whimpered in discomfort. She toppled again after wiping the grime from her eyes with one of her front legs, and Fluttershy had to once again catch and reposition her. The entire situation put a bullet in Fluttershy’s heart. Why? Just…why? We’re so close, but life still makes it hard on her…Show her compassion…mercy…just STOP it with the cruelty… ---------------------------------------------------------- The other ponies waited for much longer than they had initially expected to. The sun was now showing the first signs of setting; the sky darkened in tone and the light had shifted from bright yellow to topaz. “What do you think happened to them?” Rarity asked. “I’m afraid to think about it,” AJ said, “but whatever fixin’ they’re in, I suppose Fluttershy can get ‘em out of it. She’s a strong girl”. Twilight wasn‘t as convinced. “But maybe…rockslide?” “We woulda heard it,” was AJ’s response. “She…fell while trying to carry her?” “We woulda heard them scream”. “Scorpions?” Rarity had begun to craft ideas as well. “Ain’t no scorpions gonna bother Fluttershy, what with her fancy ways with animals”. “Well, there’s nothing we can do but wait,” Twilight said, and it was apparent they would have to continue doing just that. ------------------------------------------------- “Alright. Good job Pinkie Pie. You made it”. “Fluttershy! Pinkie Pie!” Rarity and Twilight called, each waving a hoof. Pinkie could barely make out their blurred images in her exhausted eyes. She stepped up to the edge of the rim, where it tapered into the flatness of the wall. The saddlebag rustled in the sunset’s breeze as it hung from the branch. Pinkie winced as the wind threw dirt into her eyes. She placed her next hoof-step onto a thinning part of the rim, and the front of it was shaved off, eroding away below her foot. This caused Pinkie to recoil, pulling her hoof away from the broken “floor” below her, and hitting her head on the rocky wall behind her. “OOW!!“ She cried out in pain, and grunted in hopeless frustration. Cries of “Pinkie! Are you okay?!” and “What happened?!“ resonated from the three on-looking ponies. Fluttershy panicked. “Ok Pinkie. Ok, hold on. St-stop crying. We’re gonna get you across now, just don’t…ooh…” Feeling rushed, Fluttershy wrapped her forelimbs around Pinkie’s waist, pulling her as close to her chest as possible, then flew with all of the strength in her wings. There they were: their three friends, waiting for them just on the other side! They were getting closer! Soon, they would be on the road off of these cursed mountains! And then, they were falling. Instead of looking straight at three joyous faces, Fluttershy was looking up at three distressed faces. Her wings locked up; her legs tensed, their muscles being pushed to their limits. No water, no food, little sleep, and strenuous activity were taking their tolls all at once. And then, the updraft. The sun dimmed itself yet again as a cool breeze blew through the ravine below, propelling Fluttershy upward, her wings trapping air like miniature parachutes. Pinkie Pie landed up on the road, in front of Applejack, and Fluttershy collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily in exertion and shock. Everypony crowded around the two as Twilight questioned the validity of the likelihood of what had just happened. Rarity telekinetically retrieved the saddlebag from the branch across the crevice, dropping it next to its owner. Applejack embraced Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie, tears welling up in her eyes; she had never seen either of the two in such terrible conditions. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Pinkie had returned to riding on Applejack’s back, her legs draped off of either side of her mount. She seemed rather dazed, and didn’t talk much. Fluttershy had taken to walking instead of flying; her wings were aching badly. Twilight and Rarity, the latter of whom was uncontrollably excited to finally be making her way down the mountain, had to reluctantly slow down the paces of their trotting to compensate for Applejack’s decreased speed. Indeed, the work horse was having flustering difficulty carrying her pregnant friend at this time. They had been traveling for only about twenty minutes; the sun was setting quickly and the road twisted almost 90 degrees in some places. Nopony wanted to sprain an ankle in the dim light. Their progress died down to a slow trot. Fluttershy whispered into Rarity’s ear. The white unicorn sighed, then she herself mumbled the message to Twilight. The three stopped in their tracks, then looked behind at the lagging Applejack. “I think it’s best we stop now, girls,” Twilight said. “There’s no use in straining ourselves”. Applejack broke instantly upon hearing these words, her knees giving out from the pressure she had so long been repressing. “Sounds…good…” she muttered, eyes shut in exhaustion. The last remnants of the sun flickered out into a small yellow blur in the horizon. The six friends lay in the middle of the dusty dirt road, around a fire that Rarity had started by rubbing dead branches together. The winds, blocked by the other mountain and combined with the sloping nature of their location, lessened the worry of a threat to the fire. Twilight noticed that the only distinguishing feature of this mountain, as opposed to the last, was that small, dry shrubs and bushes lined the sides of the road in various locations. She made out a lone cactus among the shrubbery as well. Weakly pacing over to a dark green bush, its leaves died a deep navy by the fire and darkness, Twilight was able to affirm what she had been doubtedly hoping for; among its branches lay small, red berries. With her magic, she plucked as many berries as she could locate, and brought them back to the fire. Excited to share actual food with her friends, Twilight became disappointed when she realized that everyone was asleep. She then realized how truly tired she herself was. She lay down on her stomach. How am I not in a coma right now? She asked herself. I’m tired. I’m so tired. Her stomach continued to moan in rabid demand. And so hungry… She had just noticed the constant pestering of her hungry stomach for the first time nearly all day. Glancing at Applejack, who lay in a near-comatose state, she noticed the bags underneath her friend’s eyes. She noticed them in those of Rarity and Fluttershy as well. Twilight frowned, and her brow furrowed; she could only imagine what kind of mess she herself was at this point. Her stomach antagonized her again. It was only then that she realized that her entire surroundings were as blurred as the flickering flame in front of her; her mind was deprived of nourishment to the point of intense migraine. She looked down at the berries scattered in front of her. We need food more than sleep, she half-reasoned. She turned to face Applejack. “Applejack,” she whispered. The deep-sleeping pony didn’t respond. Her face showed no signs of that message even being received at the subconscious level. She repeated herself: “Applejack”. Still nothing. Twilight turned to face Rarity. “Rarity”. No response, although the white pony turned over onto her other side. “Applejack,” she tried again. The orange pony’s brow furrowed, as if she had been inconsiderately disturbed. Twilight, tired as she had never been, nearly crawled over to Applejack, and repeated it into her face: “Applejack”. A green pupil was revealed. The other one soon followed. “T-Twilight? What is it?” Twilight dragged herself out of the way, and, directing a hoof to where she had previously been laying, revealed the scattering of small red berries. “Wh-where’d you find those?” Applejack asked more in interest than in excitement, although her monotone reply suggested neither emotion. “In the bushes,” Twilight replied, “you want some?” Applejack crawled over to the pile, and carefully retrieved a single berry in her mouth. Slowly biting down on it, she closed her mouth. Then she waited. She chewed it a bit. She waited again. She swallowed a bit of it. And then she waited yet again. Finally, she swallowed the rest, and began eating several more berries. Twilight scooted over and joined in the miniature “feast”. Sure hope these things are safe to eat, AJ thought to herself. After enjoying their first consumption of food in three days, the two fell asleep right beside one another. ------------------------------------------------------------ Applejack heard the sounds of squishes and gulps long before she actually awoke. When her eyes finally did open, she was witness to a sitting Pinkie Pie, who was eating from a overflowing pile of berries in front of her. Applejack had no clue where the berries, much more numerous than the amount she’d eaten from the night before, had come from. Well, none of them crazy nightmares, at least. Applejack picked herself up, and dusted off her joints. Surveying the area, now plainly visible in the bright light of the sun, she found at least a dozen other berry bushes lining the road and growing from the rocky slope beside it. She also noticed that the fire had been put out; the sun seemed a tad hotter than it had been, anyway. Rarity and Fluttershy sat side-by-side, smiling over a subject Applejack had no knowledge of. Twilight Sparkle, however, was nowhere in sight. “Here, girls. I’ve found some more,” Twilight’s voice resonated, in a relic-like positive tone of mood. Applejack turned around to see Twilight come up from a dip in the knotted road, levitating several dozen berries. She dropped them in front of Rarity and Fluttershy, both of whom began to eat them ravenously. Pinkie Pie was still demolishing her own pile of the small fruit. “Oh, Applejack, you’re up,” Twilight said, smiling. “Today may be the big day. If we can make it down the mountain in good time, we may reach Appleloosa by late tonight, if my estimations are accurate”. The words went through one ear and out the other. “Wh-what?” Twilight’s brow expressed perplexion, but she smiled again. “We might get there by tonight. We have to make good time, though. So after everyone’s done eating, we should get moving”. She quickly looked over toward the gluttonous Pinkie, then returned her attention. “And it looks like we may still have to carry her, so we’d better get moving soon”. Applejack zoned out for a few seconds, but then shook her head in confirmation. “Uh, yeah. That we should, Twilight. I’ll be ready to go in just a bit”. “That’s good to know,” Twilight replied, turning to face her eating friends. Noticing how quickly they were wolfing the berries down, Twilight suddenly remembered their secondary value. “These berries are our only source of water at the moment, however miniscule, so I’d suggest eating as much as you guys can”. Rarity and Fluttershy smiled in return, their lips pink with berry, showing their adherence to Twilight’s advice. Twilight nodded, smiling, and trotted off to Fluttershy’s saddlebag, depositing a few leftover berries into a side-pocket. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ They left at around 7: 30 (there was no way to tell the exact time), and the girls kept a respectable pace. All of their spirits were relatively high as well, and they smiled more than they had in recent memory. It was amazing what much-needed food and rest could do for a pony’s mood. Pinkie Pie rode atop Applejack, but Twilight and Rarity were to take up the task after her. Keeping stable footing was a challenge at times, as the road continued to twist in awkward patterns as it spiraled down the slope of the mountain. Taking on such shapes as waves, zig-zags, and even half- and quarter- pipes, no physical plausible mold was ignored by the winding path. Still, the ever-changing terrain did little to impede the girls’ progress, and it hardly affected their speed. The only factor truly posing any challenge to them was the heat of the sun. “We should talk,” Pinkie Pie chipped up, raising her face up from its position, hanging off of Applejack’s right side, “it’d help pass the time”. Yeah, but it won’t help me forget I’m carryin’ you, Applejack thought, rolling her eyes. She still remembered how much of a chatterbox Pinkie Pie could be when in the right mood. “Maybe Twilight has something to talk about, being the bookish one and all,” Rarity contributed, looking over at the magician girl. “Well, read any interesting books lately?” Rarity smirked, raising her eyelids in pseudo-interest. “Well…what do you want me to talk about?” Twilight asked, directing the question at everypony. “I know about lots of things. I’ve information on animals, vegetables, and minerals too”. “Ooh! Ooh! Talk about how planets are formed!” Pinkie Pie shouted, excitedly bouncing up and down on AJ’s back. “Alright, sure Pinkie,” Twilight responded with a smile, “that’s one of my favorite topics to read about”. Applejack’s ears perked, and eyes dilated, at the thought of fancy science talk. And once Twilight got going…it wasn’t likely she would stop soon afterward. Much to her misfortune, Twilight began. “Well, solar systems form from massive clouds of loosely-packed dust, light gaseous elements, and sometimes, ice and rock. When the gravity of these gases is concentrated enough to collapse this molecular cloud, they form a mass of plasma called a nebula”. “Fascinating,” Pinkie Pie said, brow lowered in deeply interested attentiveness. “Then, the microscopic fragments of these gases release gravitational energy in a heat form, melding together into a protostar”. “So Rarity is sort of like a protostar, who will one day became a full-grown star?” Fluttershy added, smiling at Rarity. “Oh, you mean in regard to her fashion business? Uh, I guess you could say that,” Twilight replied, then continued, “Anyway, eventually, these small stars attain nuclear fusion, which is the synthetic creation of energy via the process of burning hydrogen and helium, and only after a few hundreds of millions of years, the protostar will-” “Uh, Twilight? Maybe you could skip to the more…dynamic parts?” Applejack awkwardly interrupted, cheeks blushing. “Haha, sure,” Twilight embarrassingly concurred. “So eventually, the star becomes big enough to pull in rocks and gases from around it. Its gravity and rotation pull these masses along, rolling them into spheres, like itself. The star and its satellites are locked into spinning by the force of inertia, by the way. Anyway, that’s essentially how a solar system forms”. Pinkie started bouncing again. “Wow! That’s so amazing, Twilight! You’re sooo smart! I wish I could be as smart as you!” Fluttershy peered out from her bangs. “But, uh, Twilight? Isn’t the sun…which, is a star, I think…going to…burn out?” Twilight thought for a second. “Well…yes, then it’s going to become a red giant, and it will decuple in size, engulfing all planets in the inner part of our solar system. Pinkie imagined her stomach growing to ten times its size, and exploding. The fantasy both humored and depressed her. Fluttershy’s face was overcome by horror. “But…wouldn’t that…be bad for us?” Twilight was concerned, and tried to find a way to reword her response lightly. She wiped the sweat from her forehead. “Uh…yeah. But the heat from the expanding sun would overcome us before it actually engulfed us itself. But don’t worry. We’ll be long gone by then. The sun’s got a few million years on its plate still. Besides, I’m sure we can trust that Princess Celestia knows exactly what to do.” She looked at the anxious Fluttershy out of the corner of her eyes, and half-smiling, added: “honest”. There was silence for a good while, and they had covered a surprising distance thanks to the distraction Twilight’s lecture provided. And then Pinkie Pie asked: “When the sun gets big enough, will there be a boom?” “Yeah, a big one,” Twilight replied, looking ahead, without expression. BOOM! An earsplitting explosion resonated throughout the mountain, shaking the very foundation, stopping the girls in their tracks, and causing Rarity to stumble and fall. The girls tottered and stumbled, the shaking earth disorienting them. Twilight and AJ instinctively cowered and covered the tops of their heads with their hooves. But, just as soon as the phenomenon had begun, it abruptly stopped, and all was silent and still, as it was before. “What was that?!” Twilight shouted, perplexed. “Tw-Twilight?” Pinkie Pie stuttered in awe, limply lifting a hoof to point forward. Looking in the given direction, Twilight glared blankly in pure and utter alarm. Behind a large formation of rock, a rising mass of black smoke began to engulf the sky. “Wh-what is that?” “A fire?!” Rarity worriedly shouted. “A bomb?” Pinkie suggested. “Th-The sun blowing up?” Fluttershy squeaked. Anxiously, Applejack spoke up. “I don’t know, but it looks like it’s just down the road from here. Let’s go check it out!” Dashing onward, Applejack virtually forgot about Pinkie, who slipped off of her back. Twilight and Rarity lifted her onto their own backs, and followed Applejack in unison. Fluttershy, hovering just above the ground, was right in tow. Now surrounded by mountain slope on both sides of the road, their shadows providing a shroud of shade, the five ponies turned a left around the corner of stone, and found themselves not amongst a fire, a detonated bomb, or the wake of a supernova, but a large, open area, surrounded by mountain on all sides. Several roads branched out in different directions around the perimeter. Glancing quickly to the left, Twilight pointed out a small entrance carved into a wall. The rectangular doorway was supported and framed by wooden beams, and smoke was pouring out of the hole from inside a large chunk of the mountain. The five girls gazed in awe as endless amounts of the black dusty smog poured out from the doorway. Applejack cautiously approached the doorway, and peered inside, the grey smoke obstructing any view of whatever was within. Unexpectedly, a shadowy figure of indefinite shape began to grow; it was approaching…and two shining red dots brimmed piercingly straight at the observant pony. The creature moved oddly, emitting a deep, low, and hoarse grunting noise. Applejack, despite her normally collected demeanor, screamed in terror. -------------------------------------------------------- The gentle trickling of water resonated from the slow-moving river. The sun shone off of the smooth surface of the stream. Beside the bank of the water lay a heap of nearly unidentifiable origin. Splintered chips of wood and torn sheets of canvas enveloped numerous other objects. The sight was truly depressing to look at. Why even make the decision to return? There was nothing of interest here; nothing of use or value. The money was absent; the only object from the former wagon not sharing its fate. Still, perhaps matters had been judged too hastily; she had to blame herself for that. Sighing, she slowly overturned a large, split beam of wood. A half-attached, torn sheet of canvas followed it as the beam was tossed aside. Half of a wheel, split right down the center, was removed next, and a cracked jug, its contents completely removed, followed after. A glint of color amongst the drab brown and white caught her eye; a purple box, made of a hard material. The container only dented and rusted, she attempted to open it, but it had a lock. Stomping on it once, the rusty lock broke off, and she lifted the lid up. A golden pocket watch and a small leather book were its only contents. Flipping open the book, she realized its intended purpose; it was a diary. She turned to the first page. Dear Pr Day 1- Oops; I nearly addressed this to the Princess. I’m not used to writing in this format unless it’s in the form of a letter. Well, here we go; we just took off from Sweet Apple Acres. Rainbow Dash just fell asleep. I have to admit, I’m a bit worried. I trust that Applejack will get us there on time; she definitely knows what she’s doing. But I’m just worried about the result of all of this. What’s Pinkie going to say? What’s Braeburn going to say? I doubt he even knows. And then Applejack…she hasn’t even told us how she really feels about the whole situation. One of her best friends, and…her cousin. I can’t even begin to fathom what she must be feeling. Oh, and poor Pinkie. She’s so depressed. It breaks my heart just to look at her. Even now, she’s just…in a slump. Well, no matter how everypony feels now, I trust everything will turn out fine in the end. Note to self: Do not let Rarity curl your mane again. She skimmed over the passage again, then flipped to the last page. Day 3- Last night was truly a disaster. Why didn’t Rainbow Dash get involved? I would have thought she’d be the first one to take action. Sometimes, I wish I were more like her; more impulsive and assertive. Although, after last night, that wish may not be as strong. Poor Pinkie Pie; I feel so sorry for her. She seems to be sick; no doubt as a result of the pregnancy. I have to admit; although I’ve been trying to stay neutral on all of this, I’m starting to see the benefits of an abortion; I don’t want to see Pinkie suffer like this for two more months. I don’t think she can handle it. The way Applejack has been acting around Pinkie, and Rainbow Dash, however, has lead me to believe that she is absolutely against getting the abortion. Another thing on my mind is the two drivers; Bill and Lou, I believe their names are. I saw Applejack give them money last night to buy dinner, but they didn’t enter the diner at all. I guess they just weren’t hungry? I don’t know; they just seem sort of…suspicious to me. I don’t know why; I can’t really place my hoof on it. Well, Applejack surely was right to pick these two for the job, so I’m not worried. Besides, they’ve both done a great job so far, diligently accomplishing the task AJ payed them to do. It just seems odd that they wouldn’t buy anything to eat. Oh, I see the mountains! We’re getting close. I’ll finish this entry tonight; bye for now! The rest of the book was blank. She closed it, and turned to the trickling river to her left. Pulling an arm back, she prepared to toss the diary into the water, but never finished the motion. She dropped the book beside her. Returning her attention to the purple box, she removed the pocket watch, noticing that the glass display was cracked; some protection that box offered, eh? The mechanism of the device still worked, however. Putting the watch to her ear, she heard the soft and steady ticking she had expected. She looked at the time. It was 2:45. She began to place the watch back into the box, but instead, hung it around her neck. Displacing more remnants of the stage coach, a white bag caught her eye next. Rummaging through its contents, she found only magazines, yarn, a few needles, and various perfumes and other toiletries and cosmetics. How useless and self-serving…she tossed the bag into the river. Beside where she had found the white bag, she found orange, pink, and blue ones as well. The orange bag was packed full of various objects, ranging from a broken flashlight, to a rope, to a…dated-looking picture. Bringing the faded photograph to her face, she realized that it was a family portrait. A large family’s portrait. Although one could hardly consider the picture, with its faded yellow-gray tint, a color photograph, she was able to make out basic shades and tones. Great galloping goodness, there had to be at least thirty ponies in that photo! She noticed that nearly all the males wore cowboy-style hats, and nearly all the females had braided manes. On the left side of the photo, there was an elderly mare with short hair; hey, that was Applejack’s Granny Smith! Right below her stood a beautiful mare and a well-built stallion, both of whom were smiling; an apparent couple. And underneath them, side-by-side, were…Applejack, and her brother, Big Macintosh! Well, Appletini and Little Macintosh, for they were very young there. On the right side of the photo, there was another couple, and the colt looked very much like the smiling one on the other side of the photo. The only difference was his unimpressive frown; his female companion was frowning as well, her eyes equally as glazed. And beneath them, she saw several unfamiliar fillies, and a familiar young male pony. His long hair cascaded down his neck, while his smug-looking smile suggested he may have been the family rascal. Oh, that was Braeburn! Of course! She knew that overconfident smirk anywhere! She let the photo fall to the ground, and noticed that, when it landed on the backside, there was another photo taped to the back. Still somewhat grainy and dated, there was legitimate color in this one. Also of difference was that there were far less ponies in it. She saw only three; a bigger Big Macintosh, a young Applejack, and a young Braeburn. The two siblings were sitting on a stage coach platform, smiling at the camera, while Braeburn smiled at the camera while standing in front of the vehicle. She would’ve guessed that Applejack was in her preteen or early teen years, judging by her appearance. That dorky freckled smile she had on was awfully cheesy. She took the pink bag next, and what she found was not what she expected. There were no balloons, confetti, streamers, party poppers, party hats, invitations, or anything of the sort. There were only five awkwardly-crafted, googly-eyed, paper-mache ponies. Their goggled lenses stared at her from inside the confines of their container. The orange one, with an oddly-stitched hat, particularly insulted her. She quickly removed it, and tore off its head without hesitation, tossing its pieces into the river. The white and purple dolls soon met the same fate, but she just threw the yellow one a few feet away. Finally, she retrieved the blue one, and examined it long and hard. She wanted to destroy it probably more than any of the others, and yet…she placed it beside her. Finally taking the sky blue bag, she bothered not to examine its contents. She knew there was nothing in it. She opened the pouch, took the watch from her neck, and placed it in. She then picked up the small book beside her, and placed that into the bag as well. She looked down at the blue doll again; its googly-eyes drawing her attention like a magnet. She hurriedly placed the doll into the bag as well, strapped the container around her back, and took to the air. ----------------------------------------------------- “AAAAAHHHH!!!” Applejack screamed, the dark figure approaching out of the smoke. Her friends quickly ran over to her. “Applejack?! What is it?!” Twilight shouted in fear. Everypony turned to look at the shadow that was making its way toward them, and they all screamed. “What in taaaaarnation is goin’ on out here?” A voice replied. The girls quickly became silent. The dark figure emerged from the cycle of smoke, and revealed itself. The glowing red eyes instantly transformed into two ruby gemstones, held beside each other in the mouth of an old pony. Pale light grey, with a long, spindly white beard, it was obvious the old man had seen better days in his youth. He wore small spectacles, and a patched-up stovepipe hat upon his head. He had a pickaxe strapped to his side, and the tool featured itself as his cutie mark. He coughed; a deep cough, presumably from the smoke-filled chamber he had just come out of, and then spat out the rubies into a small pouch around his shoulder. “What was all dat screamin’ ‘bout?” Fluttershy was still recovering from her scare. “W-We thought you were a…monster,” she said, cowering. “Why, ain’t dat that silliest story I e’er heard! I ain’t no monster. Muh name’s Quicksiller!” He grabbed Twilight’s hoof, shaking it vigorously, eyes closed while he talked. “Qu-Quicksilver?” Twilight asked, shaking. “That’s what I dun say, di’int I? Quicksiller!” he continued shaking her hoof. “What’re a group ‘a young ladies suchiz yerselves doin’ all the way out here?” He coughed again. “I-” and again, “Shouldn’t y’all be back in App’loosa with yer-” and again…he began to continue speaking, but he burst out coughing in a ruckus of wheezes. “Excuse me sir, are you ok?” Twilight asked in concern. “Heeheeheehee,” the old man creepily laughed, “’tis the smoke is all, mah darlin’. Jus’ partuf mah job. Say, what’re pretty lil’ things suchiz yerselves doin’ on this here mountain? Y’all dun seem like App’loosans tuhme. Well, ‘cept fer yer ornge frien’ right yonder”. He looked at Applejack, and readjusted his specs. “You dun happ’n to be from ‘round here, do ya missy? I’z thinks I seen ya afore. Is ya giv’n these city ponies a tour ‘a the mines? Cuz anypony from App’loosa knows it’s far too dang’rus ‘round here. We’s tryin’ to work here”. “Uh…we’s?” Rarity questioned, barely comprehending this pony’s dialect. “’A curs I meant we’s! Ya t’ink I do all dis work by mahself? Curs not!” “Uh, what work are you talking about, exactly?” Twilight asked, peering at the smoke still escaping from the doorway in the wall. The old man coughed again. “Why, we’s miners! We excavate the mountains ‘round these parts. Silver, gold, oil. Ya name it, we find it!” “And you find it by blowing up the inside of a cave?” Rarity asked critically. “Heeheehee!” He laughed creepily again. “We’s also hired by t’ App’loosans to carve out caverns an’ pass’ges fer t’ ponies to use!” He paused and scratched his chin. “Speakin’ ‘a which, I wunner what hapn’d t’ Goldrush”. He took a deep inhale, then shouted: “GOOOLDRUUUSH!” The smoke emitting from the cavern finally began to dissipate, and out emerged another pony. Much younger than the old colt was, Goldrush was carrying a shovel on his back. A glimmering beige color, his golden mane was surprisingly well-kempt and curled for somepony that spent so much time in smoke-filled caverns. Wearing two pairs of clean boots and sporting earrings, Goldrush seemed to live up to his name; he definitely had at least some money. His ensemble was completed by his odd cutie mark, which bore the number “49”. However, perhaps most glaring about his lustrous appearance were his glistening light blue eyes, which, despite being clear as the sky, gave absolutely no hint of emotion. “Keep your hat on, old man,” Goldrush said in a deep, somewhat gruff voice, which contrasted with his somewhat airy appearance. Some of the girls found it odd how subtle his accent was, even compared to Applejack. “Gol’rush, these here lil’ ladies is here on the moun’in. I think they’s lost”. “Well, they certainly don’t seem like they’re from around here,” he said nonchalantly. Looking at Applejack, however, he added: “Do I know you?” “Tat’s zactly what I said! You kin tell ‘em yerselves, ladies! I said it muhself. I dun say she look f’miliar. I’int that right, missies?” The old man was undoubtedly insane. “Uh, Applejack, maybe we should just get going?” Fluttershy whispered under her breath. “Applejack!? Applejack! You’z is Applejack?!” The old man called Quicksilver shouted, invading AJ’s personal space. “Gol’rush! This be Applejack!” He spat into her eyes, but apparently didn’t notice. Applejack had never been so bewildered in her life. “Uh…you know me, sir?” “Knows ya! I dun knowed you’z longer’n you knowed yerself!” He then improvised a “cutesy” sort of voice. “Curs, you was jus’ a wee lass when I las’ saw ya. I ‘member yer pappy useta bring y’all out here e’ry now n’ then. I ‘member y’alls had a brother ‘swell. Little Mac. Dat was one han’some boy”. “Little Mac?” Applejack chuckled, “Well, he’s more like Big Little Mac now”. “Yer daddy an’ I useta share whiskey o’er the apple orchards. I held ya when you was jus’ a baby. Now lookitcha! Gosh, ya sure is pretty”. Applejack blushed at the old man’s compliment. “Say, where’s yer daddy anyway?” Applejack regained a straight face. “Uh, not with us. I’m takin’ my friends to Appleloosa. See, Pinkie Pie here is pregnant and we really need to get there soon, so…” she turned, and lifted a leg to walk away. “Wait!” Quicksilver shouted, “We‘s actually got a mineshaft wif a railway dat leads from this here quarry straight to the bottom ‘a da mountain. Y’all kin use that to git down to App’loosa! ‘Tis the least we can do, seein‘ as the little pink lady‘s preg‘nt, an‘ all.” Applejack smiled back, nervously, walking backwards as she talked. “Ah don’t think that’ll be necessary, although I’m very much thankful fer the offer. I think we’ll just be on our way now and…” Twilight whispered into AJ’s ear. “They’re offering to send us right to the bottom of the mountain. Why do you want to leave?” AJ whispered back, not removing her eyes from the old man. “I just think…that we shouldn’t trust ‘em”. “But why?” “I don’t know. The old coot just seems…I don’t know…crazy”. “He’s just a loopy old man. He’s being really nice to us. I say we accept his offer”. Applejack sighed. “Well, you are the reasonable one, Twilight. Somethin’ just doesn’t sit right with me, though”. Before they could truly decide on what to do, however, Rarity embraced the old man. “Thank you thank you thank you! Thank you so much! Finally, we’re leaving this mountain! Finally!” She nearly began crying in joy. “Looks like we’re takin’ the railway…” Applejack said in defeat. “Glad I was able ‘a talk some sense inta ya,” Quicksilver said. “Dis mountain ain’t a safe place fer no girlies, no siree”. “That’s right,” Goldrush spoke up, no expression in his deep voice, “there’s scorpions out here. Big ones”. “An’ rattlers!” Quicksilver shouted. “And cougars”. “An’ rockslides!” Goldrush smiled. “And giants”. “Aye, Gol’rush is right! Here thar be giants!” Quicksilver gave a one-eyed glare right into Fluttershy’s face. She cowered. “So, where is this passageway?” Twilight said. “Well obviously, it’s in here,” Rarity said, walking into the rectangular hole in the rocky face, which had ceased emitting smoke. Quicksilver darted at a speed supposedly impossible for somepony his age, blocking the doorway. Rarity jumped in surprise. “Hol’ yer horses, missy! Y’all can’t go yet! We’s gots to finish our job here afore ya kin take the rails, lest y’all want the splosions t’ bury y’all wif rocks on yer way down!” Rarity pouted, and walked back to her friends, head hung low. “Well, you heard him,” Twilight said, “looks like we’re waiting”. All time that could be spent walking the rest of the way, Applejack thought. “Don’t worry ladies, everything should be finished up in no more than four hours,” a new voice said. If Goldrush’s voice was deep and gruff, this one was simply intimidating. The booming-voiced pony had emerged from an entrance in the rock wall in the top center of the quarry, and was walking over to them. He was huge! Even from that distance, he was huge; a definite rival for Big Mac. Large and solid charcoal black, his mane was even darker, and was as black and slick as oil. He sported an eye patch over one of his eyes, and…goodness; was that five o’clock shadow?! His cutie mark featured three red sticks of dynamite, bundled together. Finally, the black stallion reached where everypony had simply been watching in awe. The unmistakable scent of brimstone and smoke accompanied him. “Name’s Fizzle Out, but yah can call me Fiz. I’m the one settin’ off the dynamite. Sorry if I scared ya”. “These ladies here are gonna use the railway to get down to the bottom of the mountain,” Goldrush explained in a business-like fashion, “so we have to make sure we get our work done quickly“. “Heh, no problem,” Fiz boomed. “I wanna get outta here myself. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse”. Fluttershy cowered at this comment, and he laughed, nearly shaking the ground beneath them with his booming voice. “You two boys go ‘n blow down that there wall we was havin’ troubles wif earlier,” Quicksilver ordered his co-workers. They exited into the nearby cavern, and the old man waited until they were past hearing range before saying, “So, who wants ’a play some poker?” He pulled a deck of cards out of his stovepipe hat and grinned, his gumline displaying crooked, metal, and missing teeth. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- “I win again!” Pinkie Pie shouted. She was laying on her stomach, kicking her back legs against the ground like a gleeful child. Rarity was not amused. “That’s only fifteen times in a row. Give me one more game”. She began to telepathically reshuffle the deck of cards. A table and some seats were arranged in the bottom left corner of the quarry, a few feet from both the mine shaft entrance, and from a rocky wall with a slight upward curve that provided a certain level of shade. Twilight, Applejack, and Fluttershy all sat with Quicksilver, both the rectangular table and the chairs being improvised from wooden containers. Fluttershy had slumped her head over onto the table, and Applejack had a hoof pressed to her forehead, eyes closed. “An’ when I wuzza chile, we wuzza gray’ful fer what we dun got. I ‘member it was thuh summa ‘a muh sixth year, an’ my fathuh had dun an’ got me my firs’ plow, an’ I was plenty gray’ful he ‘lowed me to work on the farm. ‘Curs, what we had was only twenny-ought apple trees an’ some taters, but we was gray’ful fer that too”. Quicksilver had been rambling on for an indecipherable amount of time, he himself having forgot about the unplayed cards distributed around the perimeter of the table, and the large goblet containing his beverage in front of him. “Y’all knows what I’m sayin’?” He laughed, “Ah, I defi’ly knows you’z knows what I’m sayin’,” he said to Twilight, who, sitting at his left, was attempting to stay attentive to his various stories, rants, and questions. “Oh, yes,” Twilight said with a nervous smile that clearly indicated her inability to grasp what the old man was saying, “I…definitely know what you’re talking about,“ she readjusted her posture on the barrel she sat upon, “Why, one time Princess Cele-” “I tell ya’s, them boys is really dumb sometimes. They’s like sons to me, but sometime’s I hafta set them straight, ya know what I’m sayin’?” He turned away with his eyes closed, and Twilight slammed her face down on the table. “Why, las’ Summa Sun Festival, ol’ Fiz set off the las’ keg ‘a dy-no-mite justa make sum fireworks. I dun tell the boy, dat’s not what we do wif the ‘splosives in this bizness, but he dun listen to me, nosiree Bob he dun do that. Sometimes can’t get nuthin’ through them boys’ heads”. Quicksilver finally took a gulp from the goblet in front of him. Letting out a deep sigh, his eyes lit up in realization. “Oh, please fergive muh manners; any’ou ladies want some?” He slid the cup into the center of the table. “Oh, n-no thank you, I don’t drink…uh, that stuff,” Twilight said, shyly smiling. Besides, they had already been given cups of water earlier. Of course, they were now empty; they had drained them almost instantly. Fluttershy simply shook her head in rejection, and Applejack said only, “No thank you,” without even looking up. There was a loud explosive sound from behind, and Quicksilver got up out of his seat. “Oh, what’re them boys doin’ now? That wasn’t s’posed to go off ‘til all them barrels was lit! Why in all my years I never seen two boys as dimwitted as them two, I gots a few good words fer ‘em…” he continued to grumble as he entered the shaft. Twilight lifted her head up from the table, her bangs twisted and frizzed. “Ugh, this guy is crazy,” she complained. “I’ll say,” Fluttershy contributed. Twilight looked across the table at Applejack, who still hadn’t moved. “You alright, Applejack?” The work pony looked up from her hoof, and slumped over onto the table. “’Course ah am. I’m just…well, over it? Ya know? I would just really like this whole ordeal to be over and done with,” she explained. “I think we all want that, if only for Pinkie’s sake,” Fluttershy agreed in a tired voice. Fiz’s front hooves clopped onto the ground outside of the shaft entrance, sounding like a large boulder crushing a smaller rock. The girls turned around, feeling as if the ground had shook. The black colt made his way over to them, smelling of freshly-produced smoke. He seemed even darker black than he was before. “Afternoon, ladies. We’re workin’ to get this done for you all as soon as possible”. “And we greatly appreciate the effort,” Rarity said, cantering over to the group. “You sure you don’t want another try, Rarity?” Pinkie shouted. Receiving no answer, she began filing the cards. “It’s my honor Miss,” Fiz responded. “Say, I’ve got to wait for Goldrush to round up all the silver we found from blowing up that wall. I got some free time before they need me back in there. Any chance you’d all let me join you ladies?” He sat down on the crate Quicksilver had previously occupied before they had a chance to respond. “Um, of course not,” Twilight said. She really didn’t mind, although she would have never said no to the intimidating, and apparently assertive, colt beside her. Rarity pushed over a keg, and sat down at the table as well. Pinkie Pie noticed that she had no one else to share her company with, and joined them, laying down on her back beside Twilight’s seat. Fiz removed several ears of corn from a satchel around his shoulder, placing them on the table, and instantly, the girls’ eyes shone, their mouths watering and stomachs growling. “For you ladies,” he said. Applejack instantly reached out an arm for an ear, but Fiz’s massive arms blocked the approach. “I just wanna know,” he said, all attention locked upon his words, “what’re you ladies doin’ out here, anyway?” ----------------------------------------------------------- “You got a 6?” Fiz asked. “I got nothin’. Go fish,” Applejack said, putting on a sly game face. She pulled the brim of her hat down. Fiz glanced over his cards carefully. “So no matter how quickly this here little lady gets to town at this point, there’s not really a way for her to make her own choice? That’s a mighty sad story, if I do say so myself”. The girls hung their heads in remorse. “But it’s not all bad. I’m sure you can all get there by tonight. In fact, I guarantee it”. “Ya got a 3?” Applejack asked. “Aw dang,” Fiz said like the perfect defeatist, handing his card over to Applejack. “You got a 4?” “Nope. You got a King?” A look of simple surprise overcame Fiz’s face, and he handed AJ his last card. “Alright! Yeah! You won, Applejack!” Her friends cheered for the victorious farm girl as she brimmed with pride. “Huh, nopony ever beats me. ‘Curs, I usually play more…serious games…” Fiz squinted at Applejack, analyzing the smug smirk she had on. “Well, I know more than one pony who underestimates my ability to win,” Applejack confidently responded, pulling the brim of her hat down again, sheathing her eyelids under its shadow. “Very well then,” the black pony decided, then turned around, and got up. “Good game and everything. I gotta get back to work now. Should be ready for you girls - I mean - ladies, soon”. He disappeared almost instantly into the darkness of the mine shaft. Twilight reclined against the rocky wall only a few feet away from the table, relaxing in the shade. She closed her eyes. It wasn’t the most comfortable for her neck, head, or back, but she didn’t care much about discomfort at this point. Her three friends at the table sat beside her, and closed their eyes as well. When had been the last time they had gotten to rest during the day? Pinkie Pie had only just noticed that her friends had moved, and she playfully rolled over to them to lay down in the shade, closing her eyes in an attempt to relax. The air in the quarry was mostly trapped heat, but something about the shade seemed to dissolve the uncomfortable atmosphere. All the discomfort of heat, the rocky ground, and everything else collectively, nearly vanished as she focused on simply staying still. It was a newly odd experience for Pinkie; she was always so hyperactive and bubbly. “Applejack?” Twilight asked, not opening her eyes. “Yeah, Twilight?” Applejack responded, keeping her eyes shut as well. The unicorn opened her left eye, and looked at Pinkie before closing it again. “Well, I was going to ask you something about…Appleloosa, but that’s not important right now. So…what do you think…happened to Rainbow Dash?” Applejack’s straight mouth became a frown. “Don’t know nor care. I just hope she’s satisfied with her way of goin’ about things”. The next five minutes or so were silent; the girls had all noticed the comfort brought upon by simply staying still and ignoring their irritants. “I miss Rainbow Dash…” Fluttershy finally said. “Well, I’d certainly rather have her here with us, than have to worry about her whereabouts,” Rarity added, “especially considering the recent news that we shall be arriving in Appleloosa by tonight”. “Alright girls. No more talkin’ about Rainbow,” AJ said, in a nearly scolding tone. Everypony kept their eyes closed, and relaxed. No one spoke up again. No one spoke of Rainbow Dash again. ----------------------------------------------------------------- “Get up. We’re ready, and we’ve got work to do. Time for you girlies to go.“ After a brief but surprisingly relaxing afternoon nap, the girls were awoken to a gruff, and unpleasant voice to wake up to. Rarity opened her eyes first. “Get up, c’mon”. It was Goldrush, staring down at her with those perfect blue eyes of his. Rarity began to whine in a squeaky and irritating voice. “But I’m sooooo tired. I don’t waaaaaanna get up. Just five more minutes. Come oooooon”. She rolled and writhed along the ground, stretching her muscles, and closed her eyes again. This façade not persuading Goldrush, he tapped her with his foot. Rarity turned to face him, and smiled cutely, her bright blue eyes quivering with swooning pity. Goldrush continued to look down at her, his uninterested, non-blinking gaze fixed into position. “C’mon, get up. You girls are going to Appleloosa”. Instantly, Rarity became still as a rock, and her eyes shone with glee. She hopped onto her four feet in one motion. “Really? We’re leaving?” Goldrush nodded, his statue-like expression of course unchanged. “Now? Right now?” He nodded again. That was all Rarity needed to know. “Alright girls, up and at ‘em! We’re moving onward! Let’s go! Rise and shine! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” Rarity marched in a circle, cheering her “encouragement” to wake her friends up. Applejack yawned, stretching her arms, and got up onto her feet. The other girls woke up as well. “Well, we’re finally getting into the mine cart?” Applejack asked. “Yup,” was Goldrush’s definitive response. “Yeeeeehaaaaaw! Let’s move it, ladies! We’s dun got e’rything prepared fer y’all’s leavin‘!” Quicksilver’s unfortunately familiar voice invaded Twilight’s eardrum. The unicorn slowly turned her head, and was met with the displeasing grin of the old man. She jumped and shrieked in shock (how had he suddenly appeared like that?). “Eeheeheehee!” The prospector laughed in his signature disturbing fashion. “You’s is funny purple girly. I like you. Now, come ‘n git yer friens and let’s git y’all on yer way!” Everypony made their way to the entrance of the mine shaft. “After you, ladies,” Goldrush unenthusiastically said, waiting by the entrance as the girls shuffled their way in, one at a time. Goldrush picked up a lantern with his mouth, and entered. Quicksilver, still laughing for whatever reason, followed after. Only the brightness of the ponies’ eyes shone in the darkness. “I can’t see anything,” Applejack complained, “how’s about a light spell, Twilight?” “Won’t be necessary,” Goldrush said, so quickly that it seemed as if he had predicted what AJ would say. He lit the lantern, and the flame illuminated the cavern, displaying a small room of barrels and crates…and explosives. Straight ahead, there was a straight, square-shaped cavern, reinforced by wooden support beams. “Right this way, ladies”. Goldrush lead the group down the corridor, which seemed to stretch on forever. Fluttershy shrieked, and everypony turned around to see what had happened. What they saw was the yellow pegasus cowering underneath a draping spider web. Applejack put a front leg around one of Fluttershy’s, and guided her along. Pinkie was glad to be walking again; her ankles no longer pained her, although they were still a tad uncomfortable. She picked up on the sound of water, and in just a few seconds, found herself stepping over wood; they were on a short bridge. Beside the wandering group, the cave wall broke off into walls of trickling water. Looking to her left, Pinkie saw a glimpse of the inner regions of the cave; a mess of stalactites and stalagmites. Twilight assumed that somebody other than the bumbling group of prospectors had fashioned the bridge. Rarity assumed that Goldrush simply bought it. “O’er there, we panned out the gol’ from the water ‘til it ran out. Now it jus’ runs n’ makes holes in da wall,” Quicksilver explained as they passed the bridge. “What he means is, the water here is erosive, and corrodes the rock at a relatively fast rate, forming those spires you see in the floor and ceiling,” Goldrush further elaborated, dangling the lantern on his front right leg, not caring to look back. “Those are stalactites and stalagmites,” Twilight added. “Which one is which?” Rarity asked. “The ones that hang on the ceiling are the stalactites, and the ones sticking out of the ground are stalagmites”. “And just how is that possible to remember?” Rarity complained. “Oh! Easy!” Pinkie shouted, “stalactites are the ceiling ones because they hang on tight to the ceiling,“ she took a deep breath, “and stalagmites are the floor ones because they rise up, and look mighty!” “Obviously,” Rarity concluded, rolling her eyes. “When are we going to get-” her front right hoof collided with a hard object, and she faltered forward, knocking her forehead into a low-hanging stalactite. “Ow ow oooow!” She shouted, hopping up and down on three legs, alternating between grasping her injured foot and rubbing her painful forehead. “Rarity! Are you okay?! What happened?” Twilight shouted in concern. “What’s the matter Rarity? You ok?” Applejack asked. Rarity cried, exaggerating the severity of her injury. Then, she pouted; “Humpf! I stubbed my hoof on something hard, and banged my forehead on this…stupid thing!” She looked down and noticed the rail-track beam she had stumbled into. She grunted, screaming angrily, and kicking her feet around at invisible rocks. “Woah, woah! Calm down Rarity!” Twilight called. The last thing anypony wanted was one of Rarity’s breakdowns. Rarity stressfully screamed into her hooves, attempting to muffle the awful noise for her friends, then brushed her mane out of her face. Taking deep breathes, she tried to recollect herself. “Awf’ly sorry fer yer mishap Missy, but we’s finally here!” Quicksilver said, smiling, his metal teeth highlighted by the lantern. The mine cart was set on a track that lead into an abyssal dark tunnel to the right. The cart was…small to say the least. Two ponies would be cramped in its confines; five simply wasn’t a possible achievement. “Excuse me,” Twilight spoke up, “but I don’t believe we’ll all fit in there”. If it was possible, Goldrush had a nearly undetectable trace of irritation in his voice. “Well of course. You’re not all going in there”. "I...don't understand," Twilight snarkingly said, hardly believing how bewildered she was. He faced to the left, shining the lantern’s light to reveal a small opening in the wall. “There’s other tracks to take over there. I’m taking three of you. Two of you…are taking this one. Quicksilver will see you off”. Applejack was intent, and her face determined. “I’ll go with Pinkie”. “Are you sure?” Twilight asked. “Of course ah’m sure! Just, go over there with Fluttershy and Rarity, and I’ll stay here”. Twilight lowered her head in respect, and she and the other two ponies followed Goldrush through the opening in the wall. What they met, or rather, who they met, was Fiz, waiting for them by another cart. This one was, in contrast to the previous cart, built over a wooden track suspended about twenty feet over a narrow abyss, and extended straight forward into a large, cavernous region, swallowed by the darkness. Fluttershy swallowed her fear, praying that the bottom was full of water. “Well, let’s do this then. Get it over with and whatnot, right?” Rarity suggested. “Keep yourself collected. What happened to the Rarity that was reluctant to get to the ‘boring old town’?” Twilight snarked. She seemed to be in a sarcastic mood. The other unicorn chuckled. “Oh Twilight, after all we’ve been through, I’d be overjoyed to see just a single building”. Fiz stood patiently in front of the cart. “When you’re ready, ladies”. Twilight made the first step forward, and shouted in surprise as the large pony lifted her up with his neck, and dropped her into the cart. Without waiting for the next volunteer, he picked up Rarity and placed her in as well, and finally, Fluttershy. “You all ready?” Goldrush asked. He patted Fluttershy on the back, rather roughly. Twilight only nodded. “Give ‘em a push, Fiz”. The cart darted off in a straight fashion. The straight ride was uncomfortable and rough, but the girls all dealt with these minor inconveniences. And then, the cart finally began to slow down, the energy transferred by Fiz’s push finally beginning to deplete. As the cart creaked to a stop, the three girls exchanged perplexed glances; why had they stopped? Twilight, up in front, looked straight down in front of her. They did that on purpose. She swallowed an anxious lump in her throat. “Hold on tight”. ------------------------------------------------------------------ “An’ you’z is sure yer ready t’ go?” “Of course we’re ready!” Applejack snapped, “Alright Pinkie, sugar, you ready fer this?” Pinkie Pie nodded solemnly. Applejack climbed into the wagon, and helped Pinkie step into it and sit next to her. She felt rather awkward as she was uncomfortably pressed against the cart’s iron side; the small ride was a tight fit. “Nex stop: t’ bottom o’ the moun’ain!” The cooky old prospector shouted, laughing maniacally as he pulled a lever beside the rails, unhitching the restraint of the track. The small cart squeaked as it slowly began to pick up speed and head into the dark cavern. Looking back at the quickly dimming scene behind her, Pinkie saw the shine of the colt’s metallic teeth. Their luster soon dissipated, however, and only his maniacal laugh echoed long after the darkness had removed any physical trace of himself. “Applejack, it’s a little spooky, wouldn’t you say?” Pinkie asked the friend she could only feel beside her. “Well, I dunno if I’d say that, Pinkie…” Applejack muttered back. “I’m…a little scared,” the pink pony said quietly. Applejack tried to console her. “Well, don’t be. Everything’s gonna be fine, now”. Suddenly, the cart reared up on its backside, and began scrolling upward slowly. What was this, a rollercoaster? “Applejack, what’s going on?” “Uh-I don’t know”. The cart ceased its upward scroll, the surrounding view still pitch black. All was still, and all was silent. Applejack felt a tickling sensation on her side. “Pinkie, could ya stop shakin’? Yer brushin’ up against me”. “I’m not shaking,” Pinkie innocently replied. Applejack was confused. What did she mean she wasn’t shaking? She was the only other pony here. “You’re not?” “But my tail is twitching”. Applejack’s eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. She shouted at the top of her lungs. “HOLD ON TIGHT!” The two ponies plummeted at a steep incline downward. Applejack screamed, and Pinkie Pie grinned so brightly that it was amazing it didn’t light up the pitch black cave. Caught up in the thrill of the moment, Pinkie didn’t even notice the tight embrace Applejack had put upon her. They swerved, and turned, and darted about as the cart seemed to blindly move itself about. They fell yet again, this time in a quick, sudden motion. Right after the dive, the cart made a nearly ninety-degree swerve to the left, and Pinkie saw the bright light of the setting sun as the cart curved around the outside of the mountain. The view was breathtaking. Face still locked into a portrait of excitement, Pinkie shook AJ, who had her eyes closed the entire time. Opening her eyes, Applejack took in the sight for herself; it truly was beautiful scenery, even though the entirety of the terrain was essentially a giant rock. The cart jolted again to the right, and they found themselves inside the mountain again, but this time, faintly lit torches lined the walls, and there were various pickaxes, shovels, and barrels, as well as other traces of pony activity, among the rocky walls and ground. A wave-like series of dips and rises were next, and the cart popped up again on the outside. “I hope we get another big drop!” Pinkie excitedly shouted, bobbing up and down in anticipation. “Heeheehee, ‘tis the best part right here!” Applejack and Pinkie Pie turned around to see Quiksilver riding in the cart behind them. Applejack could not comprehend this at all. “But I - you were - we left you -” She didn’t even know how to finish the sentence (or really, even how to start it). She put on a frown, and lowered her brow. “How did you get here?!” The crazy old miner let out his signature laugh for the umpteenth time. Normally the talkative type, all he had to say was: “Lookee o’er there”. Pinkie was already smiling in pure joy when Applejack’s horrific look of shock overcame her. The cart flew off of an upward-turned break in the rail, suspended over a 600-foot drop to the canyon below. “Oh jeepers! Let Apple Bloom know I love her!” AJ shouted, covering her eyes. “WHEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!” Pinkie gleefully cheered, her cry echoing throughout the mountainside. “Eeheeheeheehee!” Quicksilver was having the time of his very long life, more so due to seeing the girls’ reactions than the ride itself. The cart landed on another rail nearly forty feet below, which led into the mountain again. The momentum and force of the fall, as well as the downward slope of the new set of rails, caused the cart to fly down the track at a surely unintentional speed. Applejack hung on tight to her hat, anxiety plaguing her face as Pinkie waved her front legs in the air, eyes closed and streaming tears of joy. The wind rushing past them blew Pinkie’s mane backward and upward, frizzing it into an explosive poof of fuzz. Quicksilver simply smiled, taking in the fun of the ride. He was old, for crying out loud; might as well enjoy the adrenaline he was so scarcely treated to. The cart came to a screeching halt as the wagon collided with a rusty old gate, and the two ponies in the front flew out, collapsing onto the floor of dirt. Head spinning and vision blurry, Applejack could barely make out the sights and sounds around her. Something that sounded vaguely like a deep-voiced Pinkie Pie shouting and squealing in joy resonated into her ears. The pink face, more joyous than she had seen it in months, popped into her view. “That was soooooooooooooo fun!” Pinkie shouted, rapidly trotting in place to work off the overpowering excitement. ---------------------------------------------------------- “AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy screamed as one would in the case of bloody murder as they plummeted nearly straight down the wooden slope. Water splashed into their faces as the cart dipped halfway into water before the massive plunge in the track recovered upward. The cart rode straight into a cavern adorned with torches in random locations, although they did little to ward away the natural chill of the wet cavern. Piles of coal and various ironworking tools, such as hammers, horseshoes, and tongs were scattered on top of and behind the rocks. Twilight ducked as they soared past a low-hanging stalactite, possibly saving the tip of her horn from being cleanly chipped off. The rail seemed to end its straight path as it neared the end of the cavern. “Oh no! We’re going to crash!“ Fluttershy cried, covering her eyes to brace for the surely nasty impact. Twilight and Rarity screamed. Suddenly, the straight path plunged downward again, with no warning. Twisting right and left in a downward angle, the rusty rail, now lacking wooden support, spiraled around a circular corridor, a tunnel burrowing deep into the mountain’s inside. As they plummeted downward, sparks blasting from the back wheels, the rails seemed to further exaggerate their twisted shape. As they approached the end of the circular passage, they actually completed a handful of full circles in a corkscrew fashion. Rarity screamed the entire time, her mane flailing behind her. Fluttershy did not once open her eyes. And then, an hard impact. The girls all jumped at the shock of the landing. The tunnel had lead out into a straightforward path, small swerves and only slight bumps. Twilight excitedly shook Rarity beside her. “Rarity! We’re out! The tunnel part’s over!” Rarity, still frozen in fear, quickly recollected herself. “Oh, yes. I suppose it is. Hehe”. “Can I open my eyes now?” Fluttershy asked, wondering if she was already in heaven. Then, they heard the roar of water. Overhead, a curtain of water was plunging downward, and the rail was to bring them straight under it. And, from the looks of it, to another drop in the track. “You…might want to keep them closed a little bit longer,” Twilight warned, eyes locked in fear at what they were about to experience. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Applejack stood up, wobbling around in circles. “Are we-” she suppressed the urge to vomit, “-there yet?” “Yes, you’z is at the bottom,” the old man said, standing slyly on his hind legs by the cart. “Wh-Where’re the others?” Three bloodcurdling screams pierced AJ and Pinkie’s ears as Rarity, Twilight, and Fluttershy all splashed down into a pool of water, the cart perfectly still (and half-submerged). Still screaming, the three girls were embracing each other, their soaked manes straight as boards. “Twilight!” Applejack shouted, running over to her friends. They kept screaming. “Rarity!” More screaming. “Dang nabbit girls!” She shook them vigorously. They all opened their eyes, and became silent. “Y’all get outta there. Yer Gonna catch a cold”. Rarity dipped a hoof into the cold pool of water, cringing at the temperature. She repealed her advance. “Oh for pony’s sake, yer already soakin’ wet as is!” Applejack scolded her. The white unicorn stepped out into the pool, and then out of the pool onto the dirt floor, trailing water behind her. “Who’s amazing idea was it to turn a simple mine cart into a rollercoaster that tries to kill you?!” She critically grumbled. Quicksilver was quick to reply. “Well, we was the ones who dun build most ‘a it”. “And you were convinced it was best to fashion it in such a way because…?” The old man smiled. “Acuz it was funny“. And then his face became stern. Why had she asked such a stupid question? “Ain’t y’all got no commuh sense? Da kids dese days, tain’t ‘a ounce ‘a commuh sense inum, I tell ya…” Once Twilight and Fluttershy had gotten out, everypony surveyed their location; a small room in a shaft, not unlike the one they had started in. A doorway filtered in light from outside. “Well, go’n out an’ see fer yerselves,” Quicksilver said. As they walked outside, they saw themselves in the flatness of the desert. Pinkie Pie looked up, seeing the vast expanse of the mountain; had they really gone up and down all of that? The sun setting in the distance, the atmosphere above the road was blurred, but Applejack could swear she saw a dot out there. A dot that just had to be…Appleloosa. “Desert again! No more mountain!” Rarity ran out into the sand and got down on her knees, preparing to kiss the sweet, dry earth below her. Then she stopped, lips puckered. “Wait,” she said, “I hate the desert too”. The other girls laughed. Applejack didn’t know what to say. “Ah…ah I don’t know what to say,” she fittingly said, “thank you so much fer yer help, Mister. If there’s anything we can do to ever repay you…” Quicksilver brought his head up high, smiling. “T’was a pleas’r ‘a helped y’all, Miss Applejack”. She offered her right hoof for a shake, and he kissed it instead. Well, kissed it, then shook it. “Aww,” he said in swooning affection, “y’all dun hafta t’ank me, where I’z comes from dat’s jus’ whuh we do. I tells ya, when I wuzza wee lil’ lad, muh daddy dun teached me howda be a good person, is all. ‘Curs, his daddy wen’ an’ taught ‘im dad ‘swell, an’ ‘is daddy afore ‘im, and dat was when we had morals in dis ‘ciety ‘a are’s”. He continued shaking her hoof, eyes closed the entire time. “Th-that’s v-very n-nice of you to s-say, b-but we have to get go-o-o-iiiing,” Applejack attempted to say, palpitating rapidly. “Well, good luck t’ all ‘a yuz,” the old man replied, releasing his grip, and smiling (mouth closed, thank goodness). The five girls waved their generous guide goodbye, and walked off into the sunset. --------------------------------------------------- Goldrush and Fizzle Out observed the ant-sized figures from a cliff on the mountaintop. The smaller miner held up a large sum of gold coins. “I’d say our work today…was profitable”. His voice was just as monotonous and raspy as it normally was. “That from the pegasus’ bag?” Fiz asked out of the corner of his eye. “Yup”. “Wasn’t a very nice thing to do, takin’ their money”. Goldrush paused for a bit, then argued, “I’d say it’s just a fair pay for our services. I trust they won’t mind”. -------------------------------------------------- Soft hoof beats thumped the earth below as the group of five continued onward. The all-too familiar topaz light blanketed the desert landscape, and the road, now nothing but a shade of dirt only slightly brighter than the sand that encompassed it, winded onward. A scorpion scurried out from underneath a small rock to begin its nocturnal predation. “I’ll tell you what I’d do at the first chance I got,” Rarity said, describing her daydream, “I would buy a new dress to canter around town in. But not after spending an afternoon at the spa, of course. Can’t have me out and about in formal attire in such…“ she brought a hoof to her hair, measuring its volume, “rugged conditions”. “Rarity, you know darn well there ain’t no day spa in Appleloosa,” Applejack said, annoyed at Rarity’s romantic but unrealistic idealism. Rarity didn’t let the comment hurt her fantasy. “Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?” She closed her eyes, envisioning a dress that would truly make her look glamorous again. Applejack calmed down a bit. “Well, even if they did have such a facility, there’s no sayin’ we could afford it. I think the best thing to do would be to buy some actual food. I don’t recall ever bein’ this hungry before”. Her stomach rumbled, and she slowed down her pace just a tad, looking back at Fluttershy, who was in the back of the group. The pegasus seemed to be cautiously glancing from one side of the road to the other, as if she was afraid something would appear and attack her. “Speakin’ of which, Fluttershy, how much money we got anyway? I never counted after those two-timin’ rascals tried to steal it”. Fluttershy gasped under her breath. Oh no… Rotating her head to view her backside, her anxious fears were justified; the saddlebag of money was gone. Everypony stopped walking (Rarity, only because she bumped into Applejack). They all turned around, and looked intently at Fluttershy. “Fluttershy? Something wrong?” Pinkie Pie asked, a very worried and hopeless look on her face. Fluttershy whined, and so quietly that it was inaudible, said: “The…money’s gone”. “What?” Everypony simultaneously said. “The…money’s gone…” she nervously uttered again. “You’re going to have to speak up,” Twilight urged. Fluttershy sighed. “The money’s gone,” she stated clearly. The collective response was an exclamation of “What?!” Applejack tried to piece the situation together. “The whole bag is gone?” Fluttershy cringed, her eyes closed, and nodded in confirmation. “Wh-how’d that happen? When’d you last have the bag?” “Uh-I don’t know. I kind of…forgot I had it. I just…sort of got used to wearing it”. “Could it have flown off when we were riding the mine cart?” Twilight asked in suggestion. “Ah don’t think so,” Applejack said, head lowered in deep thought, “it was strapped on pretty darn tight“. She turned around, back to everypony else. “Someone’d have to have undone it themselves”. “Well I certainly think that the cart ride theory is quite plausible,” Rarity pointed out, head high in confidence, “I mean, that thing was a death trap, for goodness sake!” “Rarity, just drop it, alright?” Applejack’s tone was a straight mixture of irritation and warning. “Ah know what I’m talkin’ about. I know how these saddlebags work. It was strapped on, I tell ya! Somepony undid it!” Rarity still wanted to keep things calm, although she was beginning to become agitated. “Well, all I’m saying is that you didn’t take the same ride as we did. And I don’t know how everything went down on your end, but we did not enjoy a walk in the park”. Applejack wanted to argue Rarity’s rebuttal, but stayed focused on thinking. She spat to the side to suppress her anger, but strain as she might, she could only come to one conclusion. She took a deep breath, and sighed. “Fluttershy, you remember undoin’ that bag for anythin’?” Fluttershy looked up, eyes sincere and innocent. “Oh no. I had barely noticed I was still carrying it. I wouldn’t have even thought to unstrap it, even if I had a reason to”. Applejack hung her head low in shame. No, it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. I don’t believe it. I don’t…want…to believe it. “What is it, Applejack?” Twilight asked blankly. Applejack turned her head back, her eyes glistening with the onset of tears, and face solemn as could be. Twilight had figured it out. “Oh no…you don’t suppose…” Applejack nodded in confirmation. “Ah really do, Twilight. I think those miners stole it from us. Ah mean, it wasn’t that much money, that’s fer sure, but that was all my savin’s. I’m gonna have to work twice as hard to make all that up”. Twilight sighed, her spirits essentially crushed at this point. “Applejack…I’m so sorry…I…should’ve listened to you when you said you didn’t trust them. It’s just…I guess…” “You guess what?” AJ asked, uninterested. “I guess…” Twilight slumped. “I guess…we were doing so much better. We found some berries, we had a nice time talking, and we made good time doing it. Things were starting to look up. I figured…encountering those guys was just the cherry on top”. “Well, I for one hardly trusted that odd bunch myself”, Rarity made sure to point out. Applejack’s remorse transformed into rage yet again. “You know what, Rarity? Why don’t y’all just shut up?!” Everypony gained a look of shock on their faces, but none more so than Rarity herself. “I-I beg your pardon?!” “Yeah, just…shut up! You were the first to kiss their hooves when they offered to get us to the bottom of the mountain! Then ya complained when the ride was too much of a thrill for ya. Then, ya kissed the darn ground when we got outside. And now, yer back to complainin’ again!” Twilight and Fluttershy’s mouths were agape in utter disbelief at what they were hearing. “What are ya Rarity? With us, or against us? Because I can’t darn well tell! You wanna know what I think? I think you’re for yerself! Everythin’ you say - and do - is self-servin’, selfish, and based on what you find convenient at the time! So why don’t y’all just do us a favor and SHUT UP!!” Applejack breathed heavily, her muscles tense in aggravation. Everyone had been expecting Rarity to continue the argument, but she was silent. Tears welled up in her eyes. She pouted, her bottom lip quivering. “Y-You…” “Aw…is wittle Wawity gonna cwy now?” Applejack cooed mockingly. “Did mean old Applejack go and hurt poor Wawity’s feelings? Is wittle selfish Wawity unable to admit she was wong?” Rarity was trying to keep herself collected, but was quickly losing the battle. “Y-You…uncivil, uncouth, f-f-floozy!” Everyone gasped. AJ was beyond angry now. “You never cared about Pinkie; you almost ditched us to go with that traitor, Rainbow Dash!” “Applejack!” Twilight scolded, angrier than she had ever been at the earth pony. Rarity whimpered as tears began rolling down her cheek. “Oh Rarity, please don’t take it that way,” Twilight consoled, putting a limb around her friend’s shoulder, “Applejack didn’t mean it like that”. Rarity was unstable, about to erupt at any moment. “Are you s-saying you agree with her?” Twilight had only then just realized her poor choice of words. “No, no! That’s not what I’m saying at all! I‘ll admit, your momentary way of thinking can be a damper at some times, but-” “Oh my GOD, you do think that way about me!” Rarity was more or less bawling, and she dropped to the ground, crying into her crossed hooves. “No Rarity, you’re very generous,” Fluttershy added, walking over to her best friend, “we love you!” “Speak fer yerself!” AJ shouted. “Why would you say that, Applejack?” Twilight angrily demanded an answer into AJ’s face. “Y’all know it’s true! Rarity’s made this whole ordeal unbearable with her constant complaining!” “There have been many things that have made this trip unbearable, Applejack”. “Still, it’s not like she’s made it any easier with her hypocritic attitude!” “Hypocritical,” Twilight said blankly, eyes half closed. “What?” “Hypocritical. Hypocritic isn’t a word”. Applejack’s eyes sharpened in further anger. “And that’s another thing! We all know you’re super-duper book-smart, Twi, but I just can’t stand when you change the subject on important matters like this, just to go and play Grammar Police! Yer job on this trip was to read the map. That was it! I told y‘all to leave the rest t‘ me! But yah didn‘t! And now the money‘s gone, and all because you had to have yer quick and easy way out of it!” Twilight‘s eyes angled in maddening anger. “I’m not the only one who’s been unable to keep their promises on this trip,” Twilight said, coldly and for the first time, a hint of pure disdain in her voice. Applejack paused, face nearly red by this point. She raised her voice in dominance. “WELL, AH DON’T REMEMBER YOU BEIN’ CHEATED BY ONE ‘A YER BEST FRIENDS!!” Twilight stared back blankly. Had Applejack really just called her out on that? Her eyes watered a bit, and she hung her head. “You’re right Applejack. I made a bad decision. I’m sorry. I’ve made it worse on all of us. I cost you your money. All I wanted to do was help, but…it looks like I couldn’t”. Rarity continued her weeping as Fluttershy attempted to comfort her. Pinkie Pie sat on the ground, eyes welling up with tears, although everyone had practically forgotten she was there, and didn‘t notice her. She couldn’t believe that all of this was actually happening. Her entire world was falling apart. She couldn’t trust Braeburn, she couldn’t trust Twilight…she couldn’t trust herself. Why had she made her friends take on this impossible task? Why didn’t she have better judgment? Applejack’s expression softened a bit. “Aw, Twilight, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just…I told ya we shouldn’t ‘a trusted ‘em. I guess you could say I felt a little…betrayed that y’all wouldn’t take mah word on it”. Her ears drooped, and she sat smack-down in the middle of the road, the rapidly-setting sun shrouding half of her form. “I just wanted to help Pinkie Pie; to make her life easier. But all this trip has done, is made all our lives worse. I’m sorry Pinkie Pie. From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry. But now you know that I’m impossible to believe in. I said I’d make sure everything was fine, and nothin’ but nightmares have happened since we started this here trip. Huh, some Element of Honesty”. She cried. Pinkie Pie cried some more, but no one seemed to notice. They were all looking at Applejack. “Applejack,” Twilight spoke up, her voice hoarse, “I’m so sorry…I’ll…I’ll help you work off the loss of your savings. I’ll take a job at the farm”. “I don’t believe you,” Applejack responded, almost laughing. “Wait, what?” “I don’t believe you. As much as I think yer heart is in the right place, let’s be realistic, Twilight, it’s not gonna happen. When we get back home, you’ll go back to yer books, I’ll go back to the farm, and things will be like they always were…or, at least, we can hope they will. ‘Course, nothin’ says that’s what will happen”. Twilight was concerned at this, and highly provoked. “Applejack, wh-what are you saying?” “She’s saying that she doesn’t believe you. She doesn’t believe anyone, and she doesn’t believe anything…” Everypony turned to meet Pinkie Pie, sitting alone solemnly, head hung low between her crossed legs. Pinkie didn’t seem to want to say anymore, but no one said a word, all wondering in silence if she would continue. And she did. “There’s nothing to believe in”. She looked up, face weary, seemingly aged due to its prolonged scars of hopelessness. “No more promises guys, that’s the only thing I will and can promise. No more promises, no more favors, or asking for favors. Promise that we won’t promise anymore. Don’t promise me. Just…promise. And make it your last promise”. Everypony else was somewhat baffled by what Pinkie had said. Perhaps it was the fact that Pinkie was spouting so much seriousness at once. Or perhaps it was simply the rampant use of the word “promise”. Twilight sighed. “Let’s just…get the job done. We started it, and we’re going to finish it, even if there’s hardly a reason to do so anymore. Pinkie Pie alone…is worth all of this to me“. Pinkie Pie’s eyes seeped more tears. Why does she care so much about me? I don’t even want to do this anymore. Somehow, it was as if Twilight could read her feelings. “Even if Pinkie doesn’t even want to do this anymore…it’s better for her sake if we just finish it”. She titled her head, attempting a smile for Pinkie, but the grin did little to conceal the pain in her face. Pinkie felt terrible. Twilight seemed like a pony that she could put all of her trust into. But if there was no point in believing, then what was the significance of it all? Twilight, without any confirmation from her accomplices, slowly began walking forward, into the nearly-set sun. Rarity brought herself up, with Fluttershy’s help, and dusted herself off. Everyone followed behind Twilight. Pinkie Pie waited until they were nearly out of sight before she began walking as well. She walked slowly, carrying her head low to the ground, in deep thought. Don’t trust. Just don’t. Don’t put your faith into something, no matter how trustworthy it may seem. Breaking a friend’s trust is the fastest way to lose a friend…forever. She understood. She finally understood now. That was always true. It was true. Breaking a friend’s trust is the fastest way to lose a friend forever. Don’t trust, and the trust won’t be broken. Friends won’t be lost. She looked up at her friends ahead, who seemed to have not taken notice to her lag behind them. Apparently, she had learned that lesson the hard way. ------------------------------------------------------------- They walked for what seemed like hours, and most likely was. The sunset transitioned to pitch darkness, making the road invisible. It was only when the darkness became so hindering that anyone said anything. “Make sure y’all keep movin’ straight girls. We gotta keep on the road,” Applejack directed. And that was all that was said. Everyone knew that something had changed in their relationship. It made them all feel…empty. Incomplete. They didn’t even really feel like friends, at least, not in the same way they would have defined the term before. Phooey on that Applejack. How dare she accuse me of being disloyal? I’m so tired of comforting everyone…and having to be comforted. I’m useless. I can’t do anything to help. Ah hate that little…dumbell, Rarity. I hope I never have to talk to her ever again after this is over. Don’t trust, and the trust won’t be broken… The stars were still shining brightly over the expanse of nothingness when Twilight felt herself spill over, sliding downward. She put pressure on her legs, and stopped her descent. She had been walking down a sandy dune. Did the road really pass through there? It was nearly impossible to tell. Horn glowing, the unicorn shone its light in front of her feet, and found that she was on the road still, or at least, beside the road. So they had been keeping in the right direction, at least. Still stopped in her tracks, Twilight shone her light forward, but was unable to make anything out; there was simply too much darkness to identify anything more than a few feet in front of her. Suddenly, the sound of the rapid displacement of sand found its way to her ears; the other girls had seen her light and had begun to run in her direction. Applejack arrived from the North, and Rarity and Fluttershy from the Southeast. Pinkie Pie slowly cantered up from behind Twilight. Was there really that much of a gap between us? “What’s goin’ on, Twi?” Applejack asked. “Nothing. Just be careful. There’s a slope of sand right here”. There was the sound of a soft thud from behind, and Twilight directed her improvised flashlight at its source. Fluttershy lay with her stomach to the earth. “I’m ok. I…bumped into something,” she explained. Getting up and dusting off her knees, she had finally noticed the obstacle that she had collided with: it was wooden, and jutting straight out on the right side of the road. It was a sign! “Fluttershy! You found a sign!” Rarity said, stating the obvious. “Twilight, shine your light on it! See what it says!” The magician complied, and the small wooden sign’s message was identified, scratched into its surface. YOU HAVE JUST PASSED THE TOWN OF APPLELOOSA: 2 MILES SOUTHWEST “Two miles? Only two more miles?” Rarity was ecstatic. “Why, we can get there in less than an hour! Let’s go!” She was so happy that she danced in place, unable to contain her excitement. “Rarity!” Twilight shouted, “if you slowed down and paid attention, you’d realize we’ve been going the wrong way!” The white unicorn ceased her dancing. “Uh-what?” Twilight looked up at the stars. Scanning the stellar expanse, she managed to locate the constellation Orion. “We’ve been going straight West. There must have been a split in the road leading to the Southwest that we completely missed”. Applejack let out an exasperated sigh into her hooves. “I can’t believe they changed the darned roads…why would they put a second path out here? T’aint nothin’ to follow it for”. She sighed again. “Alright girls…let’s trace our steps back“. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaooooo……” Rarity cried, making her way back along their path. “Oh, shut up...” Applejack complained. After fifty-six minutes of retracing their steps (which, due to the lack of footprints that sand provided for, was very difficult), they were finally able to make out a right-angle in the faint dirt road beneath them. Amusing. Twilight is more reliable in leading us there than Applejack is, Rarity thought. Instantly hooking a right, they began their way on the actual road to Appleloosa. -------------------------------------------------------------------- “A hundred and five,” a small gold coin fell down onto the table of wooden crates, “a hundred and six, ”an identical coin joined it, and then a large silver coin as well. “A hundred and…twenty-six. Well, those girls weren’t loaded, but I definitely don’t regret anything,” Goldrush said. He reclined in his chair and crossed his back legs over the table, eyes closed in contentment. Goldrush’s crate-chair was located in front of one of the quarry’s many rocky walls, and a medium-height boulder lay beside it. Upon this boulder, lay a lantern, which, despite the nuisance of attracting moths, dimly lit the otherwise pitch black area where the money had been counted. The weak oil-powered flame provided for only a small sphere of light, however. Its luminescence extended hardly farther than the table itself. “We oughta tell Old Man Silver. He’ll get a kick out of this. Maybe he can go into town and buy those new specs he’s been wanting.” Fizzle Out sat at the other end of the table, hunched over, and supporting his head with a hoof. “Mhm,” was his deep-voiced response. Goldrush opened an eye, staring at his partner of few words. “Oh, almost forgot,” he kicked a pile of coins to the other side of the table, scattering the money he had spent so much time organizing. “There’s your share. Don’t worry, I counted fairly. You can check my math if you don’t believe me”. “Uhuh…” Fiz looked away, his eyes appearing as signs to a deeper mode of thought. ---------------------------------------------------------- Well, today wasn’t so bad. She managed to sleep for a bit (although not as much as she’d have liked), and she wasn’t really hungry. Still, she couldn’t piece together that incident the other day. Let’s see, what had happened again? Oh yeah, she was sitting on a rock near the bottom of the mountain, eating a piece of cactus with the needles still intact (she was too lazy to remove them). A scorpion somehow found it a good idea to crawl up next to her, and she jumped up (out of disgust, not fright, of course), and kicked it, hoping to squish it against the rock. Missing, that impact somehow caused a small-scale rock slide, which somehow angered a mountain lion sleeping nearby. Darting off of the low cliffside, she dove into the lush, canopied forest beneath her, and flew for her life. She could have sworn she’d nearly caused a sonic boom as she darted through that forested valley. It was pretty exciting, actually, outpacing an apex predator while swerving around tree trunks and twisted branches. And was that really a giant she passed by? It must’ve been her imagination. Well, she may have gotten some twigs and leaves in her mane, but hey, she got away from that mountain lion, and if she hadn’t crashed into that bush, she never would have found out that there were actually tomatoes growing down there. Much better than resorting to eating a cactus. Eh, it was weird, but she couldn’t really complain, now that she thought about it. How long ago was that, anyway? “Darnit,” she said under her breath. She couldn’t read the time. Swallowing her last hoof-full of berries, she looped the watch around her neck, and picked up the pace of her trot. After reaching an area surrounded by walls, however, she slowed down drastically, meandering at a turtle’s pace; the shadows were so eclipsing here, she couldn’t even see where she was going. It was best to take things slowly, as much as it pained her impatient spirit. Feeling around for something she might trip over, she decided that it would be easiest just to hug the right wall, and inch her way through the area. Slowly but steadily, she made her way through the abyssal “trench” created by the terrain, and noticed as it filtered into a large expanse. Bringing her head to the left, the pocket watch dangling around her neck brushed up against the rocky wall beside her, producing an acute clinging sound. Blocked by walls on both sides, the sound resonated back and forth, echoing uncomfortably loudly for such a silent night. The grating metallic noise made her sick to her stomach. And then, another sound echoed, this time toward her direction, rather than from it. “What was that?” It was a voice, gruff and somewhat deep. For whatever reason, the exclamation seemed half-hearted; whoever had said that certainly wasn’t as interested in the source of the sound as his words alone would suggest. “It’s probably just the wind, or a coyoat. Don’t think none of it”. Woah! That voice didn’t bounce off the walls; it shook them to their core! The other voice returned. “No, that was the sound of metal. That wasn’t the wind. Wasn’t an animal, either…” All was silent. She could hear only her heart slowly beating. “Silver!” The call echoed clearly, pulsating her very ear drums. She nearly jumped in shock. Her heart sped up, beating rapidly in reaction. “Silver! That you?!” The deep voice now returned. “He’s probably still digging out those rubies we found earlier. You know Quicksilver; once he sets that pick in the rock, there’s no gettin’ him to stop ’til every last gemstone’s his. He’s got…you know, an eye for gems”. She heard a cork pop, and rubbed her ears to relieve the pain. “Yeah, in the same way I have an eye for…money”. “We all know your affinity for the finer things in life. That soda there doesn’t run cheap, and I doubt that pegasus’ saddle bag does either. Look at that yellow fabric; it’s gotta be custom-tailored”. Her eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. She craned her neck to the left, past the jagged edge of the wall she still clung to, and peered at the owners of the voices. Two male ponies sat, illuminated by a dim lantern, at a wooden table. That black one was huge! And the one reclining against the wall with the bottle, the beige one - was he beige? She couldn’t tell; the light made him appear orange - he looked rather…frou-frouy, for lack of a better term. Beside him, crumpled up…was that…Fluttershy’s saddlebag? No, it couldn’t be. It was hard to tell. She squinted, hoping that doing so would miraculously improve her vision. The frou-frou one responded to the black one’s point. “It was all too easy, really. If I feel bad about any of it, it’s that it wasn’t enough of a challenge to justify doing it. It makes me feel a little wrong. A little“. The black one’s voice was straight and deep. “I still don’t agree with how you did that, although I know there isn’t any convincin’ you”. Those jerks stole Fluttershy’s bag! The bag of money! She became angry. The bag of money I got back! Wait, then where’s Fluttershy? Where’s everyone else? “Heeheehee, what we lookin’ at?” Rainbow Dash screamed, jolting into the air at the sound of the unknown voice behind her. She quickly turned around, seeing the glistening of metal teeth and glasses. She stuttered, slowly backing away. “Who-who are y-you?” Quicksilver laughed, “M’name’s Quicksiller! ‘Curs, you’z name is more ‘portant fer me t’ know ‘bout”. Dash got up on her hind legs, using her front limbs to create a field of “space” between herself, and him. “I don’t know what you’re thinking of doing, buddy, but Rainbow Dash isn’t gonna be part of it!” “So, you’z name is Rainbuh Das’? I tell ya, dat be a nice lil’ name you’z gots yerself right dere”. The back of her hoof hit a rock, and she fell backward, landing on her back. She winced, eyes broad and teeth clenched, her body tense in pain. But she didn’t make a single sound. Looking straight up, the next thing she saw were two light blue eyes looking down at her, and a lantern dangling from its handle around the frou-frou pony’s front limb. He bent down, staring at her. Was he…standing on his hind legs? What kind of pony does that? “What, uh…what do we have here, Silver?” He sounded almost like a parent talking to their child after they make a mess. “Dis here dun be Rainbuh Das’, Gol’rush! She…” his lips tightened, up, and his brow raised, “uh, I dunno none else ‘bout dis one”. Dash looked up at Goldrush again. He offered her a front hoof, and helped pull her up. “So…” his voice was monotonous, and his eyelids half-closed. He seemed absolutely uninterested. “What’re you doin’ here, Missy?” She glanced over at the old man, and black pony. They were silent, faces frozen, waiting for her response. “I, uh…” Think Rainbow, think. You’ve gotta come up with some reason you’ve been spying on a bunch of thieves! “I…I’m…looking for treasure?” The three male ponies cheered. “Oh C’lestia above, dat dun dere be t’ fun’yest story I e’re did hear! Dat’s zac’ly what we’z doin’!” Rainbow Dash’s right eye twitched a bit, and she smiled in an incredibly awkward, nervous, and skeptical fashion. Were they being serious? Getting up on his hind legs, Quicksilver bowed, putting out his front right for Goldrush to grab. The younger pony rolled his eyes, but took the elder’s hoof regardless, and the two began dancing, dosey-doeing around each other. The old man sang aloud, much to the dismay of Dash‘s ears. “We be findin’ lotsa treasure when she comes! Oh we be findin’ lotsa treasure when she comes! We be findin’ lotsa treasure, some big ol’ loadsa treasure, oh we be findin’ lotsa treasure when she comes!” He ducked underneath Goldrush’s arm; surprisingly agile for such an old colt. “Come now, e’ryone, y’alls gots to sing ‘swell!” Fiz joined in, providing his bass of a voice. Rainbow Dash reluctantly, embarrassed and blushing nervously, sang along as well. She sang softly, trying to mask her voice amongst the ruckus of everyone else. ---------------------------------------------------------------- They all sat at the table of crates. No one had really said much. The stolen money lay on the table in piles and stacks, and the empty saddlebag lay on the ground, in between Rainbow Dash and Goldrush’s seats. Dash pulled the pocket watch to her face, finally able to see the time due to the light of the flame. Eight past 3 AM? Why wasn’t she sleeping? “So, you’re lookin’ for treasure?” The big black pony asked, “Because you don’t really seem like the…prospecting type”. She laughed nervously, blushing. “Uh-huh-huh, yeah…I…um…I’m looking for…” she glanced at the saddlebag, “gold. Yeah, that’s right. I’m looking for gold”. She grinned, eyes closed, basking in her brilliance. She reclined in her seat, and put her front legs behind her head, and her back legs on the table. Goldrush frowned. “Gold…gold is my specialty”. Her eyes flew open. The earth pony brought a front leg across the surface of the table, and reeled in all of the gold that rested on it. “I don’t take kindly to other miners coming into my turf and taking gold that rightfully belongs to me”. His gruff, monotone voice was intimidating under the right circumstances. Rainbow’s face was a mixture of nervous terror and childlike innocence. “Oh, y-you’re…the gold…specialist, around here?” She caught sight of the empty saddlebag out of the corner of her eye, “That would…make sense.” She nudged the bag toward her with her foot. It was then, when she gazed around nervously, that she locked eyes with the big black pony. He simply nodded, a very slight nod at that; it was practically invisible to those it wasn‘t addressed to. Rainbow Dash slumped down into her seat, and repealed the advance of her foot. Nervously looking back at Fiz, she noticed him very slowly raise his chin, and barely nod once again. For some reason, she slowly began to bring her foot back to the bag. “I’m sorry, I guess I’ll just have to…takemybusinesselsewhereokbye!” With one quick jerk of her leg, she got hold of the bag, and darted into the air. But then she heard the booming voice of Fiz. “Stop.” It wasn’t directly a command, but it wasn’t a request either. She froze in midair, and turned around. “Catch”. The big black stallion slammed his right front up onto his end of the table. The energy transferred was so vast that the wooden crates on the other side bounced, and flung the pile of money straight into the air. Opening the mouth of the bag as wide as she could, Dash collected as many of the flying coins as possible. Goldrush was instantly up and ready to protect his horde, but Fiz was already behind him, and wrapped a front leg around the smaller colt’s torso, restraining him. “Quick! Get some of that money on the ground!” “This dun be all sortsa fun!” Quicksilver shouted, picking up the lantern with his teeth, and shining its light on the ground so that Rainbow Dash could see. Dash was already hunched over on the ground, scooping up coins and dropping them into the bag. She worked without haste, frantic anxiety controlling her actions. Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh! “Silver!” Goldrush grunted, flailing his legs around in an attempt to escape Fiz’s grip, “You’re helping her steal our money!” The old man placed the lantern in front of him. “Well son, now dat dere may be t’ honest trufe, but slap muh flank an’ call me Sally if it ain’t funn‘er ‘n a blank flank mare!” Goldrush grunted and screamed in frustration, his futile attempts to break free becoming more and more desperate. His face was nearly red in frustration. Rainbow Dash had retrieved most of the coins, and began to ascend into the air. It was then that she noticed how heavy the combined weight of both of her bags was. Ah, forget it. She quickly poured the money from Fluttershy’s bag into her own, and dropped the empty container. It flopped down onto the ground, sagging due to its empty state. “D-do what you want with it,” Rainbow said, looking at Fiz, “and thanks!” The pegasus took off into the night sky, not looking back. The grunts and shouts of that frou-frou earth pony died out as she continued to fly upward. She felt the coolness and moisture of the clouds as she rose up, her cheeks becoming chilled and wet. The haze of the atmosphere obscured her vision, but she continued onward and upward. The combined contents in her saddlebag weren’t going to weight her down at the rate she was going; in fact, she almost felt weightless. Bursting through the top of a very large cloud, Rainbow Dash finally slowed to a halt. Below her, an endless expanse of fog and mist. Above her, and all around her…the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. The sky was a deep navy blue, a much deeper and clearer blue than that frou-frou pony’s glazed eyes. The moon was full and bright, and larger than it had ever seemed to her, its light highlighting her multicolored mane, nearly causing it to glow. Thousands of white stars glistened across the sky, and the roar of the wind at this altitude, although it chilled her to the point of shaking, was beautifully somber to listen to. Here, Rainbow Dash was alone. Alone, and happy. She had escaped a cougar, found some food…gotten Applejack’s money back…again….things were starting to look up. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Walking all night wasn’t easy on the girls, especially since Pinkie Pie had to stop and recuperate every twenty minutes or so. It was soon found that returning to carrying Pinkie slowed them down even further. “Alright Pinkie, yer gonna sit on my back. That’s right Twilight, help her get her leg over and…no, her other leg. Yeah, like that”. Applejack instructed the girls in helping lift Pinkie onto her. Pinkie sat on AJ’s back, in a position that was honestly foreign to her species. The uncomfortable load on her back nearly halved Applejack’s speed, and it wasn’t long before the strain started to show itself. It took no more than twenty minutes for Applejack to slow down considerably, and she had to keep realigning herself, as she was continually being pushed down by her rider. Finally, her legs began to buckle. “Ow!” Applejack shouted, startling everypony. She collapsed, with Pinkie on top of her. The pink pony quickly got off of her friend. “Oh no! I’m too heavy, aren’t I?” Pinkie sobbed. Applejack struggled to pick herself up, but found it near impossible. “I…ugh,” she tried to get up, “just…had a little trouble, ugh,” she tried to get up again, “in carryin’ you fer that long…is all…ugh,” she collapsed on the third attempt, and lay there. “Applejack, what’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked in deep concern. “I-I can’t git up”. “Oh no, I think she threw out her back!” Twilight spoke aloud, causing everyone to gasp. That is, everyone but Pinkie Pie, who did not find this occurrence surprising in the least. “Come on! We’ve got to get Applejack on someone’s back so we can carry her!” Applejack, face stern as she could muster, objected. “Ah no, you ain’t carryin’ me! I kin git up myself, and finish this walk on mah own! I don’t need no help!” Twilight was not going to put up with another argument further impeding their already pathetic rate of progress. “Applejack, as much as I have little confidence in my abilities, you are in no position to give orders, so I’m taking charge. And as my first order of business, I’m forcing you to be carried”. Rarity knew where this was going. “Well, I’m certainly not carrying Appleja-” “As I was saying,” Twilight interrupted, voice authoritative, “I’m going to have you and Fluttershy carry her”. “Me? Fluttershy?! Why her?” “Because I’m going to telekinetically place her onto your backs. If we move her physically, it could make her injury worse. The both of you combined should be able to carry her, and Fluttershy’s not carrying the saddlebag anymore, so…” How had she engendered a plan that quickly? “What? No! I refuse! I say tell her to buck up and walk!” Twilight was becoming annoyed at all the talk. The chilling morning air nipped at their coats, and Twilight began shivering as the wind blew her bangs around in her face. “So is it fair if I assume that you object to my being in charge?” “Well, I-” “Good. Now, let’s get this started”. Applejack, still agonizingly grounded, spoke up again. “Oh no ya don’t! I’m with Rarity on this, even if it’s fer a diff’rent reason! I ain’t bein‘ carried on their backs!” -------------------------------------------------------- “I can’t believe I’m bein’ carried on their backs…” Applejack muttered, eyes narrowed in disgust. I can’t believe I’m carrying you, Rarity thought to herself. I can’t believe I can carry you, Fluttershy thought to herself. “Look,” Fluttershy said, gazing up, “the buzzards are actually buzzing…” Now very early morning, the sun seemed to be showing its first signs of rising awfully early. The sky was the darkest blue that it could possibly be considered while still being recognized as morning. It was what could possibly be described as the most awkward part of the day; the sun was not yet up, so it wasn’t bright or warm, but the moon was practically gone, and it was still darker than it had been the night before. The road disappeared only two feet in front of the mares’ visions, a very thick layer of fog encasing the earth. But not only did the morning bring with it fog, but rough winds as well, which blew from the West, pushing back the girls, and severely slowing them down. Twilight’s untrimmed bangs whipped at her eyes, further obscuring her vision of the road ahead. They made their way on like this, and the arid heat of the desert morning began to manifest itself, the rising sun brought with it unwelcome winds, but the valley, for the most part, was still rather dark. A brown haze engulfed their entire field of vision. Pinkie Pie coughed. Oh, just great. “Pinkie, don’t tell me you’re getting sick,” Twilight said loudly, trying to speak over the wind. “I don’t feel sick,” Pinkie loudly said back, coughing again. Fluttershy, as well, coughed. “That was a quiet one, Pinkie, but I can still hear you,” Twilight shouted in response. Fluttershy corrected her. “That was me…” Twilight put a hoof to her forehead, and closed her eyes in a stress response. “Oh great, now it’s spreading around”. Then she coughed. And then, she knew. “Girls!” She shouted over the ever-wild wind, “it’s a dust-storm! Breath through your nose! Not with-” she coughed again, “your mouths!” She choked on the last word, and coughed thrice more. Twilight’s eyes were watering now, and she covered her mouth with her front left. She quickly ran back to Rarity and Fluttershy, and removed Applejack’s hat with her mouth. Applejack was not pleased. “Hey! Whatcha do that for? That’s my hat!” The unicorn ran over to Pinkie, who was struggling to keep up. She pushed the hat into her hooves, and guided them to Pinkie’s face. “Breathe into this,” she said, and put her front right around her friend’s shoulder. “Come on, with me!” Twilight continued to plow through the rough winds, supporting Pinkie Pie as they inched through the flurry of sand. They moved slowly and inefficiently, but somehow, they were still faster than Fluttershy and Rarity, and soon overtook the two. Pinkie stumbled, nearly slipping out of Twilight’s grip. “Pinkie, just a little bit more!” Twilight urged the pregnant mare onward, shielding her eyes with her left front. Pinkie Pie slipped again, her grasp onto Twilight’s limb instantly losing all strength. She lost grip of Applejack’s hat as well, and the farm pony’s beloved accessory was instantly picked up and carried off by the wind. Pinkie coughed and painfully hacked from deep within her lungs; Twilight thought she caught the sight of blood out of the corner of her eye, although it was just as possible her own eyes were bleeding. The unicorn turned around to retrieve her friend, who was laying on her back, breathing sporadically, her chest thumping as if she were choking. “Pinkie!” Twilight dashed back to her fallen comrade, who was jerking up and down like an exorcist patient. Her eyes were large and round; unblinking. Her face appeared slightly pale, and she was wheezing and squealing as if she were attempting to cough, but the outbursts were unable to escape. Each gasp for air saw Pinkie thump the back of her head against the ground. She croaked loudly, bounding an inch into the air, and landed hard. She winced, tears seeping from her eyes reactively as the back of her head flared in trauma. Her large eyes, previously frozen in shock, fluttered into blackness, and she ceased her erratic jerking. She ceased all movement. Twilight’s heart nearly stopped. The unicorn’s eyes were pouring tears, and that only intensified the stinging; she was no longer protecting them from the blistering grains of sand in the air. She ran around in circles, trying to think of what to do. Her uncombed bangs wildly whipped at her face as she rapidly glanced in all directions, hoping for anything to inspire a moment of genius. But sand alone wasn’t much to work with. Finally, she cried in desperation. “Applejack!” She cried several hearty sobs. And then she realized, that not only was the always-dependable Applejack in no manner to help anyone, but she could not even locate the other two ponies that were carrying her. “Oh Go-o-o-d!” she continued to sob, stuttering in between the uncontrollable outbursts of tears. “Twilight! What’s wrong!?” she heard her accented friend shout in reply. “Oh, A-A-Applej-j-jack! P-Pinkie col-co-collapsed! I-I think she s-stopped… breathing!“ The entire message was a blur of cracks in her voice and near-incomprehensible, throaty sobs. Fluttershy’s response was without haste. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! OH my gosh!” Twilight was completely lost, in her thoughts just as much as in her surroundings. “Applejack! What do I do?!” There was no response. “Applejack! APPLEJACK! HELP! RARITY! FLUTTERSHY!? SOMEPONY! HELP! PLEASE!!” She brought her gaze into every direction around her; the world became dizzy. Her untrimmed hair flew around in her face, antagonizing her eyes. Bringing both hooves to her face, she ripped her bangs from her face, pulling at her mane like a rabid animal. She screamed out loud, her cries a mixture of anguish, frustration, and bloody torture. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” Twilight tore savagely at her face, her blunt hooves leaving bruises and cuts as she pounded her eyes and cheeks. She ripped and tore, swatted and flailed at her mane, flinging sweat all around her. She got onto her back knees, brought her front hooves to her temples, and slammed her face into the sandy earth. Her tears dripped onto the arid ground, and instantly dissipated in the heat and wind. She heard sand rustling; not just sand in the air, but rather, something moving through sand. There was no way her tears were doing that. She slowly brought her eyes up, the right one half-closed and cut, and both entirely bloodshot. No. No, she was crazy. She’s crazy. Crazy or not, Applejack was crawling through the dirt and sand like a Navy SEAL in a Vietnamese jungle. The hatless pony was dragging herself along with only the strength in her front limbs. She had taken her back entirely out of the equation. “A-Applejack? What are you doing?!” Twilight questioned, wiping tears from her right eye to help her see. The searing pain that resulted only produced more tears. Applejack didn’t respond. The look on her face made it seem like she had punched out Death himself. Unblinking even as the sands sliced her open eyes, her gaze was kept entirely on Pinkie Pie the entire time. She was getting closer…only three feet from Pinkie. Only two feet. Only one foot. Applejack’s determined expression instantly traded itself in for a wearied one. “H-Here, Sugar Cube, I gotcha”. She reached out both front hooves at once, and brought them underneath Pinkie. Carefully, she lifted with her shoulders, avoiding using her back, and began kicking with her back legs to keep on moving. That plan didn’t work. “Yowch!” Applejack tightened up in pain again, and lay flat on her stomach, virtually paralyzed. That’s it. I’m dead. I’m going to die. I already put up the fight, Death. Guess I underestimated you. Take yer prize. Take it. Go ‘head. I can’t trust livin’ would be any more preferable at this point. You’ve proven me wrong. Applejack, of the Apple Family, concedes her defeat. More rustling of sand, this time much more rapid. Rarity and Fluttershy nearly ran into Twilight Sparkle. Instantly, they both noticed how gruesome she looked. But that wasn’t important at the moment. “Twilight, where’s Pinkie Pie?” Rarity frantically asked. “And Applejack?” Fluttershy just as frantically added. Twilight, only at half of her full awareness, groggily lifted her right front, and slowly brought it over to point out the two bodies already becoming eclipsed by the shifting sand. Rarity and Fluttershy rushed to their fallen comrades, and Twilight dizzily cantered over behind them. Fluttershy got down on her knees, and gently rolled Applejack over onto her back. “Ooooooowwwww……” the orange pony moaned quietly, her eyes opened only so far as slits. Fluttershy tried to be as calming as possible. She looked down soothingly at Applejack. “Shh, shh, shhhh…..calm down, Applejack. You’re going to be fine”. Applejack looked up, barely making out Flutershy’s large, soulful eyes as her pink mane fluttered in the wind. “Pinkie! Pinkie darling! Oh, what are we to do?!” Rarity had placed herself right above Pinkie Pie, whose unmoving, opened eyes were accompanied by her unmoving tongue, which lay out of the left side of her mouth. Twilight observed all of this in pseudo-conciousness. “Twiiiiiiliiiiiight? Whaaaaat aaaaarrrrrre we goiiiiiing to dooooooooo?” Rarity asked, her deep, muffled voice accompanied by her blurry, wavy image. “Twiiiiiiiiiiiliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight?” Fluttershy asked, her voice familiarly deep, and her eyes rippling pools. “Twilight!” Twilight’s face darted to the ground. It was Applejack, somehow conscious enough to address her. “Twilight! You gotta get Pinkie outta this storm! It’s the only chance she’s got!” The lilac unicorn replied with a dazed tone, face expressionless. “But I’ll throw my back out”. “No, Twilight! No! Get on yer hind legs, and lift with…ouch…lift with yer legs! Use yer back fer support! Y’all know how this physics stuff works, right?” Applejack placed a hoof underneath her back, applying pressure. She cringed. I’m going to break my back… Like a zombie, Twilight made her way over to Pinkie Pie’s limp body. She pulled her up onto her haunches, and, digging her neck underneath her, managed to get Pinkie to sit on her back. The strength she needed to lift her friend was to her, unrealistic, but she persevered. Twilight tried to stand up, her back hooves scraping against the dirt terrain. She kicked and thrusted her back legs, sending sand flying behind her. She strained, using her front legs to push herself up, and she began to slowly feel her body rise, centimeters at a time. “Nnnnnnnnnnnggggggg……” She grunted, her blood boiling, rushing to provide any energy she had to her exhausted muscles. She grunted, and whined, and made a plethora of noises that would truly be only understood by hearing them. “…nnnngggGAAA!” With one final thrust of her back legs, Twilight was up on her haunches, sending Pinkie bounding upward. The pink pony landed on Twilight’s shoulders, impressing her carrier’s hooves straight into the earth below. Twilight faltered, but retrieved her balance. She had done it. Now supporting Pinkie Pie, limp and still, on her shoulders and upper back, Twilight began advancing on only her hind legs. Hunched over, the muscles in her back screamed in agony. The unicorn put her front limbs around Pinkie’s hind legs, and shook her back, flipping Pinkie into falling forward; her body weight now threatened to push Twilight over, but at least it made her load easier to carry. Slowly, with a snail’s pace, Twilight pushed onward, heavily bringing down one hoof at a time. Pinkie’s inanimate form swayed and fumbled as her front legs dangled around Twilight’s neck, her face laying against the back of Twilight’s head. Applejack, seeing this tremendous effort, wiped her hairline in relief, and closed her eyes. A glimmer of hope in sight, Rarity and Fluttershy brought their necks underneath her, and lifted her onto their backs as delicately as they could. Given the circumstances, they probably could not have done much better. They took off after Twilight Sparkle. Next foot. Now the next. Don’t think about it Twilight. Just keep moving. Just. Keep. Moving. Her hind legs burned with a ferocity she had never experienced in her body before. Pure, searing pain shot through her neck and back, bent into unnatural positions and straining under the weight of another pony. Her legs wobbled and quivered, but she had to keep going. This wasn’t about pain or discomfort anymore; it could very well mean life or death. But how could she keep this up for the rest of the way? She needed a miracle. That miracle was soon to come, as Twilight Sparkle slowly advanced out of the blistering chaos of the sandstorm, and, with a blurriness and red tint, saw the town of Appleloosa, no more than one hundred feet away. Twilight knew about mirages, and she didn’t let this one impede her progress. She continued to trudge ahead, as Rarity and Fluttershy emerged from the whirlwind with their passenger as well. Unlike Twilight before them, however, they stopped. “Oh my God…” Rarity said with her last breath, “there it is…” “We made it,” Fluttershy said. Hearing this, Twilight’s stopped in her tracks. Her back legs buckled, and shook, and finally, gave out. She collapsed, Pinkie Pie on top of her. Rarity’s eyes fluttered, and she fell as well, Applejack collapsing on top of her as Fluttershy gasped. The nearly-unconscious Applejack had awoken from the fall, and saw the two collapsed Ponies just ahead. She threw Rarity off of her, and crawled as quickly as she could over to Twilight and Pinkie. Flipping Pinkie onto her back, AJ blew into her mouth, and dug her hooves into her chest. Tears returned to the orange earth pony’s eyes. “C’mon Pinkie! Get up! You gotta live! Y’all can’t die on me now that we’re so close!” She returned to her mouth-to-mouth action, and slammed her hooves down onto the pink pony’s chest again. “Get up! Dang nabbit I said wake up!” She grasped Pinkie’s neck and shook it without mercy. “Wake up! Wake up!” She burst into tears. “Oh dear Princess Celestia, show me a sign she’s alive!” AJ winced as blood sprayed into her eyes. Pinkie coughed painfully, and it was obvious just from the sound. Pinkie’s eyes opened, but she found it impossible to keep them so with the cringe-inducing pain of each cough. “A-” she coughed, “A-”, she coughed again, “Appleja-?” she coughed a third time, and more blood came out. Applejack had never been so relieved. She embraced Pinkie, raising her body up, no matter how painful it was. “Shh, Pinkie,” she comforted, “don’t say anything. We’re gonna get you some help, don’t worry”. “Everypony get up! Now!” Applejack shouted with the last of her raspy voice. Twilight slowly nudged herself up onto her knees. Her face was without emotion. “Twilight,” AJ said, looking Twilight straight in the face. The unicorn turned her head, knowing she had been addressed directly. “carry her. Now. Just a little bit more”. AJ turned to her right. “Fluttershy,” the yellow pegasus nodded, her seeping wet mane covering half of her face, “get Rarity up. Let’s go”. Last order of business: find a rock. Applejack found a football-size rock located to her left, and crawled over to it without hesitation. She sat up and picked the rock up, balancing it on a hoof. Ok, here goes. One, two… She brought the rock to her back, slamming it as hard as she could. The jagged stone dug into her flesh, and impacted muscle, transferring its force straight to the bone beneath. Applejack shouted in pain, and cursed under her breath. The last of her eyes’ tears wrung out, and trickled onto the ground below her. She stood up. “Alright…let’s go”. No one ever questioned her on what she had just done. They cantered slowly into town, a small wooden sign greeting its delightful visitors.
  10. Doc Peace

    Spiral Knights

    I've been having a lot of fun with the game, and I'd like to thank Soul for inviting me to the guild.
  11. Doc Peace

    Choose One, Sacrifice One

    I choose the Staff, and I leave behind my shield.
  12. Doc Peace

    Human Support Group

    My new experiment of turning humans into ponies will be under way soon! *mwahahahah*
  13. Doc Peace

    This Is Goofy

    No, this is Patrick.
  14. Doc Peace

    Tf2 Alphabet

    V is for Victory, which the Soldier had.