Rainbow woke. It was dim. She wondered if it was morning, or just afternoon. She wondered what sort of horrible pony would ask herself a question like that. It was no wonder Applejack had given up on her and wandered away. She’d have given up on herself, with relief. It was strange that Applejack had, though…
“Rainbow Dash?” called Apple Bloom, from downstairs.
Rainbow winced, and buried her head under the pillow. Poor Apple Bloom. It was hard to listen to the hopeful note in her voice. It couldn’t last. Maybe if she just stayed in bed and never said anything again, Apple Bloom could go on believing in a world that was a pretty lie…
“Rainbow Dash! There’s a letter for you! Only it’s like a note or somethin’!” called Apple Bloom.
Little hooves trotted up the stairs. Spy bounced to her own hooves and ran excitedly to the door. Apple Bloom burst in, bringing light with her. Dash peered from between the pillow and the bed, at the two fillies frisking with excitement. It was all so adorable she wanted to throw up.
“Git outta there, Rainbow Dash!” demanded Apple Bloom. “This here is from Applejack, I reckon!”
Dash sat up, the pillow falling to the side. “What? A letter? Why a letter?”
“I don’t know! It’s kinda more of a note! An’ it says she needs your help, and that you’re gonna go to Appleloosa and save ever’pony! Read it, read it!”
Dash spread the note out on the bed with a hoof, and read it. Her face dropped in dismay with each line, and she shook her head weakly. “How… how…”
“Ain’tcha gonna go? My big sister needs you!”
Dash stared into the darkness of her bedroom—hers and Applejack’s bedroom. That pony was beyond belief. You just could not stop her. She was the strong one, all right. And here she came again, up to some scheme, fighting for what she called a family.
“Rainbow Dash!” wailed Apple Bloom, as Rainbow remained silent.
And why shouldn’t she? Who was more entitled to show what being a family really meant?
And why should she fight that fight alone?
“Easy, kiddo,” snapped Dash, her eyes narrowing. If it had to be a fight, she knew which side she was on—which side she’d die for. So be it. At least it wouldn’t be boring. Lying in bed was boring.
“Are ya gonna go help my big sister?” squeaked Apple Bloom. “Please tell me you are, she says she needs your help!”
She caught her breath. Dash’s eyes burned into her like some pegasus warrior preparing for a final battle.
“Fucking right I am,” snarled Dash, clambering out of bed and limbering up her ungroomed wings.
Apple Bloom bounced, squealing with excitement. “I’ll take care of Spy! Me an’ Granny, we’ll take care of Northern Spy, go and help Applejack!”
Rainbow froze for a moment. She gulped. “Yeah. You do that. You and Granny, you can take care of Spy. I’ll be back.” She gulped again.
“What’s th’ matter?” said Apple Bloom. “I know Granny ain’t herself…”
“No, she is,” growled Dash darkly. “She is completely herself, Apple Bloom. That’s the problem.” She shivered. “You go and tell her that I’m trusting her with MY foal. Tell her I’ll be back. Understand? I think I know what Applejack’s up to. I’m not sure what Granny will think of it. But she’s gonna take care of my baby until the family is together again, and she’s not gonna screw it up.”
Rainbow Dash gulped, trembling.
“Or else,” she hissed through gritted teeth.
With that, she set off, so worked up that she wouldn’t wait for the stairs or the front door. Rainbow Dash turned into a cerulean blur and smashed straight through the bedroom window, ripping the curtains away with her passage, and the warm light of dusk poured into the room along with the sounds of the countryside and a fresh breeze.
“Wow!” squeaked Apple Bloom, and then darted forward to snag Spy’s tail, for the spunky foal had charged forward after her mother. “Oh no y’ don’t! Y’ ain’t no pegasus, y’ cain’t fly!” she said through firmly clamped teeth.
Spy looked around at her in outrage, but her aunt Apple Bloom glowered back just as fierce, and Spy subsided, blinking cutely at the older filly.
Apple Bloom spat out the powder-blue tail. “C’mon, Spy, let’s go talk t’ Granny.”
Out around Mareheim, evening was coming on. Flight Lightning banked, weary, completing a lateral scan of the area and rotating to head for home before it became too dark to see.
She quirked an ear against the roar of wind blowing it back, for she heard an eerie crackling noise, like the sound of high-speed flight compressed and concentrated into an essence of slipstream, faint and then suddenly very loud…
A speck mushroomed in the distance, and then it became a light blue form streaking across the sky—and as the sound peaked, a circular rainbow burst out from the hurtling pegasus pony above and there was just a multicolored streak in the air and a thunderclap that sent Flight Lightning tumbling until she regained her equilibrium, grateful it wasn’t so dark that she’d have to guess which way was up.
And then, the streak curved in the distance, and cut out, and before long Rainbow Dash zoomed up, panting. “Flight Lightning?” she said. “What are you doing all the way out here?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Dash,” said Flight.
“Yeah, first, have you seen Applejack? I’ve been out by Appleloosa. I’m supposed to meet her. Have you seen her?”
“No. Have you seen Braeburn?”
Dash blinked, dumbfounded. “What are you doing looking for Braeburn? I think me and Applejack are going to be looking for him. Why you?”
“It’s for Scoots,” said Flight Lightning. “Kid can’t leave it alone. I’m gonna have to find him.”
“Huh?” said Dash.
Flight blinked. “We never told you Braeburn is Scootaloo’s father?”
The news seemed to stun Dash. “What? What the fuck? Stop, wait. Who is what now?”
“She… well, she gets her wings from him. As you know. That worked out awesome, we don’t need to go over that…”
Rainbow Dash wasn’t concerned with Scootaloo’s wings. “Braeburn’s the one who fucked you? He’s run away with Big Macintosh!”
Flight sighed. “He’s good at running away. I thought I had him this last time, but it’s like he just vanished. I don’t know how he does it.”
Rainbow looked stricken. “And now Applejack’s vanished. Maybe she found out where he went?”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Dash,” said Flight. “But maybe we’re searching for the same things. Except I’m exhausted—I’ve been flying search patterns for the last three hours. I gotta take a break.”
“Come back to my place. Sweet Apple Acres, I mean,” said Rainbow Dash. “I want to know exactly what’s been happening with good ol’ Braeburn…”
“Eeeee!” screamed Rarity. Fluttershy, passing by the Carousel Boutique, flapped madly in alarm and Pinkie Pie, already twitchy, leapt three feet in the air and assumed several untoward shapes before thudding to the ground, panting and wild-eyed.
“Rarity!” cried Fluttershy. “Rarity, are you okay?”
The two mares, hotly pursued by their excited foal, charged around and burst in the front door, scanning the place for trouble. It was quiet now, and dark as evening fell more and more heavily upon Ponyville, and they peered nervously around shadowy dressmaker’s dummies and creepy bolts of cloth.
“There’s a light on in there!” hissed Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy nodded, and slunk toward the room with its door ajar. Pinkie followed, her knees knocking like castanets. Rock bounced, merrily.
Three high-pitched pony screams split the air, followed by a colt giggle. Rarity had flung open the door, and they’d all startled each other, to Rock’s great amusement. He flipped and capered, as the adults stared.
“Rarity, are you okay?” managed Pinkie.
“Oh, darlings! Forgive me, I did not mean to upset you–but look at this, just look at it!”
She led them in, and gestured with a forehoof at sewing supplies strewn across the floor, on a glittery carpet of broken glass beneath a smashed window. “I have been robbed, pillaged, ransacked! Such a thing has never happened in Ponyville before, never!”
Pinkie made a face. “Other than Gilda stealing apples from a cart, that stinker! You remember, Fluttershy, it was the same day that she roared at you.”
Fluttershy winced. “Oh, yes. We should try and be open-minded, though. Didn’t you tell me that Gilda is back in Ponyville?”
“Is she?” blinked Rarity. “Oh, dear. Should I be keeping Sweetie Belle in? She’s away at a sleep-over. She and Scootaloo were staying with Apple Bloom tonight. They said she was upset and needed reassurance, which is a fine sentiment though it may possibly also be a cloak for mischief. At any rate, Sweetie is out.”
Pinkie was thinking hard, and muttered, “Come on, sense!”
“I beg your pardon, darling?”
Pinkie blinked. “Oh! Don’t mind me. The ol’ Pinkie Sense has been acting up, and I hoped maybe I could get a clue that would answer your question. About whether you should keep her at home!” Her eyes unfocussed. “Three will be two, and one will be lost and will find…” She blinked again. “What? Did I say something, you guys? I fuzzed out for a moment there.”
Rarity stared at her. “You said three will be two, darling. To which three do you refer, and just what do you mean by, ‘will be two’?”
“She hasn’t been well,” apologized Fluttershy. “I’ve been feeding her dandelion tea.”
“As punishment?” said Rarity.
“No, it’s good for you.”
“I could say the same thing for punishment,” said Rarity wryly. “At least, I used to think so. Pinkie, you’ve come to see if I am well. I am dismayed and burglarized, but otherwise fit as the proverbial fiddle. Are you well?”
Pinkie gave her a sad look. “Not really, Rarity. My Pinkie Sense is going crazy, and I’m a nervous wreck, and it’s just not funny… gahhh!”
Her last expostulation wasn’t to Rarity, but to Rock Candy. He had leapt up onto the table beneath the window, and dove through it into the darkness.
“YOU GET BACK IN HERE!” squealed Pinkie, beside herself.
“Oh, but be careful of the glass, Rock honey!” cried Fluttershy.
Before they could say another thing, their precious foal returned with a bound, back through the window again. He bore something in his mouth, which he presented to Pinkie, waggling his eyebrows. She ignored it, pleading with him, “Don’t do that, you little maniac!”
“He’s got a chicken feather,” said Rarity.
Fluttershy took stock of the situation. “Rock!” she cried, and stared at him in a peculiar way. Rarity stiffened, watching his reaction, for he went unexpectedly docile and trotted over to stand beside his mother. Fluttershy turned to Pinkie. “Do I have to do you as well?”
“Uh-uh,” said Pinkie meekly. “I’ll calm down.”
“What is this, Fluttershy?” asked Rarity, and Fluttershy blushed and looked away.
“I wouldn’t like to say. I think we can all be calmer now. Rock, don’t step on the pieces of glass, dear. Why do you have a chicken feather?”
“What would a chicken be doing smashing my window?” said Rarity.
“Getting to the other side?” said Pinkie. She twitched. “Sorry.”
Rarity smiled. “At least you’re more yourself! This is a mystery, however. Chicken couture is a laughable concept at best, and I see no reason…”
“That’s no chicken feather,” said Fluttershy. She was trembling, staring hard at Rock’s prize.
“That’s a griffin feather,” said Fluttershy.
“It is?” said Pinkie.
Fluttershy was squinting at the feather as if trying to pin it down with gaze alone. “I keep chickens. I’ve seen plenty of chicken feathers, and that is not any sort of a chicken feather. I’m almost certain it’s a griffin feather. What else could it be?”
“I’m not sure, darling,” said Rarity uncertainly. “You’ve just told me Gilda the Griffin is back in Ponyville. Are you now telling me that she is robbing my boutique? Whatever for?”
“What did she rob that fruit stand for?” said Pinkie. “Maybe she just thinks it’s cool to steal and break things.” She twitched again, horribly.
Fluttershy stood up very straight. “We’ve got to go and talk to Applejack and Rainbow Dash. This has gone far enough. Come on, Pinkie, come on Rock!”
“Are you well, Pinkie Pie?” asked Rarity. “You’re not looking at anything in this room anymore.”
“I’m fine!” said Pinkie, brightly. “The blood, all the blood soaked right through! Come on, let’s go!”
She gazed expectantly at her pegasus mate and unicorn friend. They stared back, aghast, their jaws dangling.
Rarity gulped. “What… the pony HELL was that, Pinkie Pie?”
“What?” blinked Pinkie. “I fuzzed out again. Maybe I need a nap. Were we going to go straight to Applejack’s place, Fluttershy?”
The butter-yellow pegasus bit her lip. “You need more dandelion tea. Lots of it.”
“But,” said Fluttershy, “you’re right, this can’t wait. Come on, and please don’t say more disturbing nightmarish things if you can possibly help it?”
“What’s so disturbing about naps?” complained Pinkie Pie. She trotted out the door, Rock capering and sticking close by her, carrying his little white feather. He seemed totally unfazed by any of it, except that he seemed to be staying closer to Pinkie than he had been, hovering protectively around her. She, in turn, seemed to move as if she was increasingly in a dream. Fluttershy took up the rear, her jaw set, a worried look on her face.
Rarity stood absolutely still, watching them go. She listened to their hooves fade down the hall, and out her front door, and she heard the front door close. She held still, poised, for another few seconds: listening, alone, as silence fell.
And then, Rarity fled to her bedroom and hid under her bed, whimpering.
“She’s going to try her best! She rips its little head off to be nice!” protested Pinkie.
Fluttershy gulped. “Lay down, Pinkie, just lay down, lay down and please don’t talk any more…”
“What? I thought you liked me, Fluttershy! Chains, chains, apples gone dark and cold!”
Pinkie had gone delirious on the walk home—if delirium it was. The dazed look was upon her more often than not, and she flipped between lucid awareness and creepy raving without noticing it, not knowing what she was saying. Rock made no comment, indeed he’d yet to say his first word, but he’d gone serious and just watched Pinkie carefully.
“Rock Candy, dear one?” said Fluttershy, biting her lip anxiously.
He quirked an ear.
“Stay with her and don’t let her run away! I’ve got to go talk to Rainbow Dash. I’ve known her for longer, maybe she will listen. I’m worried that if I talk to both of them, Dash and Applejack I mean, they’ll tell me there’s nothing to worry about but there IS and if I can persuade Rainbow, maybe the two of us can talk sense to Applejack…”
“She tasted the claws and they were sweet but she drank too deeply of their sweetness!”
“Pinkieee!” wailed Fluttershy. “Enough!”
“I’m sorry!” said Pinkie. “What did I say? I can’t seem to remember anything. When will he, when will he? Lost to the sun and the moon!”
“Never mind. Rock! Please sit on her until I get back. Pinkie, stay! I’ve got to go to Sweet Apple Acres.” Fluttershy gulped. “Where Gilda is, maybe.”
“She was sitting next to Granny Smith,” volunteered Pinkie. “They both looked really uncomfortable.”
“Well, that was coherent,” said Fluttershy, “and less creepy.”
“He’s dead to her, or soon will be, and she is ever so relieved! They all are! When it’s funny!”
Fluttershy squealed. “Rock! Up!”
Rock glanced at his mother, and leapt up to sprawl on top of his other mother, who beamed at him and said “Hi there!” in a cheerful tone. He looked to Fluttershy for further instructions.
“Stay there until I get back!”
Rock flicked his tail, and began nuzzling Pinkie’s face.
“I suppose that will have to do. Oh, when will you begin to talk, dear little Rock Candy?”
“Dunno,” said Pinkie. “He does pretty well without it. He’s like a silent comic.”
Rock mugged at her, and she giggled. Fluttershy slipped out her cottage door, and took to the air.
She’d set off toward Sweet Apple Acres, but beyond it in the distance she saw the cloud that held Rainbow’s house, and for a moment she struggled with her conscience. Applejack would be at Sweet Apple Acres. So would Gilda, apparently, so far as she knew. Rainbow Dash, too—she’d seen Applejack pleasuring Dash through the window of their master bedroom so many times. It was a favorite viewing subject of hers, they were lovely together. They were probably all at Sweet Apple Acres, thought Fluttershy.
But just possibly, she might catch Dash at home, away from the others… and there was no harm in checking.
Fluttershy passed over Sweet Apple Acres and flew on, Rainbow’s house steadily growing nearer.
“Hello?” called Fluttershy.
Her heart was pounding for some reason. She stepped further inside, and peered around. It was dead silent, and dark. Rainbow wouldn’t be sitting in the dark. Fluttershy turned her search elsewhere.
She slunk around the outside of the house, trembling. Rainbow hadn’t taken care of the cirrus gardens one bit, which saddened Fluttershy: her Ponyville gardens were all very well, but she’d encouraged Rainbow to plant cirrus as a sort of nod to the world she’d foregone, and it would’ve been nice if Dash had kept it up. The cloudbeds were bare, or at least they appeared to be in the moonlit darkness. Clouds kept passing in front of the moon and making Dash’s house foreboding and frightening.
When Fluttershy heard the door opening, on the other side of the house, she gave a faint squeak and rushed into the air, flying back around the house to greet Rainbow and begin her conversation.
As she approached the front door, the magic lanterns indoors that Twilight had installed for reading purposes flared brightly. There was a loud squawk, and Fluttershy froze in midair, staring.
Gilda the Griffon was standing there in Rainbow’s front room, squinting and rubbing her eyes with one talon. She’d plainly blinded herself by looking at the light while turning it on.
A bunny kicked frantically, held in her other talon.
Fluttershy couldn’t even breathe. She stared, and then as Gilda began to turn, she scooted up out of sight, backing away, but she couldn’t flee. She didn’t recognize the bunny, but it was clearly in danger, and something had to be done. Fluttershy rushed forward again to where a window overlooked Dash’s front hall.
She got there in time to see Gilda’s other talon close around the bunny’s neck, and the convulsive yank in two directions. The bunny’s body went limp. Its head went flying in a spray of arterial blood.
Fluttershy choked, going white and nearly falling out of the sky. Her stomach churned and flipped, agonizingly. She’d have thrown up—but ponies couldn’t, no matter how badly they needed to.
Gilda’s head turned, and she peered around huntedly, but it seemed her eyes still hadn’t adjusted. She rubbed them with that free talon that had just performed bunny decapitation, and she muttered, “The things I do for you, Dash… oh, crap, the floor!”
She dropped the corpse and scrambled for a towel to clean up her mess, distracted—but Fluttershy had already fled, racing like a feathery bullet straight back home to her mate and her foal.
“So how long has Applejack been away, then?” said Flight Lightning, settling on the downstairs couch as Rainbow Dash shut the front door of the big farmhouse. From upstairs came the sounds of fillies playing: Apple Bloom, her friends, and Spy caroused in Apple Bloom’s room.
“That’s just it,” said Rainbow Dash. “Can I get you anything? Hay, oats, apples? You know there’s gonna be apples, it’s kind of their thing here. Anyway, there’s this note.”
“I’m good,” said Flight. “Just resting up. What’s the note say?” She craned her neck, and Dash shoved the note across the floor to where Flight could see it. “Huh. It’s not what you think? What’s that mean?”
“Uh, sort of private. We were having a talk. The point is, Applejack said for me to meet her in Appleloosa, but then she wasn’t there! I’m gonna go back out to keep looking, because now I’m worried.”
“You look tired, Dash. Just saying…”
Dash sighed. “I am. I don’t know, it’s dark, maybe I should pick it back up first thing tomorrow. You were flying recon as well? Tell me what you saw, Lightning. It looks like we’ve got two—no, three—missing ponies out there. Big Macintosh, Braeburn, and now Applejack. You’re seriously telling me you didn’t see any of them?”
Flight bridled. “Damn it, Dash! It’s like they just disappeared off the face of Equestria. I would’ve thought you could see Big Macintosh from miles away, how could he have vanished? Now you’re telling me him and Braeburn are together?”
Dash glared at the floor. “That’s gone over real well in this household, you have no idea.”
“But I didn’t see either of them, anywhere. Or Applejack, before you ask. So where did they all go?” said Flight Lightning.
Unnoticed, the sounds of filly carousing had stopped. Three little heads peered around the corner of the stairs, joined by a fourth as Spy lived up to her name and joined them in spying on the grown-ups.
The pile of bedcovers shook. Pinkie Pie nosed at it, gently.
“Sweetie? Fluttywuttyprettybitty? What’s the matter, what happened to you?”
The pile sobbed, wrenchingly. Rock Candy tried to peek under it, but Fluttershy only cocooned herself more, frantically burying herself in bedsheets.
Pinkie gulped. This was serious. It was time for desperate measures. It was time for the last straw. She cleared her throat. Rock glanced at her curiously.
“Sticky Buns,” said Pinkie, deliberately.
The pile of bedsheets sat bolt upright, quivering in outrage. Fluttershy thrashed, uncovering herself with a few fierce sweeps of her forelegs. Her teeth were bared, her eyes fixed on Pinkie as she hissed, “How dare you?”
Pinkie grinned ingratiatingly, backing away a step. “Er, now that I have your attention…”
Fluttershy’s eyes were drenched in tears, but suddenly furious. “Don’t you ever, ever…”
“What?” yelped Pinkie. “You didn’t even have a problem with it until I admitted how squicked out I was that day, and suddenly it’s the worst thing ever?”
“To mention that, in front of the foal…”
Pinkie rallied. “Fluttershy, stop it! What is the matter with you? It’s okay for him to see you traumatized until you can’t even talk and you’re just crying, that’s fine with you, but oh dear, we can’t talk about your sweet rump completely drenched in stallion batter until it looked like a donut, that would be wrong! It took hours for us to get your tail silky again, and the whole time we were just flopping you around because you were so damn limp and sated you were like a big pegasus huggy pillow, only filled from stuffing instead of filled with stuffing! Tongue drooling out on one end and the cream filling drooling out the other, and as gross as it was, Fluttershy, that was a truly happy joyous day—but we can’t mention that in front of baby, oh no—even though that’s what made him! Would you get your priorities straight?”
“Stop it,” hissed Fluttershy, her wings all ruffled.
“He doesn’t even talk, you silly,” scolded Pinkie, “we’re in the clear for now.”
“But what if he understood some of it?”
They turned to look at Rock Candy. He gave them a huge, goofy smile that took the concept of ‘incomprehension’ and went on from there into ‘sublime foalish innocence’ and right to the edge of ‘outright mockery’.
Fluttershy narrowed her eyes. “Hmmmm…”
“Anyway,” said Pinkie, “it did the job. You’re back with us. Now, tell me!”
“What do you mean?” began Fluttershy, and then her eyes widened, filling with tears. “Ahh! The bunny, the poor bunny!” She began to tremble again.
Pinkie didn’t let their argument faze her—she was right there, hugging her beloved silly pegasus, squeezing her reassuringly tight. “Easy, whisperwings. Easy. What bunny? What happened to the bunny?”
“She… she ripped its little head off! With her terrible claws! I watched!”
“Who did?” said Pinkie, and then smacked herself in the head with a hoof. “I did not just say that. Gilda, right? You saw Gilda do this? Which one, which bunny was it? Darn it, I was just sort of almost slightly starting to begin to get along with Angel!”
Fluttershy shook her head, inconsolable. “It was a strange bunny, not one of ours. I’m sure. Almost sure. Please can we go out and check?”
“Absolutely, Fluttershy. Right now? Do you want to go count them right now?”
“And Rock must stay inside! They’ve all got to stay inside and be safe!”
Pinkie made a face. “That’s going to be really tough.” She glanced at Rock, and he looked back without smiling. She amended, “Or at least, tough on him. He doesn’t understand any of this.”
“Bets?” muttered Fluttershy, darkly.
“Shh, you. We’re going to go make sure all your bunnies are safe. Then we’re going to come back inside, where Rock will be waiting for us, and we’re gonna shut the door and push some furniture in front of it. And then we’re both gonna get some sleep.” Pinkie yawned. “I’m exhausted, poofytail.”
Fluttershy pouted, her eyes still brimming with tears. “You’re the one with the poofy tail. That poor bunny, it had a poofy tail…”
“Shh,” soothed Pinkie. “You take care of me and Rock, well now I’m gonna take care of you. Let’s go make sure all your bunnies are good, and then I’m putting you to bed. Maybe this is what my Pinkie Sense was doing, warning us about a scary monster running around eating everypony.”
“Every-bunny,” corrected Fluttershy, with a sniffle.
“We’ll see about that, buster!” said Pinkie, bravely. “She better not try it!”
Fluttershy glowered at the floor. “I am going to have a WORD with Rainbow Dash.”
Rock sat thoughtfully, as his Moms slipped outside to count and recount bunnies.
“So, it’s true, then,” said Scootaloo. “My Dad and your brother, totally doin’ it.”
Apple Bloom gazed at her, teary-eyed. “Ah don’t even care about that no more, Scootaloo. I was a silly foal to git so worked up about it. I don’t mind if Big Macintosh wants to do that awful stuff, I jes’ want him back home!”
Sweetie hugged her. “They’ll bring him back! It sounds like Applejack went off to find him. Maybe she’s still looking.”
They sat in Apple Bloom’s room, going over what they’d learned, Northern Spy off in the corner chewing on a pencil and flicking her little tail around.
“Should she be doing that? Hey!” said Scootaloo. “Short stuff! Quit it!”
“Naw, it’s all right,” said Apple Bloom, “I got a spare one for me to chew. How we gonna get my brother back, you guys? Do ya think Rainbow Dash and Applejack kin do it?”
“I think we should let them try,” said Sweetie Belle. “They’re grown-ups and they know what they’re doing. Rainbow Dash is very fast! If Scootaloo’s mom is helping her, they can search way more than we ever could.”
Scootaloo pouted. “Yeah, well, I can fly a little bit now. And if they’re so great, why haven’t they found him yet?”
“Mebbe it got dark?” suggested Apple Bloom. “Rainbow said she ain’t goin’ out again until mornin’.”
“I hope Applejack found somewhere safe to spend the night,” said Sweetie fretfully. “Rarity says she isn’t the most clever pony. She took it back but I think she was right.”
Apple Bloom glowered at her. “You got a problem with my big sister? She’s th’ smartest bravest an’ best pony in all of Equestria, you take it back too!”
“I’m sorry!” squeaked Sweetie Belle. “We’ve had that argument like a million times, let’s not have it again now. Anyway, it’s not like it means anything. Rarity is helping Derpy Hooves with something, and Derpy is just wonderful, and she’s really stupid!”
Apple Bloom blinked. “Helpin’ her with somethin’? What’s she helping Derpy do, deliver mail? That’s all she does!”
Sweetie glanced at Scootaloo, and hesitantly explained, “I’m not certain, but I think Derpy wants to do, well… what we’re doing. I think Rarity is helping her be pretty. At which she is exemplary,” she concluded.
“Huh,” said Apple Bloom. “She gonna fix that eye from derpin’? I’d pay ta see that.”
Sweetie sniffed. “Maybe you can’t appreciate the work of a real artiste! I saw them leaving for Fillydelphia. Derpy’s eye was still funny, but she was so pretty! She just glowed, and she was so happy and proud.” She sighed. “Maybe she’s just a mail pony, but she’s super nice, the sweetest pony you ever met. And she doesn’t knock things over or break things that much more than, well… than me. You should be nice to Derpy. She’ll always be nice to you!”
“Sure,” said Apple Bloom indulgently. “So Rarity’s helpin’ her canoodle? I guess she got more excuse for it, bein’ a grown-up and all.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” snapped Scootaloo, but Sweetie Belle hastily interceded.
“You’re right that she’s a grown-up. So are we, now!” she said. “And you will be, too. I’m sure it’ll happen very soon.”
Apple Bloom snorted. “Y’all kin keep it, far as I’m concerned. An’ don’t you start nothin’ in here, this is my room! An’ the foal is present, too! All y’all misbehavin’ up a storm.”
“So, Rainbow Dash is going to go back out tomorrow and find Applejack?” said Sweetie hastily, hoping to change the subject.
“And Braeburn!” added Scootaloo, angrily. “And from the way they were talking, that’s much harder to do!”
“Oh yeah?” challenged Apple Bloom.
“Yeah,” said Scootaloo. Her voice turned wistful. “My Dad is some kind of amazing outlaw cowpony who can hide from anypony and just vanish away on the wind, and not even care. He’s the awesome-est!”
“Thought Rainbow Dash was th’ awesome-est,” teased Apple Bloom. “Which she ain’t, on account of that ain’t how you spell Applejack!”
Scootaloo glared at her. “Fine, they both are. Satisfied?”
“If Rainbow Dash and Braeburn got in a fight, who would win?” said Apple Bloom.
“That would never happen!”
“Girls,” stammered Sweetie Belle, “settle down. We’re here to comfort Apple Bloom since her family’s acting weird…”
“Oh yeah?” said Scootaloo. “Well, I think she’s acting weird! She’s trying to pick a fight with me!”
“Technically, that’s more her and you acting the same way you do every day,” said Sweetie Belle, uncertainly.
Apple Bloom wasn’t listening to soothing unicorn logic. She smirked at Scootaloo, much reassured by the old familiar Cutie Mark Crusader rough-and-tumble. “I ain’t pickin’ no fight with you. I’m jes’ sayin’, from the sound of it, Rainbow Dash is gonna give Braeburn what fer! And you know what? It serves him right for canoodlin’ with my big brother!”
Sweetie winced. She counted to one-half, and sure enough, by then Scootaloo had flung herself at Apple Bloom and the two were tumbling across the floor, pummeling each other. Sweetie backed off, and walked quietly over to sit with Northern Spy, who glanced up with mild curiosity at her, and no curiosity for the filly brawl going on across the room.
“You and I can have a more civilized conversation, all right, Spy?” said Sweetie. “You’re not going to have any part of such rude shenanigans, right? You and I can be refined, sophisticated ponies and we’ll have our own little sleep-over, here on this side of the room.”
Northern Spy turned a calm ruby eye on her. Then she ducked her tiny head in an unhurried gesture, and Sweetie flinched as Apple Bloom’s body hurtled right over Spy and slammed into the wall behind her. Spy seemed unperturbed.
Apple Bloom bounced to her hooves, grinning, a trickle of blood coming from the corner of her mouth. “Is that all you got?” she cried ebulliently, and charged back into the fray.
Northern Spy glanced back at the stunned Sweetie. “Okay,” she said in her tiny foal voice, and continued determinedly chewing on her pencil.
“Well,” said Sweetie, and gulped. “I guess we’re all having fun in our own way…”
The air was soft, expectant, in Princess Luna’s chambers. It seemed to hang in anticipation for some momentous event, as if it had learned the ways of alicorns and knew when to expect dull routine and when to expect high drama.
It hadn’t long to wait.
There was a bright flash and a crackling pop, and Princess Luna reappeared, her magic aura surrounding two other ponies. One was her consort, Lyra, who pranced in excitement, her cape swirling around her. The other pony didn’t prance at all—she bled.
And that wasn’t the problem: the problem was that she didn’t bleed enough, not nearly enough.
“Clear a space!” cried Luna. “Get my book! It’s in the hallway, it’s called Equine Emergency Medicine, Fourth Edition…”
“Eeee!” squealed Lyra, manically. “We’re a hero!”
“Get that book!”
Lyra dashed out of the room, into the hall. Her hooves could be heard clattering back and forth. She poked her head back into the room. “What was the name again? I’m sorry, Princess, I can’t think!”
Luna panted, her horn glowing, rifling through Applejack’s insides like a thief ransacking a purse. “Then don’t! Leave the book. Get my sister!”
Lyra was gone as soon as she heard the direction the sentence was going. Luna trailed off helplessly.
“And have her… bring the royal physician…”
Luna cursed, and refocussed her efforts. She’d lost so much blood. Applejack lay like a dead thing, and her heart scarcely beat. A tiny magical nudge now and then helped it along when it stumbled. Luna dripped sweat. To misjudge that, to handle the poor mare’s beating heart clumsily, could so easily stop it forever.
Hooves pounded in the hallway. Vast wings shook the air, knocking books off the shelves and toppling potted plants and statuary.
“Luna, I’m here!” cried Princess Celestia. “You’re hurt?”
She burst into the room and skidded to a stop, aghast.
“Sister!” cried Luna. “Aid me!”
Celestia stood frozen for exactly two seconds, muttering under her breath. “…airway, circulation, shock, rebound tenderness…”
“I’m here! Are you closing this terrible wound? You mustn’t close it yet!” said Celestia.
Lyra crept nearer, wide-eyed, watching Celestia’s mighty wings furl and unfurl. She spoke urgently, but with perfect calm and authority. It was only those vast white wings that revealed her anguish, that groped helplessly at the air as if longing to lift her away from the scene that she leaned ever closer to.
“I couldn’t, I’m trying to keep her heart beating,” sobbed Luna. “She’s lost so much blood!”
“Yes,” said Celestia. “She would. Is she breathing?”
Luna looked up at her, frantic. “I don’t know!”
Hearing that, Celestia suddenly moved around to Applejack’s head, tilting it back as if trying to prevent her from seeing her horrific injuries. Her hat came off, and Lyra shuddered in horror to see her handled so cavalierly, or perhaps it was seeing her make no protest at the loss of her hat.
Celestia had her face directly in front of Applejack’s motionless, pale face. She held very still for a moment, and then twisted back to speak to her sister.
Lyra made a choking, anguished noise, and suddenly Celestia was looking directly at her, and did not look pleased.
“Lyra. Wait outside, do nothing,” she ordered.
“Nooo!” wailed Lyra. “Please, please don’t!”
Celestia hesitated. “…very well. Sit still, do not do anything strange or impulsive or shout or wail or otherwise distract us. Do you understand, Lyra?”
Lyra’s lip quivered. “Y… yes, Princess.”
Celestia turned to her sister.
“I’ve tilted her head back, which opens what we call her airway—that’s A—to allow breathing, which is B. C is circulation, you say her heart is beating?”
“I have to watch it every second,” said Luna, “it keeps trying to stop. Why mustn’t we close the hole in her body?”
“I’ll be quick,” said Celestia, “but we must check her internal organs before sealing them up inside her.” She grimaced, concentrating, her horn glowing brightly as bits of glistening pony gut turned over with wet sounds. Lyra gagged, and then went silent at a furious glance from the Princess. It would’ve been unbearable to hear Applejack crying out as her internal organs, now external, were handled and touched. In some ways, it was worse that she lay unresponsive…
“Amazing,” said Celestia. “There’s nothing. Were some of these organs torn open, she would have been dead by now, perhaps. I would almost say she is an impossibly lucky mare, were that not laughable right now.”
Luna trembled. “We can put her back together?”
“We can try. Lyra!”
Lyra leapt to her hooves, shaking. “Yes?”
“Fetch ‘Equine Emergency Medicine, Fourth Edition’, right away. It will be on the second shelf of the bookshelf outside, third from the leftmost end. Bring it to us!”
Lyra rushed out into the hall a second time, repeating the title under her breath in a panicky monologue. She returned, levitating a book. “It wasn’t third from the leftmost end!”
This seemed to shock Princess Celestia. “But… it belongs third from the leftmost… oh, never mind! Bring it here, thank goodness you found it! Where was it? You must tell me!”
“Your wings blew it off the bookshelf onto the ground!”
Celestia stared. Luna gave a shaky little laugh. “Disorder, sister? Please disregard it and help us, prithee!”
The stately alicorn shook herself, and her magic took the tome from Lyra’s mental grasp. “Of course, dear sister! Attend to her heart. It is a mercy she cannot feel this. Curse it, I don’t wish to lay the book against her poor body…”
She blinked. Lyra had taken the book and was helpfully levitating it, anxiously watching to see if she’d done it right.
“Yes, Lyra. Like that. Page five hundred and twenty-seven, then five hundred and twenty-nine. I’ll tell you when.”
Lyra held the book obediently, enthralled, and she watched as Princess Celestia patiently reassembled Applejack’s insides, all without a hint of protest or complaint from the horribly wounded earth pony.
The book wavered, just a bit, before Lyra caught herself.
She’d realized that this entire time, she’d never once thought of Applejack as a flathead magicless earth pony.
Lyra went very, very solemn and quiet as she watched the Princesses work.
“In truth, we demur from calling it beautiful…” said Luna.
Princess Celestia sighed. “Yes. The poor thing! I fear it will hurt, though we may be lucky in that regard.”
Applejack lay just as they’d left her, chin up, hat off, head back, breathing shallowly. She was very pale, but with all the blood she’d lost, that was to be expected—and her heart beat weakly, but Princess Luna said she’d not coaxed it along for a whole five minutes, and declared herself almost prepared to leave her to it, while obviously settling in for a long vigil all the same.
Applejack’s belly was crossed by a set of shocking scars, legacy of the book’s directions for surgical cantrips. Celestia had described them as old school, yet she’d used them anyhow even while vowing that she’d have physicians develop newer magical sutures, ones that left no marks.
“When’s she gonna wake up?” asked Lyra, fretfully. Applejack’s silence worried her.
“My concern,” said Princess Celestia, “is more, what did this to her?”
“I can sustain her life indefinitely,” said Luna, “if I concentrate. I must watch for signs of flagging. She cannot eat or drink while unconscious, and if she drifts away too far, there will be no returning and she will die.”
“No!” squeaked Lyra. “Why won’t she come back? Maybe if I slap her?”
“Don’t you dare!” snapped Luna. “She has been through enough today!”
“But she has to come back, to get better! What if I yell?” said Lyra. “HEY APPLEJACK…”
She felt herself grabbed up by the scruff of the mane, and dragged into the hall. The color of the magic said it was Princess Celestia who’d seized her, and in another moment Celestia herself strode out to confront her, cornering her against the wall and glaring.
“You behave!” demanded the Princess. “This is serious! Do you not think we want our dear friend, our Element Bearer, to return to us?”
“I, I, but, but…” stammered Lyra.
“She can’t hear you, or us. Your shouts are of no avail, Lyra! It may be a thing called coma. In six hours we may call it that. Even then, I forbid shouting and slapping! Her body may need to heal some of its injuries before she can regain consciousness. You shall not interfere!”
Lyra stared up at the Princess, terrified, and Celestia sighed and dropped her gaze. “Lyra, if she could not respond to the things I had to do within her body, she certainly shall not respond to you shouting at her. To manipulate liver, kidneys, stomach in such a way is inconceivable agony, yet she did not so much as twitch.”
Lyra shuddered, but Celestia pressed on.
“She can’t hear you, or us. Be quiet and let Princess Luna concentrate. She will not sleep while faithful Applejack lies near death. You may attend her in an orderly fashion, and that is against my better judgement… no, that is not right. Say, rather, that it is against my wiser judgement. It may in truth be my better judgement, and I will allow you to attend them. I can see that you must.”
Lyra gave a little, frightened nod.
Princess Celestia sighed, and looked terribly old and tired, all of a sudden. “Ponyville sleeps, Lyra. Night lies heavily upon Equestria, as duty lies heavily upon me. You may sleep, if you can. You have done well, if foolishly, and at the very least you have done no harm—comfort yourself, thus. Tomorrow after dawn, if Luna deems it fitting, you may accompany me to Ponyville.”
Lyra blinked. “What?”
“It would be a mercy,” said Celestia. “You may decline if you wish, but Luna will most likely be watching our patient here, and I would appreciate your company.”
Before Lyra could think, she’d blurted, “But you don’t like me and you don’t appreciate my company!”
Celestia winced. “Perhaps that has been so—but this is different. I must go and inform Applejack’s family.”