MLP FiM: Copyright Hasbro
Pony POV belongs to alexwarlorn
Sweet Apple Acres
The rain was still falling in a drizzle when Applejack and Big Macintosh had finally come down from the hill where their parents, and now younger sister, had their tombstones. Things in the farmhouse were quiet now for most of the day aside from the whining of Winona as she tried to cheer her owners up or the scuffle of Granny Smith in the kitchen. Applejack felt terrible in making her elderly grandmother do the housework but the Apple matriarch had been insistent that her two grandchildren take this time for themselves.
“These bones may be old but they took care of this here farm when ya'll were still in diapers, they'll handle it for a couple of days while ya'll get your heads on straight and put yer hearts back in order.” Granny had said with an understanding glimmer in her eyes. How many members of the Apple clan had Granny seen pass away over the years? How many times had she gone to the family reunion just to realize a few more faces weren't there anymore? For some reason the thought of the reunion brought a headache throbbing to the fore-front for Applejack and she raised a hoof to tenderly touch it against her temple before giving an aggravated shake of her head. Like Tartarus she would let her injuries from a couple days ago keep her out of whack!
Of course she had noticed Pinkie leaving the farm earlier in the day looking more depressed then a squirrel without nuts but Granny Smith told her what the visit had been about.
Pinkie's got her heart in the right place, Ah gotta remember to bake her a pie for stoppin' out here to check up on me, even if that mare's got the worst timin'! Applejack thought wryly to herself as she took off her Stetson and hung it on the door knob leading into her room. It had been a long day and the orange farm pony discovered that she had cried herself out at the top of the hill. Sure she was still hurting on the inside but it felt good to let all the tears out, like maybe she could help Granny out around the house tomorrow and start getting back to normal. It was with that thought in mind that she laid down in bed, pulled the quilt all the way up to her chin and drifted off into an uneasy sleep...
Hoofs pounded across the loam of the Everfree Forest as branches clawed at her coat and mane like they had the mind to do it, slowing down her flight through the dark trees that loomed like evil giants above her. A thick mist had sprung up once she had entered the forest to look for Apple Bloom and even she had almost lost her way chasing after that odd little filly who had guided her to a barely seen trail.
“Where in tarnation is that filly going?” Applejack had wondered at the time but now she didn't. Now she knew what secret the filly had been trying to show her and regretted every second of it. Shapes flitted through the trees alongside her as her pursuers kept pace with the farm pony, the light of the moon thankfully dim enough that she couldn't make them out anymore. A small mercy considering they seemed awfully determined to catch up with her.
Still, Applejack pushed herself harder, crashing through the underbrush without hesitation as her green eyes narrowed on an opening in the trees up ahead. Was she back to the trail already? That didn't seem right at all but this was the Everfree, she couldn't expect it to make sense like Ponyville did. A confident smile came to her face as she bolted through the trees and flowers, when it came to running the only pony who even came close to her in speed was Rainbow Dash or Pinkie if the latter was feeling particularly goofy that day.
She was going to make it! A thought that sent a surge of elation through her body that chased off the burn of exhaustion, prompting a final burst of speed towards the clearing.
A dark shape bolted out of the underbrush ahead of her, kept in shadow by the glimmer of a full, white moon behind it except for the red pit of it's eyes.
“She has the Mark! She has to go, Go, GO!”
“Auugh!” Applejack cried out as she bolted upright in a cold sweat, panting something fierce as her wide eyes quickly darted around her quiet room as if to make sure that no hidden monster was just waiting to be seen before it leaped at her in a snarling rage. Seeing none, Applejack gave a nervous laugh and reached up to wipe the sweat from her brow and climb out of bed, trotting over to the window quietly to gaze out at the nearby mass of the Everfree Forest.
“Now what'n tarnation was that all about?” Applejack murmured with a furrowed brow, she hadn't thought about Sunny Town since the Princesses had taken her to gaze into the Pool of Truth and she had given Apple Bloom a stern talking to about the dangers of the forest. Sure it had been terrifying at the time but she had seen in the Truth that it wasn't that dangerous...it had been the thought of Apple Bloom wandering off into the woods to get abducted by a bunch of creepy nightmare-ponies that had kept her up at night.
Why didn't Apple Bloom run away when she first saw them? came the unbidden thought into AJ's head as she gazed at the forest. As exuberant and excitable as Apple Bloom could be, she knew her little sister would run from danger like that just as anypony else would! So she had stayed for some reason and got caught.
The not-quite-living didn't seem that scary to her anymore, not after fighting 'Fifi' down in the tomb they had found but...how'd they get into that state anyway? The way that Dog had been acting it was like she hadn't known any better...heck it sounded like she thought she was at a dinner party! Could it have been Rex making it do all those terrible things?
Now there was a tricky thought. Maybe the zombied-dog would have just went about it's life as normal if Rex hadn't done anything to it. Maybe the ponies of this 'Sunny Town' just didn't like guests cause of their peculiar state of falling apart!
Okay there Applejack, you said you weren't going to run from the truth anymore! There was something that wasn't right about Fifi and what ya saw of the Sunny Town ponies, it doesn't take a head full of fancy learnin' to tell that.
Maybe it didn't have to be as bad as those people had it. The Princesses and Twilight knew all sorts of obscure magic, maybe one of them knew how to make an undead...alive? It didn't seem too far out there for the goddesses who rose the moon and sun every day and it was worth checking out at least. If worst came to worst she'd just turn back after all...
Grim determination set a firm line across AJ's face as she quickly grabbed her Stetson and one of her heavier lassos before she crept out of her room and down stairs to the front door. At Granny's door she paused to press her ear to it, relieved to hear the sound of the Apple matriarch snoring peacefully through the night.
Good, I'd hate to have to explain to Granny just what I was tryin' to do. Better she just wake up and find Apple Bloom back safe and whole.
By the front door Applejack paused and frowned once more as her nightmare flickered back through her head. What was it that weird silhouette had said about a Mark? What had it meant anyway? It had seemed awfully important to the things that had been chasing her and, on a moment of reflection, Applejack grabbed hold of a rain coat and slung it over her to cover her body. After all the Everfree had unpredictable weather and she'd already risked a bad cold just earlier that day, she didn't need to make it worse by getting soaked while tromping through the woods at night. And, if nothing else, it kept her covered up so nopony could really recognize her.
With that final thought Applejack closed the front door behind her and trekked out past the fence to head into the heart of darkness itself, the Everfree Forest.
“No matter what Fluttershy or Pinkie says 'bout this place, it's always gonna give me the willies!” AJ muttered under her breath as she walked between the ghastly trees of the forest, keeping a careful eye on the sources of the stares she could already feel on her. It wouldn't do to stumble across a cockatrice or some timber wolves and get herself hurt on a fool's errand like this, so the farm pony kept her eyes and ears open for any sign of trouble.
Problem was that the Everfree was nothing but trouble and the critters of the forest seemed especially active tonight, she could hear things moving through the bushes and undergrowth while a lonely wind stirred the branches over-head. For a sensible farm worker like herself such an untamed place had always rankled at her sensibilities, why couldn't the Everfree just behave itself like the rest of Equestria?
Heck, the story of how Granny Smith and her family had managed to tame a small part of the Everfree and found Ponyville was one of her favorite stories!
The paranioa didn't last long though, the constant fear that she was going to be devoured quickly ran it's course and AJ found herself desensitized to the ambient noise of the Everfree as she trekked deeper into it's depths. Instead her mind turned to the happenings of the past couple of days.
Ever since they had gotten back from the Dog den, Ponyville had been in an uproar about what had happened. All of the parents had wanted Fido and Rex strung up from the nearest tree once they found out the truth and it was only because of the five of them and the timely arrival of Celestia's Dawn Guard that a lynch mob had been stopped in it's tracks. Sure Rex had ranted and raved once he had woken up, foaming at the mouth like a mad dog in his attempts to provoke the mob into ending his life but the presence of Celestia's personal guard kept anyone from taking him up on his offer. Instead they had quickly and efficiently shipped the prisoner off to Canterlot for sentencing and punishment before letting loose a standing offer to fly any direct relation of the foals to Canterlot to attend the trial. Most of those parents had taken the offer which had helped Ponyville to quiet down a bit but that was when she had heard the news that Pinkie had woken up.
Applejack would be a liar to say she wasn't glad to know her friend was back on her hooves but a small part of her wondered if it wouldn't have been better for Pinkie to sleep through all of this and return back to her same old cheery self. Her awakening had been one of the few bright spots recently even as Applejack found that her friends were flurries of activity as they tried to sort out what had happened. Twilight had all but barricaded herself in the library saying she needed time to do research on what had brought Fifi back and, Applejack suspected, prepare to help Trixie even more. When Twilight hadn't been in the library she had been arranging a quick trip to Canterlot to visit the royal archives soon to try and make some final preparations to help the ailing Trixie as well as see if there was any record of anything like Fifi recorded there.
Dash and Fluttershy had both been caught up in the search for Sweetie Belle with Dash mobilizing the weather team to try and find the missing filly while Fluttershy asked her animal friends if they'd go and see what they might be able to find. Dash had almost thrown herself into keeping her promise to Rarity and hardly seemed to sleep at all until utter exhaustion had consumed her which meant she had spent little time with Scootaloo. Luckily Fluttershy had been able to help there in-between visits to the grieving parents to cook and clean, anything to keep their minds off other problems but at the end of every day the butter-milk pegasus had made a point out of stopping by Dash's cloud home to talk with Scootaloo. She wasn't privy to the conversations, having her own personal business that needed doing, but Dash had mentioned being thankful for Fluttershy's visits since Scootaloo was taking all of this business pretty hard.
Rarity had...turned into a recluse, but not in the literal sense. She still had ponies visiting her shop but it seemed the fashionista had closed herself down emotionally, becoming distant and cold when talking to others. Of all of Applejack's friends Rarity was perhaps the busiest of them all, writing dispatches to nearby towns and cities, trying to organize the search efforts of the various ponies and animals as best she could, and calling in every favor she had to try and find some trace of her missing sister. Applejack's heart went out to Rarity, not knowing if Sweetie was alright or not, but the selfish part of the farm-pony had to admit that she wasn't entirely pleased with how cold the unicorn had become. If it didn't relate to the search for Sweetie Belle then Rarity didn't have a minute to spare for it, not even to visit a grieving friend. She had even found the time to go out of town on personal searches but not to give her condolences? It was petty but Applejack was ashamed to admit that she was angry her friend couldn't spare a minute to share with her friends...and was jealous that Rarity still had a chance to have a happy life with her little sister. It just wasn't fair!
Applejack froze as she heard a twig snap under a heavy foot-fall nearby.
What was that? Applejack wondered to herself as her pace slowed down a little to give her more chances to carefully observe her surroundings. Mentally she kicked herself for being so reckless as to forget where she was and let her mind wander off but there was no helping it now, the snap had come from close by and it meant Applejack had likely strolled too close to some critter's hiding spot. Easy girl, it was just a twig. Ya don't have to go leaping at your shadow, just calmly move in the opposite direction. Chances are it just be some freaky lookin' grass eater that you spooked, no reason to panic yet...
Applejack flicked her ears towards the noise as she picked her pace up again, green eyes turning from side to side to try and catch a glimpse of what had caused the noise. Unbidden the memory of her nightmare returned to her, the sight of burning red eyes like Fifi's rising up out of the darkness around her to do...something. She didn't know what. The fantastical images from her nightmares brought little comfort since she knew for a fact there were worse things in the Forest like timberwolves, dragons, ursas, or even a timberwolf riding a dragon riding an ursa!
A branch this time, about head height which dispelled her fears about it being something too much bigger then herself and shook off her fanciful imaginings of a timberwolf riding a dragon. No, what was following her was very real and could be very dangerous and even if it wasn't it was still shadowing her which didn't suggest wholesome things. Applejack steeled herself as she angled her path for the more open trails through Everfree, hoping the moon's light would shed some light on the mystery of just what had decided to follow her.
When Applejack heard another heavy foot fall on the opposite side of her instinct took over, the farm-pony bolted further into the woods with her head lowered to keep twigs and branches from scratching across her face. There was a pause before her followers broke into a run as well but AJ must have surprised them because they began to fall back as the nimble pony put years of rodeo-practice to good use. When Applejack exploded out into a clearing in the trees it was like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, giving her a chance to get her bearings, the woods looked the same as always but Applejack just had a gut feeling that she'd figure out a way to find this Sunny Town.
As her racing heart finally began to calm down, Applejack took the chance to look around the clearing.
A blond filly with a gray pelt stared back at her, the cutie mark of a magnifying glass on her flank, large eyes bright with the reflection of the moon in them as Applejack's headache returned anew. Just looking at this little filly was making her head throb!
“Well howdy there, did you get lost?” Applejack said kindly, “Are ya from that Sunny Town place?”
The filly didn't respond but her glowing eyes widened at Applejack's words before she turned and trotted off into the woods.
“Hey, wait! It ain't safe to go alone!” Applejack hollered after the filly before her sisterly instinct took over. No way she was going to let a little filly like that wander the Everfree by herself, especially not with some sort of creature following after her. Though come to think of it, she hadn't heard any foot-falls in awhile...Maybe they had given up the chase once they found out Applejack wasn't alone?
No matter the case AJ didn't waste a second more in idle thought and hurried after the strange little filly who was doing an excellent job of keeping one hoof step ahead of her. No matter what she did Applejack just couldn't keep up with her but every time she thought she had lost the little filly...she'd see just a glimmer of her blond mane or eyes through the leaves and the chase started again. What was a little filly doing out here all by herself?
Maybe she's from that Sunny Town place an' if that's so...it ain't so bad! She looks healthy an' fit. Applejack thought to herself hopefully as she followed the little thing through the trees as a thin fog began to cloud her vision even further. It only got worst the farther she went, blocking out the moonlight above to turn the forest around her into a nightmarish sea of black trees and the inescapable sensation that she was being watched by...someone or something. Not the same thing that had been tailing her before, it hadn't been able to completely hide it's presence within the forest but right now the forest was as quiet as a grave...and she couldn't hear a single thing about whatever was out there.
“Hey, ya still out there?” Applejack called out in an anxious voice as she lost sight of the filly again but, unlike the other times, didn't catch sight of her again. “Confound it, where did she git off to? How the hay am Ah supposed to find Sunny Town now?”
Where Applejack to look back on those words in the future, she'd have regretted ever even thinking them as the trees opened up to reveal the very place she was looking for. The trees may have thinned out but the fog had only gotten thicker, making the entire scene ethereal as she stepped out unto a ruined path leading into a small rural village that...words failed Applejack then. It was like the town had been visited by an angry goddess full of fire and fury, what buildings remained were burnt out shambles of what they might have once been. Burned timbers were stacked up like used matchsticks to show the frameworks of brick homes, many of the buildings caved in over time and that was the really weird part.
Applejack was no archeologist but she could tell old buildings from new and the buildings of Sunny Town were old, so how had they kept together for so long? Where was that little filly and the other ponies that supposedly lived here?
“Ah can't believe that Apple Bloom came here all by herself!” she said with a voice full of disbelief as she quietly made her way down the street, stepping on old, burned party decorations that turned everything macabre. What had happened here that brought about such ruin in what looks like the middle of a party? Fear tugged at Applejack like it had in the tomb, a skittishness about how unusual the entire situation was combined with the creeping sensation that there were more eyes on her now then there had been before.
”Don't worry, we'll keep you safe,” a ghostly voice called from the shadows of the buildings, the sound of it making the orange pony's blood run cold. Where had it come from? Even after speaking Applejack couldn't see who had made the noise.
”You don't have to be scared, we'll keep you safe forever,” a raspy voice whispered in the wind, sounding different from the first. Applejack slowed her pace even further as her green eyes peered intently into the foggy gloom to see just who was speaking to her.
“Who's there? Come out where Ah can see ya!” she answered back once she reached a blasted area that she hoped wasn't where another building had once been, it was eerie enough to be in a town where something horrible had happened. Nevermind the thought of actually standing over-top the ruin where a home may have stood or discovering she was standing on top of...
Applejack looked down.
A blackened pony skull gazed up at her with empty sockets, a potent reminder of what she had seen in the recent past.
“AAAAHHHHH!” Applejack bolted in a blind panic, unaware that her path carried her farther into the town along the stone path, just anything to carry her away from that grinning skull. Dark shapes flitted between the buildings as Applejack's path carried her out the other side of Sunny Town towards a loan building that stood on the edge of the forest.
”Don't run, we'll protect you”
”There's nothing to be afraid of anymore, you're safe here.”
”Forever and ever.”
The voices called to her from out in the fog but as she ran for the front door of the house her hoof caught on a stone and sent her sprawling forward unto her face. Applejack struggled with her rain coat to get back unto her feet as the shapes took form out of the fog and approached her at an easy pace. The closer they got the more Applejack could make out even if she wished she couldn't. Nightmares (no offense Princess -AJ) given un-life walked towards her with all the silence of death, their faces skeletal black visages that could have struck terror into the most stalwart of guards. She didn't want to look but she couldn't look away either, scrambling away from the four that approached until her head bumped against the front stoop of the home.
Deep down Applejack knew she should have been prepared for this, she had seen what Discord had turned Apple Bloom into during the Day of Chaos but being faced with the awful reality was an entirely different matter. Her eyes dilated as the wraith-like nightmares approached her, until finally the largest of them stepped forward and leaned down to look her in the eye.
”You don't need to be scared, you don't have to worry, Sunny Town is the perfect place to live. Ponies have been living here for centuries and now you will too,” it promised in it's black voice as the sharp red pin-pricks of it's eyes met Applejack's own. For a moment they just stood there like that, like a tableau of some horror story where a pony meets it's final end before the nightmare took a step back from the fallen pony. The tiny pin-pricks of its' eyes grew larger as an emotion began to grow behind the malevolence lurking inside of them. Was it...fear?
“Make her stop. Stop looking at me. STOP IT! the creature shrieked, covering its face with one of it's hooves to keep from having to look into the bewildered Applejack's eyes. It didn't look into her eyes...but the others saw the rest of her body that had been hidden by her rain coat and the other nightmares began to rattle and wheeze as if gasping.
”She has the mark...!”
”She has the Mark!”
”She has the mark, SHE HAS TO GO!”
With a scream the nightmares lunged forward towards her and Applejack gave a startled yelp as she nimbly crawled up the stairs and dove in the front door leading into the house. With a quick turn she threw her shoulder against it to slam it shut, but not before two of the nightmares shoved their heads in the door and began snap and snarl as Applejack pressed her back to the door to try and force them out. Just as she closed the door she reached down to lock it when the leader's bulk slammed against the door, opening it for just a moment...long enough for one of their heads to sneak in and clamp down on Applejack's fetlock.
“OW!” she hollered, pounding the door shut until the nightmares had been forced back and the lock turned. The bite mark wasn't bleeding too badly and Applejack ignored it for the large part as she looked around the room she found herself in. It looked like a pretty simple home, which was odd since there wasn't any damage to it. Two large beds, a dining room table, a dresser, even a fire place and some windows.
“...Oh buck, the windows!” Applejack bemoaned as she bullrushed the table and flipped it over, pushing it up against the window just in time to hear the glass shatter on the other side. Sharpened hooves scrapped against the wood as the nightmare that had tried to lunge through the window slammed against the hard wood and rebounded off. It didn't try again and Applejack didn't wait for it too, she bolted to the other side of the room and gave the dresser a kick, knocking it in front of the window before the creatures could try to force their way in from there as well. Only then did the orange farm-pony find a moment of respite and she slumped down against the wall with a sigh.
“Well Applejack, ya got yerself into a right mess this time...” she said wryly to herself...
The mess didn't have much in the way of options to clean itself up as Applejack had discovered, the nightmares seemed to have retreated for the time being but she could still hear them muttering to one another out among the trees. If anything there sounded like there was even more of them then before which was a daunting prospect to say the least. Still she had been able to turn some of the spare towels into a bandage for her front leg and that wasn't so bad even if the wound had become swollen and started to turn black. Who knew what kind of weird diseases these necropony things carried though? She'd have to have Nurse Redheart or Zecora take a look at it when she got back to town.
If Ah get back, Ah knew Ah should have left a note or sumthin' so somepony would know where Ah was...even if Ah don't know where Ah am.
The grim thought brought little comfort to AJ as she moved to the fireplace and sat down in front of it, half tempted to get a good, roaring blaze going to chase off the darkness and wait for the light of day but she didn't want to lure more of those things here. Besides something about the fireplace was as spooky as the nightmares and she had avoided going anywhere close to it for the longest time.
“Heh, Ah wonder if this is what it feels like ta have a Pinkie Sense,” Applejack chuckled as she finally drew closer and squinted around the stone fireplace to see if she was lucky enough to find some dry wood that could be burned. What she really saw...was something else entirely.
A filly's skeleton lay in the fireplace.
Applejack's heart pounded in her chest and for one dizzying moment she was certain this was just another nightmare and she was going to bolt away at any second.
...Any second now.
...Nope, still dreaming.
A little skeleton lay curled up in the fireplace where it had been left and in that one moment Applejack knew the truth. The filly she had followed out into the woods had been from Sunny Town and she wasn't alive like Applejack had thought, just not in the same way as the monsters outside. That filly was the ghost of the poor soul laying in the fire place in front of her and Applejack knew without a shadow of a doubt that she had been one of the victims of the nightmares outside. Perhaps when they had even still been ponies! It was that realization that dried up any sympathy AJ might have had for the creatures as she put her unwounded hoof to her forehead.
“It just ain't right, how can the Princesses let stuff like this happen? Can't they do sumthin' to keep foals safe?” AJ asked herself morosely but there wasn't an answer to be found in the empty room and she bit her lip to keep the moisture from springing to her eyes once more. The entire situation struck far too close to home for her, the thought of a foal likely ripped away from her family just to be murdered...why?
Why had they killed a little filly?
Does it even matter? What's it matter why they did it? Applejack thought to herself grimly as her shoulders sagged. That filly and any others like her are still dead. Twilight just doesn't seem ta get that, or maybe she does since she's looking to keep it from happening again. After all, Ah'm the fool trapped out in the Everfree by a bunch'a spooky monsters cause Ah thought Ah could cheat death.
A realization dawned on Applejack then, a light growing within her eyes.
...And that's just what that Rex fella tried to do. He couldn't accept that his wife died so he made that...thing and once he did, he tried everything ta keep her 'alive'. Was Ah really going to make the same mistake? AJ mused to herself as a bit of shame wormed it's way into her heart. The memory of the nightmares outside came back to her, the wraith-like figures that were trying to kill her even now. That's what she had been looking to turn Apple Bloom into just to have more time with her, things that recoiled back just to stare her in the eye. Miserable monsters stuck between life and death for a sin committed who knows how long ago, just like her little sister would have endured for a sin she hadn't committed either. Maybe Ah ain't as different from Rex as Ah thought Ah was...but Ah ain't going to make the same mistake he did either! Ah gotta accept the...the Truth. Apple Bloom's gone now and there ain't no hiding from that and Ah need to stop trying. Abigail Jacqueline Apple, ya were a right fool to come out here but ya can't let it end like this either!
“That's right, mah family needs me, mah friends need me! And Ah ain't letting a bunch of cursed foal-killers stop me from bein' there for them!” Applejack declared boldly as she straightened up and gave the fireplace one last regretful look before she turned and walked towards the barricaded door.
Or at least she tried to, she had barely turned before the farm-pony fell flat on her face when her bitten leg refused to budge. What had happened to it now?! It didn't feel any weaker or anything but it wasn't moving when she tried to move it either, it just sat there like a lump. Applejack growled underneath of her breath as she unwrapped the bandage to get a good look at her wound.
The bite mark had continued to blacken but that wasn't the reason for Applejack's curse, no it was the blackness spreading through her pelt and darkening her veins that got Applejack's attention, almost spread all the way up to her knee by that point.
“Those varmint must be poisonous or carry some sorta disease,” Applejack said to herself with a sigh, reaching for the bandage once more when her infected leg abruptly moved...to sucker punch her right across the face.
“Ow! What the hay was that for?!” AJ yelped in surprise, rubbing her cheek with her good hoof as she stared at the blackened limb which began to flop all about. “Git ahold of yerself AJ, this isn't the time for a freaky leg problem!”
Her infected leg snapped around to face her as she spoke and darted out to slap her across the face three quick times in unison before she even had a chance to respond. Just as her mouth dropped open in shock her blackened hoof pressed forward until it was crushing against her wind-pipe.
“Gak, what...are ya....doin' leg?!” Applejack gritted out as she pressed her normal leg against the other, struggling to force it back so that she could pin it down with her body. “Oh if only Twilight was here now. No such things as curses mah flank!”
Applejack had to fight to press her leg down as it thrashed and squirmed around against her, doing it's best to try and strike at her again. Worst still she could see how the blackness was spreading ever so slowly further up her leg and she had a terrifying flash of needing that leg removed on account of it turning homicidal on her.
“Ah don't think so!” AJ growled at her rebellious limb as she looked about the cabin, looking for her lasso only to find it in a coil by the door.
...On the other side of the room.
After a moment's thought AJ abruptly leaned off her leg and took off for the door, hoping instinct might prompt her leg to do what it was supposed to and for a couple of steps it worked! Then it seemed to realize what she was doing, like it had a mind of it's own, and just stopped working again! Applejack was ready this time and began to hobble towards the rope with a victorious look on her face. Until her possessed limb began to scramble at the ground, pulling her towards...the dining room table?
“Stop fighting back leg, this is for yer own good,” Applejack stewed as she had to fight for every inch she edged towards the door, only to go one inch towards the table for every two she went towards the rope. She strained to lean out and grab hold of the rope in her mouth just as she felt her hoof grab something made of metal, looking back just in time to see her possessed leg snapping back towards her with frying pan in it's grasp.
“Gah!” Applejack shouted as she dodged a swipe with the cast-iron skillet just to get clanged on the head with the back swing, filling her vision with little birds and stars. “So that's how ya want to play, huh?”
Unable to actually respond, her leg instead waved the skillet around like one of those fancy sword-fighting unicorns from Canterlot as if challenging her to a duel.
“Achooo!” Pinkamena sneezed loudly and wiped her nose as she continued giving Gummy his bath.
“Oh dear, are you catching a cold Pinkie?” Mrs. Cakes asked, sticking her head into the room.
“Nah, that's just my Pinkie Sense! I always sneeze when someone's in a parody and I'm not around,” Pinkamena said with a small smile as she washed behind Gummy's 'ears'.
She'd managed to get the frying pan away from her hoof even if it had cost her a couple more lumps on the head in the process, pinning her rebellious leg down with the other as she began to tie a knot at the joint to hopefully keep the blackness from spreading. Not that her leg had stopped fighting either, it wriggled around like a fish on the line as it tried to escape the pin and grab the dented skillet again.
“Gimmie back mah hoof!” AJ growled as she finished the knot and folded her possessed leg in on itself, looping several coils of rope around it to immobilize her front leg against itself. “GIMMIE BACK MAH LEG! Hah, take that ya sucker-skilletin' rascal. Ya should just be happy Ah couldn't use Kicks McGee and Bucky Micgullyguddy and show ya what real legs can do!”
Her possessed leg squirmed in protest before sullenly going still.
Not that her troubles were at an end either, she could still walk but it was at a hobbles pace really and she'd still be able to give some of them nightmares a thrashing even like this but not all of them. It'd be slow but eventually they'd just tear her apart if she had to hop out of Sunny Town on three legs, no she needed a makeshift leg. If only Pinkie was here with her emergency pirate supplies!
“There isn't any helpin' it now,” AJ muttered to herself as green eyes began to appraise everything in the room to try and figure out some kinda replacement...
Applejack wobbled as she experimentally tried 'walking' from one side of the room to the other on three legs and a fire poker she had tied to the 'stump' of her front leg. Balancing on that fine point was a little difficult, but not impossible so it could wo....
The fire poker sank into the old wood of the floor and when Applejack continued forward it stubbornly stayed stuck in the ground, sending Applejack unto her face with a flat expression.
The farm pony fell back unto her haunches as she looked at the tongs she had tied to her leg, mighty impressed how she managed to hook it up so they'd open and close as her possessed leg squirmed in objection. Clack clack clack clack.
This time she had taken the remaining silverware from the drawers, mostly the kitchen knives, and strapped them to a broken off leg of the table. She's managed to blunt the broken off part so her 'stump' fit comfortably on top of it and what moonlight filtered in through the barricaded window glinted off the many deadly weapons she had grafted to the leg.
“Wooh nelly!” Applejack whistled as she examined her newest attempt, a giddy smile beginning to come to her face. She'd strapped two cast-iron frying pans to her leg with a stone between them to keep them from holding inward. This new replacement sure was heavy but she could walk alright on it and it was time for the real test. Applejack trotted over to the door and stood on her back hooves, slamming the pan-leg into the door and bursting it off it's hinges. The door fell unto the misty ground as the nightmares began to slip out from the trees towards her.
Applejack stepped forward, feeling the reassuring weight of her pan-leg holding her up with the promise of a walloping like no other to any creature that got in her way.
A little smile came to her face.
“She's got the mark...She's got the Mark! She has to go, we can't keep her!” one of the nightmares shrieked before it began to gallop towards Applejack, leaping into the air to try and tackle her to the ground before she could escape again.
With a bell-like tone she swung The Pan into the nightmare's face and sent it flying back into the woods as the other nightmares slowed to an uneasy stop.
“Yo foal-killers...let's go.”
When the nightmares didn't come to her...Applejack went to the nightmares. At first she tried to use her back legs to buck the nightmares away when they gathered their courage and renewed their assault, but she quickly discovered one terrible fact. Even if this new leg was heavier then the others and more sturdy, it wasn't meant to support her like that and she could feel it loosening up it's bindings ever time she bucked on of the wraith-like figures back from her. She floundered then, so used to bucking whatever problems came her way that she earned herself a couple of nicks and scratches though she was very careful not to get bitten again. Still once her initial momentum was lost the nightmares began to push her back as she tried to figure out what to do.
At that very moment the craziest idea came to Applejack's mind.
“HEEYAAAW!” she cried out as she brought the pan-leg down in an overhead chop atop a nightmare's head, crashing it into the ground and leaving it stunned. Applejack and the other nightmares did too, as if none of them could believe what they just saw.
”She has to go but who is she? Why does she fight back? Doesn't she know?” the nightmares began to talk amongst themselves, their jaws barely moving making it almost impossible to tell which of them it had been.
“Mah name is Applejack...Ah know pony-fu,” Applejack said in a steely voice as she raised up her make-shift weapon, “...and this is MAH FRYING PAN!”
With a loud battle-cry the earth pony leaped at the nightmares and began to smash them with The Pan, making progress back towards the village proper. It was weird to hit these blackened nightmares, they got smacked away but they always got back up just fine as if she was just fighting shadows. The only time they seemed to stop was when they had gotten enough of Applejack putting a wallop to them with her pan! If this kept up she'd get tired of lugging around her heavy weapon before they got tired of getting beat up, but Applejack just gritted her teeth and kept forcing her way into the town when the nightmares finally fell back.
Ah gotta remember to thank Rainbow for giving Apple Bloom those karate lessons, they really came in handy!
“That's right, run away ya lily-livered killers! And Ah don't want to ever hear about ya hurtin' somepony again!” Applejack shouted halfheartedly at the last one she could see, waving her frying pan at it as it retreated into the woods to just leave Applejack with the path through Sunny Town to the Everfree and, finally, home. With a proud smirk on her face at the tiny piece of justice she had managed to enact, Applejack turned back to her path and froze like a statue.
The large nightmare from before stood in the way between her and the gate, skeletal flanks heaving as if in a rage before it reared with a loud whinny and struck the ground with one hoof. Suddenly the ground below began to shudder as the skeletal remains of ponies pulled themselves out of the ground with a red light glowing from within them, at least a dozen if not more emerged from the ground and closed in on the earth pony.
”She has the Mark, she needs to go. She's cursed!” the nightmare hissed out.
“Oh, what nao?!” Applejack let out an exasperated holler as the first of the blood fiends bolted towards her like a streak of lightning. With a yelp, Applejack swung the pan around, half expecting to just knock it away like the nightmares. The lead nightmare and Applejack were both equally surprised when the pan-leg shattered the blood fiend into dozens of pieces, both staring at the remains before finally Applejack grinned.
The blood fiends charged.
So did Applejack.
”You don't understand, we had to kill her. She had the mark, just like you do. She had to go. We didn't want to do it but she forced our hooves, she was the bad one.” the nightmare spoke grimly as the glowing red blood fiends closed in on Applejack, hiding the pony from sight even if the sound of fighting could still be heard.
Blackened bones were sent spinning away with each shattered blood fiend but there was another to replace it and Applejack was getting tired.
”I knew what had to be done. We couldn't let her live if Sunny Town was to survive, we can't let you live either.”
“Git off me!” Applejack howled as the pile grew larger as more blood fiends piled a top her, taking away her room to swing the frying pan that was dispatching them with such ease.
”We're the good ponies, we don't deserve the curse that Nightmare Moon put on us. We just did what had to be done, just like we'll do what needs to be done now. You have to go bad pony.”
“Raaaghhh!” Applejack screamed.
The nightmare turned away from the fight to watch the woods, it didn't want to watch another pony die, only the villains did that and this just...had to happen. Soon the noise of fighting died down and the nightmare turned back to the scene, ready to turn this newest victim into a blood fiend as well.
With a single whack Applejack sent the leader spinning to the ground and quickly stepped on it's skeletal throat before it could get back up to try and bite at her. The farm pony glared down at the monster with her green eyes that burned away the clouds of delusion that the nightmare, that all the nightmares save one, had built up over the decades to protect themselves from the horrible Truth of what they had done. At first it just squealed and writhed under her hoof but then it began to cry and shudder.
”No, no it must be a lie. She had the mark! We had to kill Ruby, we had to protect Sunny Town!” the nightmare wailed as it fought, in vain, to look away from Applejack's gaze. ”We're the good ponies, we never got that mark, we keep others safe. ...We are! WE ARE!!! You're the bad one, you've got the Mark!”
“Good, bad...Ah'm the one with the pan.” Applejack said simply, bringing down her frying pan atop the nightmare's head hard enough that it stopped moving. “And it's time ya'll started accepting what happened.”
With a huff Applejack turned her glare on the other blood fiends and nightmares emerging from Sunny Town, those piercing green eyes burning a hole through all those that dared meet her gaze. None of them dared to take a single step towards her, several of the nightmares even began to shake and whine like the leader had.
The farm-pony turned away from Sunny Town and began to trudge back towards Ponyville with a frown on her face. As she went, she caught a glimpse of that little gray filly from before who peeked out shyly from behind one of the trees.
“Thank you.” Ruby called out softly as Applejack trotted past, bringing the farm-pony to a halt.
“...No, thank you. Ah know ya helped mah little sis when she got lost and ended up here and that means the world to me. These murderers got what Ah gave'em and wagon loads more but Ah gotta head back to Ponyville,” Applejack replied back with a tired little smile. “Ah didn't find the answer Ah was lookin' for here...but Ah got an answer anyway. Ah hope ya find yer own rest some day, Ah know Apple Bloom would love to see her friend in Pony Heaven.”
Ruby stared as Applejack continued down the trail back to Ponyville as the morning sun began to crest the horizon.
“But...she's...” Ruby started to call out before realizing it was too late and Applejack couldn't hear her anymore, the morning light chasing away the nightmares, blood fiends, and wreckage of Sunny Town to leave a 'happy' town in it's place that Ruby couldn't leave until the moon rose...
“I know we need to talk Rainbow Dash but there's just so much on my plate right now,” Twilight said gently to her anxious looking pegasus friend. Even now several open books hovered in a circle around her, each one rotating into sight long enough to finish a page before the next book came into sight. “Rarity asked me if there was any sort of 'find-a-pony' spells and I'm looking up what ones I know of, I still need to do a full report for the Princess on 'Fifi', and after that...”
“I know, I know but this is really important and you said we could talk after you got back from your house call,” Rainbow Dash protested, looking a little haggard from all the flying around that she'd been doing. It didn't help that she'd been getting very little sleep since Scootaloo had begun to stay with her, what with the filly's nightmares and her own.
“And we will, as soon as I finish up at least one of these projects,” Twilight reassured, “but one of these just can't wait, I'm sorry but I'm busy busy busy!”
“Well...that makes this a mite awkward,” a voice called from behind the pair.
Rainbow Dash and Twilight both turned to see who had spoken and froze in their tracks. It was Applejack but the farm pony looked a lot worse then the pair remembered her! Her sides were scratched up and there were all sorts of twigs and leaves in her mane and tail but those weren't even the worst parts! There was just this look in her eyes that had the two of them feeling like their friend was looking through them instead of at them, and then there was this bizarre contraption she had strapped to her leg that was a combination of two frying pans and a rock! The last part was just so funny that Rainbow Dash couldn't help but start to giggle, covering her mouth with one hoof to try to hold back her laughter in vain.
“Rainbow, don't yah dare start laughing or Ah'll wallop you so hard you'd think Ah bucked you into a tree,” Applejack said in a no-nonsense voice that brought Dash to her senses before she accidentally began to howl at the sight. “Oh...and thank ya for teaching Apple Bloom karate, even if it was just that one lesson.”
“Applejack, what happened to you?” Twilight gasped as she stepped closer and noticed how the tied up leg had turned almost completely black and was twitching inside of it's bindings like it had a mind of it's own.
“Oh nothing much Twi, Ah remembered sumthin' my sister told me about once so Ah went into the Everfree to try'an find this Sunny Town place full of all kinds of zombie-ponies an such and ended up in this here cottage out there where Ah discovered why the whole place was cursed,” Applejack said nonchalantly, “That town awoke something dark in the woods… it tried to take Apple Bloom before and then it got into mah leg. Turned it bad an' homicidal. So I tied it off at the joint with mah lasso…and tied a fryin' pan to mah leg that was dangerous as all buck to escape! Ah walk like crap though...”
Dash's and Twilight's jaws hit the ground at the explanation even as Applejack looked back and forth between the two of them before finally settling on Twilight.
“...so...can ya fix it?”
Sweet Apple Acres
It turned out Twilight couldn't fix it since she was positive that curses and necroponies didn't exist in the first place, but she had still sent a letter to Princess Celestia and it turned out that Princess Luna could fix it! A short trip to Canterlot had the Princess of the Night remove the curse on her leg and a real weird dream that she told Applejack would keep her from turning into a Nightmare or some such silliness. Nothing had really happened during the dream and when she woke up Luna had seemed a mite confused herself so Applejack had taken the chance to leave the castle and head back to the farm!
Her little trip might have done her a whole lot of good but it had also put her behind on her chores by at least two days and she knew Big Macintosh and Granny Smith must be fretting over her. So imagine Applejack's surprise when she got back and all of the work was done! The farm looked like it was in better shape then it had ever been in and Applejack was more then a little surprised to see Granny Smith sitting in her rocker outside with a glass of lemonade by her side.
“Oh hey there Applejack! We was wonderin' when you'd find your way home again,” the elderly mare called out with a wave as her stunned grand-daughter approached.
“Granny! Ah knew Ah was gone for a couple of days but Ah didn't think you'd go and hire help to replace me that fast,” Applejack said, sounding stunned as she dropped her saddlebags, lasso, and brand new frying pans off on the porch.
“Whazzat? Oh sugarcube we didn't hire anyone,” Granny admonished before leading Applejack around the side of the farmhouse to see the fields. “We did git the most amazin'gift though!”
“What in tarnation is that?!”
That turned out to be a 'Super-Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000' that the Apple family had won in some sort of raffle Granny Smith had apparently entered. Granny couldn't remember entering any kind of raffle but she forgot little things all the time and the important thing was this machine was here now. Course they had some trouble at first since the machine ran on unicorn magic but Pinkie had helped them to modify the odd-looking thing so it could be hoof-powered instead.
And what a deal it was once it had been converted!
Now it did most of the work on the farm all by itself and Applejack just had to take turns in the giant hamster wheel they had made with Big Macintosh to get things done! Applejack had been reluctant to let this thing near their orchards but after the past couple of days that she had...well...she wanted the break! Course Applejack was still convinced that there was something wrong with the confounded thing, whenever she got close it for too long she got a migraine like something fierce!
That was how Applejack found herself up on that hill-top by the three tombstones once more, a sad smile on her face as she looked at the newest of the three. All was silent expect for the chugging of the Squeezy out in the fields and Applejack preferred it that way as she thought about what she wanted to say.
“...Ah'm sorry Apple Bloom, but yer big sister went and did something foolish. Ah know Ah yelled at you before to let big ponies handle problems and treated ya like a baby and Ah'm sorry. Ya never really gave me the details about that Sunny Town place you wandered into and now ah see why and Ah see what a dunderhead Ah was for thinking they could help you. For facing those monsters down as brave as you did, ya were definitely a big pony,” Applejack began as the sun warmed her back, the smell of apples thick in the air around her. “See, Ah thought that just because yer...gone that it meant ya were gone for ever but that's not true, is it? Sunny Town did manage to teach me sumthin and it's that nothing is truly gone so long as somepony remembers it. Those killers can't forget what they did an'likely never will so they'll never pass on.”
“An' if it wasn't for those nightmares, Ah might have forced myself to forget about you Apple Bloom,” Applejack admitted, “But if it wasn't fer you then those nightmares would have caught me and done who knows what! Ah remembered how ya always tried to make all these crazy inventions to try and get yer cutie mark and made this awesome pan-leg to fight mah way out. And if it wasn't for you showin' me what Rainbow Dash taught you about karate then they probably would have got me anyway.”
Applejack laid down with her nose up against the sun-warmed stone of the tombstone with a sad smile on her face.
“Ah see it now, Ah really do. You may be dead Apple Bloom but as long as Ah keep yer memory in my heart, you'll never really be gone. Ah'm just sorry it took so long for me to realize that, you and Ma and Pa must have been shakin' your heads at how silly Ah was being.”
“It ain't enough to just face down the truth and not blink, ya have to accept it too. Those nightmares will probably ne'er accept what they did wrong as actually being wrong but they showed me what Ah was doin' wrong so Ah guess Ah'm grateful to'em too,” Applejack said making a face as the last words came out of her mouth. “So...Ah need to say good bye, that's what Twilight said before but Ah think she's wrong. Ah ain't going to say good-bye to you or anypony else cause Ah'm not going to forget what ya'll teach me about mahself and the world.”
Applejack stood and laid her Stetson atop Apple Bloom's grave marker before she turned to trot down the hill and back into the field to give big Macintosh a break. She could always come pick up the hat again later. It was at the bottom of the hill that she turned to look back up the hill as a touch of hope lifted her heart for the first time in the past couple of days.
“...Ah'll talk to ya later Apple Bloom.”
The orange farm pony made her way towards the Squeezy machine with a farm song whistle coming to her lips as she went, a happy Winona running over to trot alongside her owner as Applejack went back to her new routine.
Neither of them noticed the black spot growing on one of the apples of Applejack's cutie mark, growing until it had consumed the entire apple...