Reharmonized Ponies POV Applejack, "Truth, and Whole Truth"
Howdy. AJ here, ya know, Applejack? Been a little ain't it? Sure seems a heckuva lot longer than a few weeks. Unlike Nightmare Moon, (which happened in the middle of Everfree Forest in the abandoned castle of the Pony Sisters,) we beat Discord right in the middle of Ponyville. And no matter how much a lot of ponies wish it warn't so, everypony remembers what was happenin' when Discord was screwing us up inside the head.
So now here's a bunch of ponies who wanna know more about the six ponies who saved the world twice, makin' a weekly documentary 'bout us or somethin.' Ah warn't really listenin' but Mayor Mare's made sure that by the time they're all let in we'll have all recovered enough to have gotten back to our lives without needin' to pretend nothing is wrong.
Nothing is wrong on the surface maybe, but everypony in town, they act just a little bit more forced in what they do, they end chats a little bit faster, or won't stop talking at all ... goin' in circles 'bout the same thang over and over. And everypony is lookin' over their shoulder where they weren't before.
Ponyville used to be the nicest, simplest, all around friendliest town ya could hope ta settle in. But now it's feelin' like a lil' filly who's lost her innocence a little bit too soon.
I guess ah can see these things a bit clearer since I'm supposed ta embody Honesty of the Elements of Harmony.
The creepy thing is how some ponies really DO act like they've forgotten, or 've blocked out the memories all together, and they pretend they ain't knowin' why everypony else is actin' like a lizard that just came home from a Dragon Slayers' convention.
In a way it kinda scares me.
Ah guess Ah got off easier than most folks. Discord might've taken a personal interest in me, but Ah know what Ah did, why Ah did it, and that Ah was wrong, and Twili' helped me remember the truth. All them lies I was spewin' were only makin' things worse. But ah was too scared what could happen ta admit it. And when it happened anyway, I just lied ta myself that it wasn't mah fault too. Ah didn't want to admit Ah was wrong, ah didn't want to admit Ah tried things mah way and failed, again. Ah didn't even -care- when Ah saw my family had gone crazy, Ah just lied ta myself again and said they were fine. Yeah, Apple Buck Season all over again. Then good girl Twili' snapped me back ta reality with that old trip down memory lane.
All Ah know, is lies only got me down a dead end, cause Ah was a coward who didn't want to face the truth when it turned ugly. Yeah, Ah KNOW it was cowardly of me, and Ah admit it! The brave and reliable and most dependable of ponies Applejack got her tail between her legs and couldn't face what she was supposed to embody.
But Ah know, I ain't turnin' chicken again just because Ah learned something that ain't pleasant, and dat's a promise this here cowpony intends ta keep! Not after what it just cost me, but my whole dang family, Ponyville and all of Equestria and the -world-. And that's the whole honest -truth!-
And Ah don't care if it burns me alive, Ah ain't nevah turnin' yellah on da truth egain!
Of all the things Ah expected ta happen today, ya can bet gettin' a personal summons from The Princess for me personally -with the other gals ain't invited- wasn't one. And bein' told ta take along ma little sistah Applebloom was even less suspected . . . being brought there by royal Pegasus Chariot . . . let's say that wasn't expected eithah.
Twili' was as clueless as me when she delivered the message, and the letter didn't get inta much detail at all! Just to bring mahself and Applebloom to Canterlot via the Chariot already on its way.
Applebloom, where to begin? She was all surprised, and more than a little scared of meetin' The Princess. For about ten whole seconds. Then she was runnin' up the walls sayin' how she'd be a Cutie Mark Crusader Royal Somethin' or Other.
Big brother promised he could handle the farm for the day without trouble. Warn't sure how much dat was true. Big Macintosh had been workin' hard sure enough, maybe too hard (yeah yeah I remember the time I worked myself crazy), but he's been avoidin' Winona like the Cutie Pox and treatin' working the fields he's been doing all his life like he's takin' bad tastin' medicine. I swear Ah saw 'im doin' it with his eyes closed! Ah kinda knew better than ta ask 'im to dig a hole for a new sapling.
It ain't hard ta guess why, maybe we oughta all bite the apple core and sign up a meetin' with the head doctors after all.
At least all Granny Smith has been sayin' is her rear legs hurt somethin' fierce after all the dancin' she did after Discord drove her crazy. I didn't ask if Discord bothered to fix her hip before he made dancin' the only thing in her head. Maybe Ah should.
Boys are right on time. Applebloom asks them a million questions, none of which are answered. Twili' asks for me to say 'ello to The Princess for her, I promise to do so and I will.
Up into the air we go. What a rush.
What da heck were the gals who invented this thing thinkin'? Hadn't they ever heard of safety straps? Applebloom doesn't know she's supposed to be scared out of her wits being this high up. That ain't good. I make sure she ain't rockin' the chariot and givin' me the chance to see if I can catch her if she falls
or maybe she conveniently sprouts wings.
She ain't likin' me putting the brakes on her party, but better me than the ground.
Ah admit, the view ain't that bad. I prefer all hoofin' it, but it ain't that bad.
And that's when it -really- hits me.
This is the first time Applebloom's ever BEEN to Canterlot. Oh no. Oh no. OH NO! I make a note to be extra-blue-plate-special-careful around her so she doesn't go wanderin' off somewhere and gettin' lost.
Wish I brought Winona's leash.
Sure Applebloom was given ah tour of the Castle Gardens . . . but to full blown Canterlot itself? Oh Celestia no!
It ain't lyin' if Ah simply ain't tellin' ya. That's what them fancy lawyers are always sayin'.
So it ain't lyin' if Ah don't tell ya about what happened right aftah we landed in Canterlot. It involved Applebloom spookin' every Pegasus in armor around, a royal fountain, Applebloom needin' to redefine her meanin' of 'public bath' . . . and Ah think the ghost of a Hippocampus and a lost family locket but Ah kinda ain't sure 'bout them details.
After Applebloom had four legs again instead of two legs and a tail, and hearin' her say how they should have made the signs sayin' 'No Public Bathing' 'Fillies Stay Away' 'Do Not Drink The Water' 'This Means You Applebloom' (I swear I ain't lyin') a lot larger and that her friends would never believe this we finally got back on track ta the castle. This time Ah made very sure Applebloom understood that when Ah said 'Don't Wander off, stay close' I didn't really mean 'sneak away when I'm not lookin' and touch everything marked 'do not touch.''
Castle Royal Entryway. Meetin' The Princess. Applebloom goes nuts. Applebloom runs around her, shooting off questions, and asking for early cutie mark privileges. Thank goodness Princess Celestia has a good sense of humor. She lets Applebloom go on for a bit, then she politely telekinetically moved Applebloom back to my side.
Ah'll confess, I'm kinda scared. And really confused. Why would Celestia just want -me- of all ponies? Sure I'm a holder of an Element of Harmony, but why not all of us? It don't make sense. I finally ask what the up and up is all about.
"My dear Applejack, you are here for a privilege (or curse) no pony has had in over a thousand years: to see Truth."
"'To see truth?' Ya gonna give me lie detector vision or somethin'?"
Applebloom jumped up and down. "WOW! Can I have it too-?!"
Celestia laughed, sounding refreshed and spoke to me. "Oh no. Nothing quite like that. What you take with you will not be anything in the physical sense . . . "
I -REALLY- felt awkward talkin' one on one with Princess Celestia, I had to keep my legs from knocking. "So uh, why you ask me to bring Applebloom?" We turned to my little sister, who was now stuffing her face with a couple royal pastries provided when my back was turned.
"She is here completely for your sake Applejack and no one else's. I prefer to explain things a tad more privately. Now . . . may you both please take a few steps back . . ."
Trusting the Princess completely we both did so.
Celestia's horn glowed, doors and windows shut and locked themselves. Applebloom gave out a yelp. The carpet we had been standing on rolled to one side, and the STONES THAT MADE UP THE FLOOR FLOATED APART! Floatin' like stars in the heavens, they revealed a spiral staircase.
"Is there treasure down there? Or a dragon? Or dragon treasure? Or a dragon made of treasure? Or maybe the magic gem that's secretly the source of all cutie marks, that would be-"
"Applebloom . . . don't go turnin' into Pinkie Pie." My voice was as sisterly as I could make it . .. mah eyes were still the size of ripe apples and glued to the opening in the floor however.
Applebloom calmed down a bit. "Oh. Sorry."
"Follow me please, and do watch your step, it's a long way down." Celestia said as if invitin' us for tea.
We obediently followed our princess of the sun, and the stones above us magicked all back into place all neat like. I really hoped Celestia didn't suddenly suffer a stroke or had to teleport somewhere fast and forget about us. I really didn't like the idea of a slow suffocatin' death in the dark. Celestia's horn was the only light source. The stones weren't like the rest of Canterlot, polished to perfection, these here stones were dank, dusty, and rough.
Applebloom kept her mouth shut as we spent the next couple minutes just going down and down and down.
"Applejack." Celestia said keeping her eyes ahead, "How have you been since Discord's second sealing?"
"Ah . . . Ah've been doin' better than most pony folks Ah think. Ah know what Ah did wrong and Ah'm aimin' not ta do it again."
"But big sister! There's no way you'd ever-"
"Not now Applebloom."
"So tell me again how Discord tainted you please, Applejack."
"Well, we all got separated in the maze, Ah followed some apples like my cutie mark, then I ran into a bunch of apple trees, and some big talkin' piles of apples sayin' they were 'keepers of the Grove of Truth' or somethin' like that. They said I could ask any question I wanted. I asked how that there quest would go . . . and they showed me and mah friends breakin' up. Then Discord told me truth could be cruel and lies were kinder... and that was when Twili' found me."
"Ah know now that truth ain't somethin' ta run from! You have to face it head on!"
Celestia spoke in a polite voice. " . . . A realist approach . . . how rare in a place of living ideals like Equestria."
My head went for a loop. "Huh? You sayin' it's wrong?"
"It's not right or wrong. It simply is. Now I will ask you this only once Applejack, do you wish to know the truth of that statement?"
I don't hesitate. "Yes."
"Then we're here." She stopped.
Huh? When did we reach the end of the stairs? But them big doors didn't come out of nowhere. Did they?
"I'm tired of walkin'. Couldn't ya 've teleported us all here?"
"I could have. But then what would have been the point?" Celestia said simply.
The door had the same seal as the one for the Elements of Harmony. Except there was a second door with the symbol of the moon on it too . . . Celestia inserted her horn, the lines on the door glowed and it swung open.
Still dank, still dark, still not all pretty like, but a REALLY BIG ROOM. Circular, with a path along the edge and a short but really wide drop in the middle with a railing, the drop ending in a metal seal with the spiral shutter like on a camera. There were gears and cogs stickin' out in places.
We stepped inside, us two earth ponies staring slack jawed, when the door behind us closed on its own (Would they stop doin' that?!). On this side we saw both doors led here.
That was when I saw someone I never expected to see. "PRINCESS LUNA?!"
"A pleasure to see you again . .. Applejack, I'm sorry this isn't a time for me to get to know you better." Said the night princess like we were old friends.
"Wow! So you're the princess who was kidnapped by Nightmare Moon and my sister saved?" Applebloom said spouting off one of the many explanations fillies had come up with on their own for Princess Luna and Nightmare Moon not able to understand they were the same pony.
"Close enough I guess." Luna said sounding and feeling awkward by Applebloom's question. Luna looked rather at home in the darkness. She didn't tell me till later that being there cut off from her night sky wasn't at all pleasant.
"Sister. It's time."
"Alright . . . Celestia are you sure?"
"No. And that is why we have to."
Now I was totally creeped out! Celestia not sure about somethin'-?! That was just wrong!
The Alicorns flew to opposite ends of the room, and inserted their horns into locks like the ones outside. The lines on the spiral shutter glowed, and uncoiled, revealing a huge perfectly reflective pool of . . .something . . . I wasn't sure it was glass or water, it was so perfectly smooth.
"Applejack." Celestia then said getting mah attention. "Some have called this the Well of Infinitely, others have called it the Pool of Truths, others the Sun And the Moon's Shadow, or simply Truth. But whatever name ponies have given it over the eons it has existed here or somewhere else. To look into this pool when it's active is to behold Truth."
I wasn't distracted by the fancy talk as most other ponies would be. "Wait . . .if this here thing is a 'know stuff thingie' how often do ya use it? And why couldn't ya use it to help beat Discord?"
Princess Celestia said firmly, "Applejack, you could live to be a hundred and you will never know the answer to that first question. Second, Discord is often unpredictable even by Truth's standards. And aside from that, this is not some lexicon where you can just look through the index and then look up the desired information. And -that- aside, it takes two Alicorns' magics for it to be awakened (it was intended as a safety measure), and Luna has spent the last year recovering her magic and from her own corruption."
I really felt small.
Applebloom tilted her head. "Lexi-what?"
"A big book on knowing a lot about a certain thing." Princess Luna said, speaking directly to Applebloom.
"Oh. Okay. Wait . . . if this thing knows lots of stuff, HEY!" Applebloom climbed on top of the stone railing and looked over the edge, "Well of Infiniter or whatever! What's my cutie mark and how do I get it?! . . . "
"APPLEBLOOM!" I quickly grabbed my little sister with mah teeth and pulled her away.
"It's alright Applejack. Applebloom is perhaps the safest one here." Celestia said motherly.
"Applebloom is, more or less, still innocent. And to the vision of any innocent soul, Truth is one big glorified mirror."
"Why does everyone treat me like Ah'm still a foal?"
"Besides," Celestia continued. "It's not even active yet . . . Though maybe 'innocent' isn't quite the right word for Applebloom . . . But not having realized her cutie mark is a barrier enough from Truth."
Applebloom not innocent? "Ah see ya met."
"Not what my sister meant." Luna said sounding for just a bit like the Nightmare Moon ah knew. She sounded like she knew one word that would reduce Applebloom to tears. I didn't like that. "There is nothing my moon's light touches that I can't see. -Nothing.- And when I returned, my sister and I promised there would be no more secrets between us."
I shivered under those eyes as cold as midnight. Nothin'? Every hidden lovers' kiss, every Earth Pony ritual under the full moon: Luna saw them all, which meant Celestia knew of them . . . it was more than a little scary.
"Luna, remember what we talked about." Celestia said as only a big sister could.
"Sorry." She said all apologetic like but Ah couldn't tell if it was ta me or Celestia.
I didn't know why Luna went off like that, did she know somethin' 'bout Applebloom Ah didn't? Not takin' chances.
"Applebloom what's she mean?"
"She'll tell you when she's ready." Princess Luna said simply, "There are some pains when -forced- out do more harm than good. And your sister is here to help -you.-"
"Help -me?-" Ah know Celestia said that already, but I was kinda distracted at the time by the floor revealin' a secret passage.
"Help big sister?" Applebloom echoed.
Ah said, "Look Ah think we're as private like as you can git in Equestria, so what's this here all about already?!" I knew I was speakin' to The Princess but I was kinda gettin' at mah wits' end.
Celestia spoke in a calm controlled voice, "Pinkie Pie was LIED TO Applejack. Fluttershy was -FORCED-. Discord used you and the others to attack Twilight from all sides. Rainbow Dash was trapped by an impossible choice. And Rarity was attacked from within by her own inner demon. You however, were crushed by the full weight of your Element. The other side of your Element: the truth CAN and DOES hurt. But even then it was a manufactured truth. You broke up in part -because- of what you saw. However there is not always a scapegoat."
I suddenly didn't care if I was talkin' to the Princess or not.
"HEY! You sayin' Ah'm -weaker- than the others?"
"No Applejack, you just did."
"HEY! MAH BIG SISTAH IS THE STRONGEST DERE IS! Ain't nothin' weak 'bout her!" Applebloom leapt right in front of me.
"And it is because that is what you believe in even the deepest parts of your heart, Applebloom that you are here."
"Wait . . ." Ah said, "Is this a trial or something and Applebloom's mah defense?"
Celestia startled, for the first time in millennia. "Huh? What? No! It isn't! What gave you that idea? You are not on trial or being punished or being suspected of ANYTHING, Applejack . . . you are here to learn!"
"You -say- you understand truth is harsh, but until you see the full 'truth' of that statement, as opposed to a vision jury rigged to bring itself about, you and your Element are keeping each other from reaching your full potential. Everything here is to -help- you, Applejack. Not test or punish you . . . However, to see Truth is ... painful, verily. I will not ask you regardless of your choice to give up the Element of Honesty. There will be no dishonor, no cowardice, or loss of your friendship with the others if you refuse.
"So Abigail Jacqueline The Fifth of the Fifth Line, I ask you once, will you look into Truth?"
"I ask you a second time, of your own freedom of will, will you look into Truth?"
"Ah said 'yes' didn't I?"
"I ask you a third time. Looking at Truth will bring you pain. And no dishonor if you refuse. Do you still wish to look into Truth?"
"Yes! Dangit! A million times yes!"
Applebloom looked at me, lookin' a little scared.
"Very well. Applebloom," The filly jumped in surprise, this was the first time The Princess had spoken to her directly. "Stay at your sister's side no matter what and believe in her, that's all you need to do."
Applebloom tilted her head, "Huh?! How's that-"
"More important than you can imagine. You're here to help give her the inner strength she is going to need." Celestia said.
Ah said, "Ah thought this was 'bout me seein' dis 'Truth thang' on mah own."
"Most ponies more often than not do not face life's challenges alone except by their own choices . . . Besides, NO pony faces Truth in a vacuum and it wouldn't be fair for you to be the exception."
"All right . . so uh, how do we do this?"
"Stand on the balcony and look directly down. It doesn't last a moment more than you can endure. There is a lever to your right. Pull or push it, and the shutter will close at once. You will not be judged on how long you look."
"What balcony are ya- huh? Where'd that come from? Applebloom, was that here a minute ago?"
"I ain't sure."
Ah swear Ah could hear Celestia chuckle.
Ah did as Ah was told, and looked down, Applebloom right next to me. The Alicorn Sistahs touched the surface with their horn on opposite ends at the edge of my vision.
Applejack looked down into the pool, and it looked back at her. First all she saw was her own reflection and the room's dark ceiling. Then she saw her sister, then the Alicorns, then the stairs, then Canterlot and Ponyville, then Equestria, all at once, then things changed.
And Applejack didn't just see images, she listened to voices, she heard thoughts, she felt emotions, she was with everyone.
The blue and pink twins Aloe and Lotus hugged themselves in separate blankets, back to back. Feeling ashamed of the revulsion and involuntary shudders at each other's even indirect touch, having spent most of Discord's reign as a two headed pony with no rear end connected at the waist.
The two had stood along side each other their entire lives and were proud of that, and now, just being near each other felt painful. It wasn't fair, their entire lives they had acted like parts of a whole and gave each other strength, now that same idea made them sick. Aloe's eyes misted over, and Lotus wanted so badly to hug her sister, but the images of being the two head-ended pony trying to go in two different directions flashed through her mind making her muscles freeze. It had taken this long just so they could make eye contact again.
A little blue Earth pony named Archer was curled up in her bed hugging the sheets for dear life like a cocoon. Her namesake lay at the far end of her room where she had thrown it after Discord was resealed. The memories wouldn't stop repeating. She grew wings like a pegasus, and happily flew about, and with an unlimited supply of arrows happily shot in the flanks, legs, and throat of any pony that caught her eye, laughing playfully the whole time. Archer hadn't been able to even LOOK at the bow and arrow set she had gotten for her cute-ceaņera. Her parents (including her mother, who she had shot five times) kept telling her she wasn't a bad pony, that she didn't do those things because she wanted to or could help herself, but the memories kept repeating every time she closed her eyes.
A pony with an hourglass cutie mark had locked himself in a little blue shed and not come out since the incident in spite of protests of his friends. He remembered: Doctor Whoof leapt about wearing royal robes, a skirt, and a crown with a scepter hanging from his saddle. "LO AND BEHOLD! I AM THE QUEEN OF EAGLE-LAND! The Time Lord Victorious! All shall feed me pears! Or-" He grabbed the scepter and brought it down with a cracking noise on a random adult pony in fancy clothes with a feather in her hair who was playing in the mud like she was three, "EXTERMINATE!"
The little filly Twist hadn't eaten a piece of candy in weeks, she couldn't bear the sight of one, even the ones she made herself. Spiral. Spiral. Spiral. SPIRAL! All she saw was her legs and neck twisting like taffy and twisting around everything like snakes. Spiral! The word echoed in her head like a mantra.
Applebloom looked in the mirror for the tenth time that day, no, her hide was yellow not black, and her eyes weren't glowing, she wasn't one of them . . . maybe one more check.
Sweetie Belle threw out her doll collection, the one she had painstakingly put together over the years and organized. She couldn't bear the looks on their faces, when she looked at them, all she could think of was that empty dance she did as one of them with another poor filly turned into a filly sized doll.
Diamond Tiara smashed the glass dolls in her room, each one worth more than Applejack made in a good month. "It's not fair! It's not fair! Mama was free and I couldn't even hug her! It's not fair!" She actually threw a couple at a few brave servants that dared see what the trouble was, beaning a couple on the head. Diamond Tiara had turned into a pony sized dress up doll . . . and wandered about, and then danced with the living dress up doll pony Sweetie Belle. The two danced for a bit like ballet, then they took off their heads and legs and tails and began exchanging body parts. Golden Tiara, better known to everyone else as Screwball, floated above the chaos laughing at the antics that made perfect sense to her.
The unicorn Lyra and the Earth Pony Bon-Bon kept coming up with excuses not to come within a hundred hoof falls of each other. Normally finding the two apart was impossible. Lyra remembered worse than Bon-Bon. Lyra remembered her own voice sounding like an out of tune harp, and gleefully and eagerly stomping her hoof down on her best friend who was now filled with creamy filling, again, and again, and again the grin never leaving the corrupted Lyra's face. She had barely stopped herself from hanging herself with her own harp strings after the world was sane again.
Silver Spoon had locked herself in her room and had refused to come out. It was there. Her father laughing while trying to behead his daughter with their ancestral weapon. Silver Spoon running like mad her eyes now ON her glasses and her hide now very soft 'silver.'
Photo Finish tripped over the triple layer dress she was wearing again. Thankfully not in front of her entourage this time ... the footage from the security cameras of her own home having gotten into the hands of the tabloids somehow, showing her running around 'naked' EATING her own dresses.
Blueblood screamed in terror at the sight of the sun again, the royal guards restraining him to take him back inside. A few weeks ago he had been turned into a mare, made of living ice, running for her life from a stallion made of solar flames who wanted to coddle and caress and ravish her.
Philomena wouldn't go into her cage even when Celestia outright ordered her to, instead roosting at the tallest parts of the castle. She had burst into flames every time Discord had changed her, only to return to her true form . . . after the second dozenth time Discord got bored and tossed her ashes into a jar, a small one, left it with one tiny air-hole, and tossed it into the deepest of the royal fountains.
A catatonic grayed out blue unicorn with a wand cutie mark wandered about in a broken daze as the ponies around her went mad, not even noticing them or herself.
Octavia wore sound proof ear muffs, having been barely stopped by her fellow band members from ripping her own ears off when the world was repaired. She was insisting on writing out her messages and requests rather than speaking. She remembered. Octavia rolling on the floor, holding her head screaming as even the sound of dust falling was amplified to the noise level of a front seat to a heavy metal rock band, which was nothing compared to the mad cackling and wild screams of agony of others around her. As the horrid noise wouldn't end, first she wished she hadn't been in Canterlot that day, then wished she never left the rock farm, then wished she had gotten a rock for a cutie mark, and finally wishing she had never been born if it would just make the horrid sounds stop. At least now she had finally stopped screaming at the noise of the dinner bell.
Ditzy Doo held her child close, almost like a plush toy in intensity but at the same time treating her like Dinky was as fragile as glass. Sleeping with her each night, not letting her out of her sight for a minute. She kept saying, "Mama loves you. Mama's sorry. mama won't hurt you. Mama didn't mean it. Mama loves you. Mama's sorry." The memory wouldn't go away. She had told her own baby -with straight eyes, perfect grammar, diction, and a sickening grin- that, even if Dinky now had Pegasus wings and no horn, she would never be her child. That Dinky had been 'adopted' and how Ditzy never loved her, and how she wished Dinky had suddenly died before she ever 'adopted' her. She had said Dinky would never be her real child, with how worthless and invaluable she was. At least both Dinky and Ditzy had stopped sobbing themselves to sleep each night.
Mayor Mare had done more work in a few weeks than she had in a few months. She wasn't a slacker at her job in any way before, but now she was practically acting like a super pony. And the sleepless nights and skipped meals were beginning to show. "I do care about all of you. I promise." She muttered under her breath when she thought nopony was listening. Blocking out the memory of a pony now made of living rock shouting with a megaphone that she had wasted most of her life in this town and she could have been an administrator in Canterlot by now if she hadn't settled for this job and did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as ponies three inches from her were bleeding from arrow wounds.
The orange in Carrot Top's mane had begun to show green roots again. She didn't try to dye it again this time. Instead she did her farming for the day with a big smile on her face and a friendly air about and went straight to her bedroom and locked the door and began hugging herself. Reliving memories of a grayed out Carrot Top running about swinging (and hitting with) a battle axe in her mouth, taking out the axe only long enough to occasionally scream how she hated the color green before attacking another pony who happened to have any green to her eyes, mane, coat or attire.
Snips and Snails were strangely quiet, very quiet, and hadn't caused trouble since Discord's fall ... in fact, they hadn't done much of anything. They acted like they were scared of everything almost or at least intimidated by it. Left with the brains of dogs after being tainted by Discord they had then fled for their lives while being attacked by a strangely fast giant snail and a pair of floating giant scissors trying to cut them in two. Looking at their cutie marks now had to be done in short glances.
And AJ knew, AJ KNEW, that this was only a TINY PORTION of every pony in Ponyville!
If emotions were images, and thoughts could be seen, they would show a giant globe filled with everything Applejack had seen bearing down on her shoulders, making her legs buckle and the weight ever so slowly causing her bones to crack. And a little yellow filly with a bow pushing up against her sister's belly, bearing some of the burden.
A distant part of Applejack reached for the lever, and another part of her speared her other hoof hard just below the lever, and the hoof pushing at the lever did so, and did so again, and did so again!
'No. More. Not afraid. Not afraid. Show me more. Show me all of it. I'm not scared! Show me all of it!'
Applejack saw the grayed out Rainbow Dash . . . at Cloudsdale? Discord appearing beside her, telling everyone she had saved Cloudsdale by sacrificing all of Equestria. The majority of Pegasi present wanting to clip her wings in response. Right before Discord turned them all mad as a last 'gift' to Rainbow Dash before teleporting away. And Dash's soul being crushed by pure overwhelming guilt and self loathing. Pretend to be delusional. Pretend you never made it to Cloudsdale, never have to face the guilt.
She saw Applebloom, scared out of her wits, galloping like mad in the Everfree Forest. Undead skeletal remains of ponies rising out of the ground after her. Telling her to stay in Sunnytown. That if she stayed, she wouldn't become like Ruby.
Then the image shuddered. In one, Applebloom was following Twilight out of Everfree. In the other, a new resident of Sunny Town enjoyed a party. Barely two days later Applejack was ripping the Everfree Forest apart, bucking trees out of the ground one after another, snarling and swearing to Everfree itself she'd uproot the entire forest until it coughed up her little sister. Her friends helped at first, before restraining her to keep her from working herself to death. She escaped and got back to work. Zecora finally came and told Applejack what little she knew. And Applejack found her delusional and now cursed little sister . . . and proceeded to tear Sunnytown to its foundations and bucking the head off of any zombie pony that got in her way.
Now Applejack saw Twilight Sparkle and Trixie on a stone platform surrounded by turning black storm clouds supported only by a long straight staircase. Trixie was wearing a silver necklace chest plate with six black gems. Applejack noticed THIS Trixie however had a purple and white star cutie mark, exactly the same save for the colors of Twilight's white and purple cutie mark. On the stairs Twilight screamed, "SIS! STOP THIS!"
On the platform Trixie snarled, "WE'RE NOT SISTERS! Celestia may have raised us together but she only ever considered you worthy of anything!"
"That's a lie! Trixie! Who's been filling your head with this nonsense?!"
Then the image shuffled, and now it was TRIXIE on the stairs begging her foster sister Twilight to stop this insanity and come home to their adopted mother Celestia.
Applejack saw a gray tinted Twilight Sparkle, whose colors suddenly returned with no real explanation, and began to trot out of her bedroom before knocking over a vase . . . and remembered that she replaced that vase once before but was not sure how it had been broken.
Another image of the same Twilight, this time writing something down and hiding it just before Master Discord retracted the memory revitalization spell he himself had cast on her to amuse himself with Twilight remembering how things had once been for a few minutes, again.
Now the same Twilight, still grayish, but now with memories of herself from before, talking to a filly named Apple Pie who was apparently the descendant of Applebloom and one of Octavia Pie's colts after they had fled what Ponyville had become. Apple Pie smiled at Twilight Tragedy and said, "Hey, even in the darkest of times you hav'ta find something to laugh about!"
The scenes shifted again, this time much closer to the present, but marching forwards. Winona as an old dog Applebloom needed to drag upstairs in her mouth. Then the Apples gathered around the small unmarked grave of the ancient loyal dog, AJ noticed this Applebloom now had her cutie mark but the scene shifted before she could focus.
This time the Apples were all in black (and Applebloom no longer a little filly), minus Granny Smith, whose tombstone they all surrounded, and wept.
In the blink of an eye Applebloom now with streaks of gray in her mane was surrounded by her fully grown male children, her husband a bit behind her. She visited the graves of her brother and sister on the anniversary of their deaths. Then, her sons as entering their twilight years themselves along with their children and grandchildren mourning Granny Bloom's death.
The images shifted once more. A much larger Spike, now carrying a wrinkled Rarity wearing a face veil like she was royalty and he was her elephant, and showing absolutely not the least of resentment, if anything a sense of honor.
A even larger Spike cradling the elderly and weathered remains of Rarity in his claws almost like she was a broken doll, the mighty beast openly weeping. A graying adult mare version of Sweetie Belle with a music based cutie mark wept along side him.
One of Applejack's front hooves violently pushed and pulled at the lever, her other front hoof felt pain.
Then there was a vision of herself along with her five friends. With sweeps of the image, one by one they were replaced with grave stones, each time the group a little bit more elderly, Twilight's graying however wasn't happening nearly as fast as the others were. Finally Twilight stood before the graves of her five friends (four actually, AJ had been buried with rest of the Apple family) with a giant purple and green dragon looming behind her with a sad look on its face.
Sweet Apple Acres expanded, Granny Bloom's risk taking days had actually paid off. However sixty years after her death, Pegasi figured out how to grow produce on clouds via a new process that enabled clouds to hold soil. At first this was seen as an oddity at best and a joke at worst and rightfully so. These Pegasi had no clue how to farm besides what they read and the produce was low quality. But with a more direct access to the weather system and sunlight they would manage to slowly outpace the Earth Pony farm market once their product quality had improved. This was due to thirty or so years later when the first generation of True Flutter Ponies had come into being, Earth Ponies who had permanently severed their magical link with the land for the gift of being able to fly and were hired on the spot by the struggling Pegasi farm industry as consultants. They were slurred as 'fairies' or 'pixies' by Earth Ponies who mostly considered them deserters or traitors. And with a faster Pegasi delivery system, the smaller farms began to dry up. The pony Applebark saw the way things were blowing and began to invest in the new market in spite of the words from his family. His grandson was the first Earth Pony in their family to convert. The rock farmers' market by contrast exploded as they grabbed up the quality land where before they had been given the left overs.
Dragon flames tore through Ponyville like a hot poker through paper as Luna's Night Troopers and Celestia's Day Soldiers fought against Dragon Queen Tiamat IV's expansionist army. Spike and other dragons loyal to Equestria fell under suspicion and had to fight that much harder to prove themselves. Lady Twilight 'Magica' Sparkle spent a year recovering from burn wounds she suffered from a blast of dragon fire that had reduced other unicorns to ashes. What remained of Ponyville was just under half its buildings, either burned out shells or dragon carcasses having crashed through the walls, and a quarter of its population dead and a fifth maimed. A century and a decade of rebuilding later it was assimilated into part of Canterlot, the capital and the small town -now more of a city- were so interconnected now they functioned as one anyway.
For one flickering instant, Applejack saw Princess Celestia, except, WITH WRINKLES, and looking OLD. Behind Celestia in the sky was an equally ancient and elderly red sun. The image went by so fast Applejack wasn't sure she had actually seen it.
Again with a yellow sun in the sky, Twilight Sparkle (with a white mane with grayish streaks) was chatting with a friendly yellow Earth Pony with a black mane and a blank flank. "The world is so beautiful." Said the Earth Pony in an awe inspired, but strangely sad voice. The two nuzzled.
The image shifted again. This was a tall white tower, the sky showed a starry night devoid of its moon. Six stood before a massive black Alicorn. Its wings were white bones, just like its face. Its cutie mark was a Tarot card with a skull on it. It had a familiar black mane. It boomed, "The moment ponies devoured the Fruit of Magic they sealed their fate! Entrusting their future to the Elements they cling to a dim hope. Yet, it is through harmony that all is revealed: Beyond the beaten path lies the absolute end. It matters not who you are, Death awaits you."
Opposed to it was Twilight Sparkle, her mane now completely white but, strangely, not showing any other signs of aging. Along side here were three other ponies (a white unicorn, a pegasus and an Earth Pony) who AJ didn't recognize except the Earth pony who bore some resemblance to Apple Pie, a young blue and green dragon, and a GRIFFON. Each of them wearing an Element of Harmony while Twilight was wearing the familiar crown.
Twilight shouted at the black Alicorn, "Living means not cowering before death! It's about what you leave behind, not whether or not you'll always be here! That's why if you say Equestria's time to die is now, we'll fight you to the bitter end to prove you wrong!"
The black Alicorn replied as if he had been ordered to fight his best friend, "Then come to me Twilight! Your friends are waiting for you. This battle is the path of your own choosing!"
The images shifted again.
Applejack saw herself as a blank flank, Auntie and Uncle Orange taking her to an early morning show. Then she saw herself as an adult mare . . . but with a shorter mane, no sign of her precious hat . . . wearing a dress, and with three orange gems as her cutie mark.
She saw herself acting and speaking like Rarity, but with more calm about herself, more open. She saw herself protecting her older aunt and uncle from rioting ponies during the Nightmare Moon night.
She was invited to meet six ponies who had apparently saved the world from Nightmare Moon and were now on an Equestria wide tour. Being one of the most successful business mares in Manehatten, of course she attended. Then she found out there had been a more direct and real reason for her invite during their stay.
"BIG MAC! BROTHER DEAREST!" The two hugged at once.
Orangejack kept asking why her brother hadn't told her he had helped save the world. He admitted he was embarrassed being the only stallion in a group of mare heroes.
"You should visit more often! I always have a place for you!"
"And ya could visit the farm ya know. Applebloom would sure like to meet the big sister who keeps sending her them expensive dolls."
"Brother dearest we have been over this many a time. I have a lot of businesses to run. I can not just abandon my responsibilities just for feeling nostalgic."
"Ah'm not talkin' about going back! Just a visit! Ah promise Granny Smith won't try to guilt trip ya this time."
" . . . I shall consider it sincerely, brother dearest."
Then the image shuffled again. Showing two scenes at once.
One showed Applejack meeting a polite but down to earth Earth pony in Ponyville, she couldn't see his face (DANGIT!) but they hit it off on the dance floor at Pinkie Pie's town wide party and with each other. He had been a drifter, just passing through town, nothing special, but he found something special in her. Said it was nice to meet a mare who didn't play 'mind games' with him. And two years later, with her husband she looked at a newborn yellow male foal with a matching mane. The proud mother whispered the foal's name but Applejack didn't hear it no matter how hard she tried.
The other showed Orangejack meeting a flying-on-the-edge-of-your-seats unicorn stallion whose sense of adventure caught Orangejack's eyes at that year's Grand Galloping Gala (the repair work since the disaster years before had been a miracle). For the next year she kept making excuses to visit him. A year later she got tired of waiting and asked HIM to marry HER! . . . And then again the image of a proud mother, this time of a red unicorn female foal with a green mane. When the nurse asked what her name was, all Applejack managed to hear was that her name began with 'Fi-.'
"No." Applejack whispered, "It ain't fair, it ain't fair! It ain't fair!"
Applejack stared at the pools, her eyes were like billiard balls, her pupils were huge, tears were streaming down her face. "Not . . . fair . . . ain't . . . fair . . ."
Celestia shouted in alarm for the third time. "APPLEJACK! THAT'S ENOUGH! JUST STOP!" AJ didn't respond.
Luna shouted, "'Tia! Her hooves!"
Luna always did catch details better than her, then again she was the artist of the family.
Celestia's eyes widened. While one of AJ's hooves was indeed on the lever and trying to pull it, another one was -stuck in the gears- to prevent the mechanism from closing. 'There is no way that was an accident.' Celestia thought.
"Applebloom!" Luna shouted, "Pull your sister's hoof out of the gears right now!"
Applebloom didn't need to be told twice, seeing her sister in this state had prevented her little mind from putting the mechanics together, but everything fell into place in nano seconds as she pulled the bleeding hoof free. Instantly the shutter closed.
Applejack fell to her knees at once, her eyes still large and tears staining her face like rivers.
"You stupid pony!" Luna cursed in dismay. "You didn't need to prove anything!"
"Not now Luna!" Celestia shouted back. 'Why do Applejacks have to be such stubborn pig-heads!?'
With their link to the Truth broken (not wanting to risk FORCING the vision to end), the Alicorns were at AJ's side in the blink of an eye, repairing the damage to her foreleg and helping her up.
"WHY!" Celestia said, for the first time in so long, upset with one of her ponies. Her voice boomed echoing in the chamber, it made Applebloom cower and want to beg for forgiveness even though she had done nothing wrong. Even Luna shuddered.
AJ spoke in tired breaths like she had done the Running of the Leaves in sixty seconds, "Ah . . . Ah said I wouldn't be scared of da Truth . . . so Ah wasn't, wasn't gonna, wasn't gonna let mahself turnin' chicken get in the way of seein' it all . . . "
Celestia let out Equestria's smallest laugh, blinked tears, and wrapped her neck and wings around the orange Earth pony. "Oh Applejack, you silly pony."
"Big sistah, ya did that, on purpose?"
"Had ta show dem Truth fellah ah warn't scared o' none of 'em." AJ said, finally able to closed her eyes a little and had stopped crying.
Applebloom pressed herself against her sister's side. Luna thought how it reminded her of herself and 'Tia.
"Celestia . . . so all dat weird stuff that . . . that was Truth too?"
"Those were truths that have been explored down different paths. Some of it was your future, some of it were futures of other versions of you."
Applebloom asked totally confused. "Other versions? Huh? Whatcha all talkin' about?"
"One moment." Luna said and tapped her horn on Applebloom's forehead. "I promise you'll remember every detail of today when you wake up. But for now, have sweet dreams, dream of Ruby and playing with her, dream away your monsters, and know you have nothing to fear because your family is there for you."
Applebloom fell asleep still on her hooves.
"Wha . . what was that fer?" AJ asked.
Luna shook her head, a bit dizzy, that trick always took power out of her. "You have confessions and questions you don't want your sister to carry right? She's endured already more than any filly her age should have to."
"Ah know . . . now . . . so . . mah . . . mah son . . . mah daughter . . .they're both real? But . . that ain't fair . . ."
"That things are not fair is -why- the truth brings pain Applejack. I didn't know -what- you'd see, but everyone sees paths they never explored and dismissed." Celestia answered.
"But . . . ah felt it . . .ah loved'em both. Ah always told mahself I'd have been miserable there. Or I'd have become one of them selfish arrogant snobs. Ah told mahself if Ah stayed, if Ah somehow got happy dere . . . it would be just makin' others miserable. Ah didn't think . . . Ah didn't think Ah could make somethin' as wonderful as that there too. Neither of them deserve to simply . . . not exist."
"Both will live in their particular path where that you made your choice, and in turn make their own choices. And both down their road WILL make that you proud."
Applejack felt the pain inside her lessen. "Thanks. Ah think Ah finally understand . . . Ah knew everypony was sufferin... but, Ah was just blanketin' 'em all together. Like they were all havin' the SAME problem. Ah guess maybe it wasn't all that real, not really real ta me . . . I'm gonna take a nap now . . ."
"Such a silly pony." Luna sighed.
"I know Lulu, I know. But she's wonderful for it."
The two Apples were taken back upstairs and put in one of the royal guest rooms. They returned home later that night. Applebloom seemed calmer when she woke up, more in control of herself, but she was still smiling and looking at everything in wonder and joy.
AJ didn't get any farm work done the next day. She had a lot of work to do.
First she played with Winona, telling her what a great dog she was. Then she was sure to tell Granny Smith that she'd always be a wonderful dancer to AJ. She also told Big Macintosh that she KNEW that given the chance he was as much a hero as she and the others were. She also had Applebloom tell her all about her adventure in Everfree Forest . . . and hugged her and told her that she was safe, and that she was a very very very brave pony. She could have let those monsters take her, but she didn't.
She wrote a letter to Aunt and Uncle Orange, telling them in no uncertain terms that she would always love them.
She also visited Rainbow Dash via Twilight Sparkle's balloon and thanked the stars above that "Twili's cloud walkin' spell was long lasting!"
Rainbow Dash of course was VERY surprised to see her. After proper greetings and everything AJ told her. "Dashie . . . I know what happened at Cloudsdale . . . the real Cloudsdale . . ." Dashie's face twisted in fear but before she could do anything AJ finished, "And Ah forgive you! Discord would have made whatever choice you made worse. And Ah know the others will forgive ya too!" Rainbow Dash's hug was very unexpected.
Applejack did a LOT of walking around Ponyville that day, and that evening too, also having to look up a few addresses while she was at it.
At least everyone knew that AJ was one of the six ponies who saved the world (twice, but most didn't know that).
"You two being together is STILL your strength. If you let yourselves be broken apart because of this, you're letting Discord have the last laugh." She told Aloe and Lotus.
"DISCORD is the one who hurt those ponies. Not you. Would you ever do a thing like that? No? Then it wasn't you! You have a special talent the same as any pony... use it to PROTECT PONIES, prove Discord wrong about what your talent means." She said to Archer.
"Look. I don't know a lot 'bout you. Or what yer story is. But whatever ya did, know that Discord affected the rest of us too, there's nothing to be ashamed of. It could have easily been someone else who Discord twisted about. I know it's hard to hear, but yer the same as the rest of us that way. And that means we all accept you as one of us." Doctor Whoof finally came out of his blue shed fifteen minutes after AJ left.
"Yer Twist right? Mah little sister is a friend of yers right? Look I know she doesn't hang with you as much now that she formed her club and you got yer mark . . . but she's there for ya just like yer parents. And I KNOW that just because yer not blank anymore doesn't mean she isn't there for you. Show 'dem blanks that it's not just about getting yer cutie mark, but what ya do after, and that getting it doesn't make ya more or less of someone's friend!"
"Look at yer sistah, Sweetie Belle, after Discord, she acted like she was walkin' on nails around her own jewels. But she fought it and BEAT IT. And if she can, then you can too! Those dolls are yours, you're NOT theirs!"
"Ah just wanna speak ta yer daughter! I'm not sellin' nothin'! Oh come on please? Hey I happen to be friends with Celestia just so you know and-HEY! Put me down ya yellah-UGH!" AJ sighed and walked away from the Tiara household.
"YOU KNOW that Lyra wouldn't have ever done that if that was really Lyra. AND YOU know that you'd never do that to Bon-Bon if that was really you! Yes I know what they say about hypnosis but it wasn't no hypnosis! Take it from someone who knows someone who knows what ya went through. That -wasn't- you. You know you'd never do anything to hurt her. Don't prove that scum bag right by lettin' your friendship go because of him."
"Hello. Huh? NO! I'm NOT a kidnapper! I just had a bit of a bad experience tryin' to talk to some ponies in big houses. Just because yer glasses HELP YA see, doesn't mean they ARE your eyes. And yer name is your NAME, it doesn't make you you! Cheerilee is a teacher and it doesn't have to do with her name or from how her cutie mark looks. Ya can still be however ya want ta be. And ask yerself too, would yer daddy really try to hurt ya? . . . If ya don't know yer pa' well enough to know, maybe it's time you GOT to know'em!" She told Silver Spoon on her way home from school.
"Look lady! I know we ain't friends or anythin' alike! But ya KNOW that things like what those rags are sayin' are part of the business yer in! I know dem dresses meant a lot ta ya! Yer a lady known for her confidence! And doin' somethin' because of what dem rags say only encourages 'em! . . . I'll be going now." AJ walked away from the front gate, having had the entire conversation with Photo Finish through the intercom.
AJ wrote three more letters. One was to that sassy dolt Blueblood . . . tellin' 'em that if he really loved his Auntie that he wouldn't fear her embodiment, and he should take the whole thing as a learning experience. And consider maybe, just maybe he's the one that needs to change and not the girls he dates for one evening apiece.
The second was to Philomena, she didn't know if the bird could read, or if the paper she picked out was fireproof enough, but she wrote that Philomena should take pride in thwarting one tiny piece of Discord's game. And for distracting Discord long enough likely for some ponies to be left unharmed by him. AJ knew it was weak, but she also knew she couldn't help every pony, er, everyone equally no matter how much she wanted to.
The last letter was to Octavia Pie. AJ wrote, in the best Manehatten style of speaking she could, that if Octavia really loved music, then she shouldn't let what Discord did to her make her abandon it. Her music made a LOT of ponies happy, and she should remember how it made her happy.
"You two are the picture of a mama and her young 'un. I've never seen a ma and her filly as closely bonded as you two! And I can tell ya right now that ain't an exaggeration on ma part! You two are wonderful for each other! And I KNOW what you two share is stronger than anything Discord could have done to ya." There were her words to Ditzy Doo and Dinky Doo.
"Mayor Mare . . . WE ALL KNOW that you care about us!"
"Carrot Top . . . Ah know you've always been scared of other ponies opinions. But anyone who blames ya for what Discord made ya do is a donkey! Pardon to Miss Matilda. Yer not a thug, yer not a bully, yer a farmer same as me. So Ah know you don't have anything to be ashamed of."
"Hey you two! Your cutie marks are ALWAYS something to be proud of! They're a mark of what makes you you! They're not something to be afraid of simply because somethin' that LOOKED LIKE them tried to hurt ya! It WASN'T them! So raise yer heads high!" She told Snips and Snails when she finally found them with Luna's moon rising.
Applejack knew the truth that it wouldn't be as easy as a couple kind words from a total stranger, no matter how much sense they made, to turn things around. Many would ignore her words, or perhaps only take them partially to heart. Others might have closed themselves in deeper because of what she said. But AJ had no regrets. At least it would start them down the right path or if they were already on it, help them along the way to healing the claw marks Discord had left on all of them.
And finally . . .
"Hi AJ . . . I've heard from Pinkie Pie you've really been making hoof tracks around town."
"Sure have Twili. Don't worry, this is just today, it ain't gonna be Apple Buck Season Part Two. In fact, that's kinda why I'm here, well, not directly, but it's a big part of the reason."
"Oh really? What is it?"
" . . . there's a unicorn pony in Hoofington that really needs yer brand of help."