3 An Apple Sleep Experiment Part 1

Found on: filmfiction.net by Magpiepony

Heat

    Applejack wiped the sweat from her brow as she and her brother, Big Macintosh, hauled their last cart of apples towards the barn. It had been an unbearably hot afternoon in Sweet Apple Acres and Applejack wished for nothing more than to put her hooves up and enjoy a cold mug of cider. 

    "Can ya get that last bushel to the other end of the barn, Big Mac?" Applejack asked. On any other day she might not have let on that she needed help, but she was far too hot and sore to worry about her pride. 

    "Eeeyup," came his short reply. Big Mac was also drenched with sweat, but somehow maintained his grin and calm demeanor. 

    "Woo-eee, that's some weather we've been having ain't it? Ah sure hope it's a might different when the zap-apples get here. Not sure they could stand this kinda heat." Applejack said, breathing a sigh of relief when she was finally able to release the harness of the apple cart she was carrying. 

.

    "Eeeyup." Big Mac replied. 

    "See you inside." Applejack said, already out the barn door as she bade him farewell. 

    Applejack's iconic hat seemed to offer no relief from the sunlight on her trek back to the house. Tired, sore, and irritable; her only solace for the day's labor was the thought of refreshment and relaxation. However, when she rounded the corner she spied a familiar-looking carriage with an iconic dollar symbol on the side; the trademark of business tycoon Filthy Rich. Two earth ponies harnessed to the carriage nodded in her direction as an informal greeting and Applejack warily nodded in return. She wondered why Filthy Rich would be visiting the farm so soon, as he usually only appeared when the zap apple jam was prepared and ready to sell. 

Applejack was surprised to see the front door open and peered inside suspiciously. She found Filthy Rich talking to Granny, who was sitting in the corner looking timid and frail, curled up on her rocker with a tremble in her hooves. It didn't take long for Applejack to understand that this was not a pleasant visit. 

"You owe a great deal more than that, Granny Smith, and I, for one, would hate to see you lose this farm." Filthy Rich said; all manner of pleasantry gone from his tone. Granny Smith looked up at him with wide and pleading eyes, but before she could answer, Applejack came to the rescue. 

"What in tarnation are ya goin' on about?" Applejack asked sternly, she narrowed her eyes and glared at Filthy Rich, protective instincts taking priority over common sense. 

"Your Granny here is in quite some debt with me, young filly, and it's high time I'm paid my money." Filthy demanded. 

"The Apple family hasn't borrowed money from you in ages!" Applejack protested, stomping towards him with a growl.

"Now hold on there, Applejack, that ain't quite true, youngin'." Granny admitted softly. 

"Whaddya mean, Granny?"

"Well...Ah didn't want to worry you none, but this season hasn't been kind on Sweet Apple Acres and we've been needing an extra bit or two just to keep up with demand. It's just a bad weather spell is all, it'll pass." Granny admitted. 

"That may be so, but what HAS passed is my deadline. What with interest and everything, I'd say you'd owe about a half of your farm's worth by now." Filthy said with no inclination of mercy in his tone. 

"Half of the farm?! Granny why didn't you tell me we were hurtin' for money?!" Applejack asked in horror. 

"Now now Applejack, this here is my business, don't you worry none." Granny said. "You're a reasonable pony, Filthy, can't we work something out?"

"I believe I may know just the thing." Filthy said, calming his speech a little and straightening his necktie. "I think I could overlook this little debt of yours, if you gave me twice the amount of zap-apple jam this year."

"But you already take half." Applejack pointed out.

"Precisely." Filthy Rich said, smugly. 

"Wait a minute, you want our entire supply of zap-apple jam this year?! We need that money along with the sales of cider just to keep this family going in the winter time!" Applejack protested. 

"Well, the way I see it, you don't have much of a choice, now do ya, missy?" Filthy Rich said, his patience growing thin. 

"You can't actually be considerin' this, can ya Granny?" Applejack asked.

"Well…" Granny stammered. 

"I'll be by in two weeks for my product." Filthy Rich said, having already considered this a done deal. "And I'll be countin' them jars too, don't you go thinking you can hold out on ole Filthy Rich. I get every last jar or this farm goes into foreclosure, you hear?" 

Applejack was stunned into silence. Filthy cleared his throat a couple times until she snapped out of her trance and realized she was blocking his exit. With his head held high, Filthy Rich left the farmhouse with a sarcastic 'Good day.' Applejack waited until he had gotten in his carriage and was out of hearing range before she confronted Granny again. 

"What are we going to do if we don't get those zap-apple jam earnings this year? We can't pay off a debt if it means we'll be hurtin' for money again in the winter months." Applejack said. 

"Your Granny Smith always thinks of something, Applejack. You just worry about harvesting those zap-apples and leave the rest to me, ya hear?" Granny said, offering her an apologetic smile. 

Applejack didn't reply. Instead, she looked back outside the open door to see the sorry state of the apple trees, baking under the unforgiving heat of the sun. If the rain stalled much longer, she knew that her family's troubles were only going to get worse. 

A Desperate Plea  

As predicted, the next day saw no improvement for the Apple family. Things had taken a sharp turn for the worse and Applejack resigned to the fact that she couldn't solve this issue on her own. She raced from Ponyville hospital to consult the only pony she knew that could figure her way out of this mess.

"Twilight?" Applejack called, letting herself into Twilight's castle. "Are you in there? Ah need your help!" 

It wasn't too long before Applejack found the princess pacing in the library. She noted that Twilight looked a little more haggard than usual; there were beads of sweat along her brow and her usually kept mane was hastily tied in a ponytail to keep it off her neck. At that moment it dawned on Applejack that even royalty were victims of the unusual weather, and that wasn't a good sign. 

"Applejack, what is it?" Twilight asked, snapped out of her pacing by her friend's entrance. 

"It's...well...It's a lot of things really." Applejack replied. She hid the dark circles under her eyes with her hat, hoping she didn't look as dreadful as she felt. "Ah came to you because Ah have no other option."

"Tell me what's happened." Twilight said, her voice edging on a strange combination of concern and impatience. 

"First thing's first: have ya heard anything from Rainbow Dash regardin' the weather?"

Twilight let out a frustrated sigh. Apparently that was not the right question to ask. 

"No. It seems Ponyville isn't the only place suffering this heat. There's a terrible drought all over Equestria. I've heard that rainbow production has completely shut down for the time being. It seems pegasi are having a hard time finding enough water to make clouds, let alone rain." Twilight said sadly. 

"Ah was afraid of that." Applejack said, sighing softly. "And the princess? What does she say?" 

"Princess Clestia and Princess Luna are looking into a spell that can allow saltwater to be transformed into rain clouds; for some reason it doesn't process the same in Clousdale's weather machines. If a spell can be found in time the water from the ocean will save us, but until then…" Twilight started, but trailed off at the end so that Applejack came to the terrifying conclusion on her own. "I offered to help but… they said I'm needed here instead. I've been scouring my books for anything weather-related...but so far nothing's been remotely useful." Twilight said gritting her teeth, she hated the thought of being unhelpful in a time of crisis. 

"Well...Ah sure need ya." Applejack offered, wishing she could smile in comfort but unable to do so given the nature of her visit. "It's Big Mac. He caught wind of Granny's debt to the Rich family and worked himself to the bone harvesting apples. I think he was hoping to make up some more money before the zap-apples got here. Darn fool was out in the sun so long he went and got himself sick with heat stroke." Applejack said sadly. 

"What?! Is he --" Twilight asked.

"He's gonna be alright. Doc says he's got to stay in the hospital for a few days." Applejack said. 

"Wait, if Big Mac's too sick that means…" Twilight trailed off until her thoughts could be collected. "The zap-apple harvest...he isn't going to be well in time, is he?" 

"That's precisely why Ah'm here." Applejack said.

"Oh Applejack I...I want to help, I really do but…" Twilight started.

"Ah know, Twi, you've got a lot on your plate already. Ah didn't come askin' for your help like that." Applejack said. 

"Then what did you need from me? Anything I can do to help, I'm happy to do it." Twilight said with an apologetic smile. 

"Ah seem to recall a spell you said you've been working on. If Ah remember right, it was supposed ta help ya stay up studying on the nights Princess Celestia gave you those ridiculous reading assignments." Applejack said. 

"Yes, but how will that help you?" Twilight asked. 

"Well, Ah may not be studying late into the night, but Ah will have to figure out a way ta stay awake long enough to get those zap-apples harvested." Applejack said, leading Twilight to come to the conclusion on her own.

"Oh I don't know AJ...I haven't perfected that spell yet and I have no idea what kind of side effect it might have. Besides, you'd be using it to keep up your strength; all I needed it for was to stay awake a couple more hours for reading." Twilight said. 

"Twi, Ah wouldn't ask if it weren't absolutely necessary. Granny Smith has gotten us into quite a financial pickle, and if Ah don't meet Filthy Rich's quota, Ah'm gonna lose the farm!" Applejack admitted, unable to conceal the panic in her tone. 

Twilight furrowed her brow and opened her mouth to protest, but was unable to find the right words. Feeling the pressure of the situation and the frantic pleading in her friend's voice she knew she couldn't refuse. 

"I hope you know what you're doing, Applejack." She cautioned, leading her friend from the library to retrieve her spell. 

I've Got to Save the Farm!

    The sun's heat showed no remorse on the day of the zap-apple harvest. Despite the severity of their situation, the Apple family was tending to their own dying orchards, and Applejack's friends all had places to be. Still, there were a few kind Ponyvillians willing to lend a hoof; though most of them didn't last more than a few hours under the sun.

    By day's end, only Apple Bloom and Applejack remained. When the sun finally set over the horizon, Apple Blood collapsed on the ground, grateful that the heat would finally subside. Although Applejack felt her own looming exhaustion, she was too stubborn to give up the work. She looked at the few bushels they'd collected and then at the remaining zap-apple trees, realizing that despite their hard work more than half of the bucking was left to do. 

    Soon after sunset, Granny Smith emerged, struggling as she walked with what appeared to be two glasses of lukewarm cider. 

    "Sis? Ain't ya comin' in?" Apple Bloom asked her older sister warily. "Granny says there's fresh pie inside…"

    "No can do Apple Bloom, Ah was hopin' we'd get through more trees before sun down. You know as well as Ah that these disappear at midnight." Applejack replied. 

    "Now Applejack, we done our best. 'Sides, I can tell yer about to drop young filly and I'm not about to have another grandchild in the hospital from exhaustion." Granny countered. 

"That ain't happen, Granny. Y'all go on ahead, there's still a few minutes of strength left in these legs of mine, and Ah want to make sure we get as many zap-apples as we can." Applejack said, walking away from them. 

Applejack knew it worried Granny to see her working this hard, but she also knew she wouldn't risk letting on how important this was with Apple Bloom around. Thankfully, everypony had kept quiet about their financial problems around the little filly. 

As Applejack wandered from one tree to another, she could feel the contents of her saddlebag moving in rhythm to her steps. Somewhere, buried beneath her supplies, was a little potion vial that hopefully had the answer to her problems. When Twilight produced the sleep preventative potion the previous day, it came with a strongly emphasized condition. Applejack had to promise to use this as a last resort; the absolute last option. Twilight was worried that the side effects might cause more damage than it was worth as she hadn't had the time to truly study them. Applejack could see the genuine concern in her friend's expression and gladly made the promise, even knowing fully well that she intended to use it. 

Still, staying true to her word, Applejack gave the zap-apple bucking her best effort without it. It was an hour or so after sunset that she could feel her body threatening to shut down. Her muscles tensed up and her vision became hazy, causing her coordination to suffer. Although the sun was long gone, beads of sweat were still rolling off her cheeks and her breathing became raspy and short. In her rapidly escalating exhaustion, Applejack made a miscalculation in her bucking and ended up being pummeled to the ground by zap-apples. She groaned and put a hoof to her throbbing head, shaking some apples loose from her hat. Applejack heaved a sigh as she carefully pulled Twilight's potion out of her saddlebag and held it up in the moonlight. 

"Ah'm sorry, Twi," Applejack whispered aloud. "But Ah've got to save this farm."

She pulled the cork free from the potion vial and drowned it in one gulp. However, the moment she drew the vial away from her lips she felt a wave of unbearable sickness. Clasping her mouth with her front hooves she turned away from the zap-apple trees before the potion, and most of her dinner, came back up with a vengeance.

Productivity

    Apple Bloom awoke just after sunrise when she heard a crash coming from the kitchen. She wiped the sleep from her eyes as she quietly trotted downstairs to see what was happening. When she entered the kitchen she was surprised to find row upon row of jars filled with freshly prepared zap-apple jam. Somewhere, hidden behind them, she could see the outline of her older sister who was busily stirring the current pot of jam while simultaneously measuring out the correct amount of honey.

"Sis?" She asked.

"Apple Bloom!" Applejack said, startled. "What in the hay are you doin' awake so early?"

"Ah heard a crash…" Apple Bloom said. She maneuvered her way into the kitchen making sure not to knock over the precariously stacked jars. "How long have you been up? How'd you make all this jam?!"

"Once Ah got a little more focused the rest was easy. Don't you worry none little sis, Ah'll have all the jam jarred and ready for sale two days earlier for sale two days earlier than expected. Then we can be done with all this financial nonsense! He'll get his order alright." Applejack said, speaking so quickly it was hard for Apple Bloom to hear or understand what she was saying.

Apple Bloom took a step back and accidently hit the kitchen table where a completed jar of jam wobbled and threatened to fall. Apple Bloom gasped and tried to catch it before it hit the ground but Applejack beat her to it, swiping the jar from mid-air and setting it down on the ground before hurrying back to the jam she was making. Apple Bloom blinked a couple of times in awe of her sister's speed and agility. Had she always been this focused?

"Uh...how many jars do ya think you've got here, sis? Ah don't recall makin' this much jam last year, and we weren't even able to get to most of the trees yesterday." Apple Bloom asked warily. 

"Oh Ah finished the bucking." Applejack said so matter-so-factly. 

"Finished the bucking? On your own? ALL of them?" Apple Bloom gasped in disbelief.

"Yup. We'll have more jam this season than ever before." Applejack said. 

"But...when do Granny and Ah get to help make the jam?" Apple Bloom asked. 

"You don't have to worry about that this year lil sis, Ah've got ya covered." Applejack said, oblivious to the longing in her sister's tone. 

"But Granny promised!" Apple Bloom whined defiantly.

"The thing is, Apple Bloom, Granny's got a lot on her plate now what with Big Mac being gone, and Ah figure that Ah get the jam made a lot faster."

"But it just ain't fair! Ah already told the crusaders they could come 'n help out with this year's batch." Apple Bloom protested. 

"Sometimes ya can't have what ya want, it's just how life goes."

"But…"

"Apple Bloom, Ah'm not arguing about this now." 

"But Applejack…"

"AH SAID NO!" Applejack screamed. She turned to Apple Bloom and growled with a slight twitch in her eye. Apple Bloom felt the pit of her stomach drop and she backed away from her nervously; she'd never seen her sister so angry before and it frightened her. After a moment or so of silence, Applejack blinked a few times and shook her head returning to the pot of jam. 

"Ah was just gonna ask if Ah could help you…" Apple Bloom whispered. 

Applejack paused for a moment and looked back at her little sister with a frown.

"Ah'm sorry sis. Why don't ya just run along and play instead. Ah'm doin' just fine on mah own." Applejack said, the tone of her words letting Apple Bloom know that the decision was final. Defeated and slightly hurt by her sister's words, Apple Bloom left the kitchen while fighting back a sniffle. 

No Pain No Gain

    "My my my...that IS mighty impressive young filly!" Filthy Rich exclaimed. He watched in delight as his staff loaded the jars of jam into his cart. "It's nice to see a little hustle these days."

    "And the debt?" Applejack asked, finding it difficult to remain still as she stood beside Filthy Rich. 

"Repaid in full's far as I'm concerned." Filthy Rich replied. 

"Good." Applejack said, rubbing her right front leg with her left. She could feel the tremor in her body and was aching to get some more work done. "400 jars of jam for a debt repaid. 

"Pardon?" Filthy Rich asked.

"400 jars...that was the deal. Twice your order from last year?" Applejack said cautiously. 

"I believe I said EVERY jar of jam, young filly." Filthy Rich said with narrowed eyes. 

"Now you're a reasonable pony 'n all...you know if we don't get the sales from the zap apples, we'll be hurtin' again in the winter months. Ah figured since yer gettin' yer order so quickly, you wouldn't mind us holdin' onto a few jars…" Applejack said, trailing off.

"I appreciate your business sense Applejack, but a deal's a deal. Even with the extra jam that debt would still be technically underpaid. I'm doing you a favor, and all I ask is for the jars I was promised."

Applejack's heart was racing and her blood pressure was increasing rapidly. 

"Now hold on just a minute! That ain't fair and you know it!" 

"Ain't about being fair. It's about knowing how to conduct business." Filthy Rich said, cutting her off. 

Applejack stamped her hoof in frustration, but Filthy Rich held out a hoof to stop her before she could say anything else. 

"Tell you what, I'll let you buy back some of your jam - half price. For personal use, of course. And if you're hurtin' for funds by the winter months, then y'all know you can come to ole Filthy Rich."

Applejack snorted angrily; her legs began to quake and her eyes narrowed. Though she would have liked nothing more than to cuss Filthy Rich out, she clenched her teeth shut instead. Without another word, she stomped towards the orchard, each hoofstep against the ground in anger. 

Meanwhile, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle remained hidden behind a bush nearby, trying to understand what they'd just seen.

"It can't be true...it just can't be." Apple Bloom said, not wanting to believe what she was hearing. Sweetie Belle threw her hooves around her friend in a hug until Scootaloo interrupted them. 

"Um...guys? I think there's something off about Applejack."

"Whaddya mean?" Apple Bloom asked. 

"Well...she seems kinda...mad." Scootaloo said warily.

"Of course she's mad! That greedy stallion won't even let us keep a single jar! And after she worked so hard too…" Apple Bloom said trailing off.

"Yeah but --" Scootaloo started.

"I'd be mad too! I can't believe Diamond Tiara is gonna have this to hold over our heads. Reformed or not, she'll never let you live this down, Apple Bloom." Sweetie Belle pointed out sadly. 

"Guys --" Scootaloo said, her eyes growing wide.

"Ah ain't gonna give her the satisfaction! Ah say we grab us a couple jars and hide 'em before Mister Rich can get 'em all from the house." Apple Bloom said. 

"Yeah!" Sweetie Belle replied happily.

"GUYS!" Scootaloo shouted. 

"What is it Scoot--" Apple Bloom started but was cut off when she followed Scootaloo's gaze. Applejack was bucking an old apple tree angrily; kicking it so fiercely that it was beginning to weaken. The three fillies could hear the unmistakable sound of the trunk cracking, so they raced from their hiding place to call out a warning. 

Applejack couldn't hear the fillies' cries. She was lost in her rage, imagining that instead of bucking a tree, she was bucking the tar out of a certain greedy business pony. She could see his smug grin and the selfish gleam in his eye reflected in the tree trunk. She panted and sweated as she bucked, so focused on getting out her frustrations that she didn't realize the tree was falling apart. Branches cascaded down and left little cuts in her fur as they fell. However, Applejack remained unphased; unable to feel the slightest bit of pain. Soon after, the image of Filthy Rich on the tree began to laugh as if to mock her efforts to take out her anger. Although her back hooves were physically unable to handle the amount of stress she was making them perform, she didn't care; all she could think of was bucking the smile right off that pony's face.

Apple Bloom and the other crusaders were only a few yards away when they heard a terrifying crunch. At first, they believed that Applejack managed to buck down an entire apple tree, but upon closer inspection they realized the sickening truth; it wasn't the tree that had cracked, but the bones in Applejack's back legs. They were unmistakably visible under Applejack's skin, jetting out to the side and causing her hooves to turn the wrong way. Sweetie Belle screamed in surprise and Scootaloo lost all the color in her cheeks. Apple Bloom was frozen in place, horrified at what she'd witnessed. 

Meanwhile, Applejack's ears were ringing and she felt a wave of nausea as she attempted to buck at the tree again. This time, however, she felt a tremor in her body when her hooves made contact with the bark. She didn't recognize the feeling as pain and it only served to confuse and anger her more. When she tried bucking again the ringing in her ears got louder and her vision blurred. Contact with the tree sent a wave of shock through her body and she felt her muscles tense and freeze. Applejack stumbled to the ground still oblivious to the broken bones. She looked up at the tree but no longer recognized it to be anything other than Filthy Rich towering above her and delighting in her defeat. 

"Applejack!" Apple Bloom cried, averting her gaze from her sister's back hooves. "Applejack!" she screamed again. Applejack was unresponsive; still staring intently at the apple tree. Apple Bloom caught the look of fear and anger in her sister's eye and looked at the tree in confusion. 

"Applejack?" Apple Bloom asked in a voice barely above a whisper. Somewhere behind her she could hear Sweetie Belle throwing up. 

"I'll get help!" Scootaloo offered, taking the first opportunity to get as far away from that place as possible. 

"Quit yer laughin'!" Applejack gasped, her voice cracked as she spoke. She attempted getting back up, but each time she tried she faced a new wave of nausea and unresponsiveness. 

Applejack felt some pony tugging at her front hoof and turned to see Apple Bloom hovering over her. Apple Bloom was saying something to her, but all she heard was muffled shouts with no meaning and a loud unyielding ringing in her ears. She tried once more to get up but Apple Bloom protested, pointing to her back hooves. Applejack propped herself up to see what all the fuss was about and realized what had happened. She tilted her head to the side, wondering why she hadn't felt any pain. Even now she failed to see the marred state of her fur caused by the fallen branches and debri. Apple Bloom shouted something incoherent again and ran away. As soon as she left, the ringing in Applejack's ears waned. With that conscious thought she had left, she pulled a few branches within reach looking for a few thick and sturdy ones. Her head was swimming and she felt wave after wave of nausea but wasn't deterred from her task. Once she'd found what she needed, she pulled her useless back legs in front of her and laid them out as straight as she could manage. Her heart was still pounding rapidly in her chest as she calmly searched for some rope from her saddlebag. She'd never set a bone before, but she wasn't willing to wait uselessly on the ground until some pony found her. She positioned her front hooves over the leg and applied pressure. When she heard a snap she winced in anticipation and felt a shiver run up her spine, but pain didn't follow. The second leg was even less of a shock, despite the multiple snapping sounds she heard. Once she'd properly tied her make-shift splints to her legs she pulled herself up using the strength in her front hooves. Now she just needed to figure out a way to make it to Ponyville hospital across town...

Overcrowded         

    Applejack stared unblinking at the ceiling of the hospital room. She'd grown irritated rather quickly by the staff who both marveled and chastised her for making her way to the hospital without assistance. When she attempted to explain the situation she found it difficult to recall details. All she could remember was the fury she felt for Filthy Rich and then the senseless beating she gave him afterwards. She continually demanded to see him, to make sure he was alright. She must have really done a number on him to break her legs like that...he was a lot stronger than most stallions she knew. In fact, she thought the only other pony who might be able to withstand a beating of that caliber was her older brother. Wasn't he in this hospital too?

Applejack's thoughts were louder than she remembered them being. Sometimes she couldn't hear the doctor or nurse ponies over their frantic buzz. She wasn't sure how long she'd been in that hospital bed. She recalled having somepony tell her she needed rest, but sleep wouldn't come. It had been over 24 hours, hasn't it? Wasn't Twilight's potion supposed to wear off by then? That Filthy Rich pony must be in a lot of trouble...she wondered how much of a beating she had taken. You know what...she should try and see him. Maybe when the nurse comes in again she'll ask. She forgot to mention that he might still be in the orchard in pain somewhere. He deserved it though, especially for his insatiable deed. For some reason she thought Apple Bloom was there...but that can't be right; what would she be doing there? Oh and she REALLY can't forget to tell somepony about Filthy Rich… maybe it was her brother? He was in the hospital after all...did she break her legs hurting her big brother? That'd be awful! He can take it though; he's tougher than dried leather. She wondered why her legs were bandaged up. She felt fine; maybe she wasn't supposed to be here. Applejack attempted to get up but found she had been restrained to the bed. 

"What in tarnation?" Applejack whispered angrily to herself, pulling on the straps that held her down. What was this, some kind of joke? And who in the hoof bandaged her legs like that, was something wrong with 'em?

"Havin' a little trouble there?" Somepony asked. 

"Who's there?" Applejack snapped, looking around the empty room in confusion. 

"Maybe she needs a little assistance brother of mine." A second voice said. 

"Flim and Flam." Applejack hissed under her breath. "What are you two spineless, no-good, fast talking hooligans doin' here?"

"Woah there little missy." Flim said. 

"Is that any way to talk to the ponies who can get you out?" Flam added. 

"Git me out? Outta what? Hey...what's goin' on here, why can't Ah move?" Applejack asked, thrashing about. "If you've gone and done something, Ah swear…"

"You'll what, buck us to death?" Flam taunted. 

"Now now, brother, I wouldn't go taunting the crazy mare. She's killed a pony that way you know." Flim said with a sly grin. 

"Killed a pony?" Applejack snapped angrily.

"Her own brother too. Such a shame." Flim said.

"You leave my brother alone!" Applejack screamed. She turned to the restraints on her right hoof and pulled as hard as she could trying to get it free. 

"I always knew you were pathetic." Came a different voice.

"Trixie? What in the hay is goin' on here?!" Applejack asked. 

"I had to see for myself. Poor little Applejack, beating the tar outta her own kin. Hrmph." Trixie added.

"Ah've done no such thing!"

"Then how do you explain the broken legs, hmm?" Trixie asked, indicating to her bandaged hooves.

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Applejack looked down at her legs in confusion; why were they bandaged? Did she get hurt? Why couldn't she remember?

"I'm sure a taste of our famous tonic will cure what ails ya." Flim said, holding out a bottle.

"Guaranteed to put you back on your hooves or your money back." Flam added.

"Maybe she deserves to be like this." Trixie said. 

Applejack growled and pulled again at the restraint on her hoof. When she couldn't make any progress she decided it was time for the last resort. She bit down on the restraint and tugged at it with her teeth, gnawing at it as best she could. 

Applejack was feeling frantic. The room was becoming more and more overcrowded by the minute and all these unfriendly faces were staring down at her as she struggled. 

"Git away, ya hear? GIT AWAY!" Applejack screamed. She thrashed wildly, biting down harder on the restraint, pulling as hard as she was able. 

"Try some tonic!" Flim and Flam offered. 

"STAY BACK!" Applejack warned.

"Come on now, Applejack. It can't hurt to try. We'll show you...it's easy!" Flim said. He poured the contents of the tonic over the restraint and her hoof. She felt the warm liquid pouring down her leg and turned up her nose at the scent. It reminded her of a rusted coin. She pulled again at the restraint and her hoof finally came free. 

"See that?" Flam said with a smirk.

"Ah don't need yer tonic and AH don't need YOU!" Applejack said. Now that she had one hoof free she could easily unlatch the other. She pulled the IVs from her legs and leapt out of the bed. 

"Eiw don't get hat tonic on my perfect mane!" Trixie whined, standing back from Applejack. Applejack looked down at herself and noticed that Flim and Flam's tonic had somehow gotten all over her fur and was continuing to drip freely from her hoof. 

"What's in this stuff anyway?" Applejack asked. "What'd you do to me?"

"Why I didn't do a thing young filly, I'm only a business pony after all." Filthy Rich said. 

Applejack turned to him and her eyes narrowed. 

"You…" she growled. "I remember YOU." She charged for him but he was somehow able to dodge her advances.

"It's just good business." He said, unphased by Applejack's anger. 

"You were gonna take the farm!" Applejack said, finally able to get some of her thoughts in order. 

"Nothing you can do about it now little lady." Filthy Rich said with a smirk.

"Wanna bet?" Applejack growled. 

A Cheerful Visit

    Four ponies shuffled along the dismal white hallways of Ponyville hospital, and one bounced. Twilight fell behind her friends and couldn't mask the tears of guilt and shame she felt for Applejack's condition. Once she learned what had happened, she knew she was to blame. Doctors had refused Applejack visitors for the first few days, trying to reign in her sanity. They contacted Twilight personally when they were medically stumped as to why she wasn't responding to their sedatives. Twilight poured over her notes, gleaning everything she had on the subject of the potion she never mastered. Book after useless book was thrown in disarray while she and her friends waited to see their ailing friend. When the time had come at last, weeks after the initial incident, Twilight felt like nothing short of a complete failure. All she had learned was the potion she inadvertently created was robbing Applejack of her sleep and that there was no known cure. 

Pinkie Pie, happily bouncing in denial, paused at the door and declared aloud.

"We're HERE!" She turned to see the hopeful smiles of her friends, with the exception of Twilight who still hung her head in shame. 

"Come now, darling, I'm sure Applejack will forgive you, it was an honest mistake and you were only trying to help." Rarity offered. 

"Forgive me? She may not even recognize me! Terrible things happen to ponies when they don't sleep Rarity...somepony who has been awake this long has never been seen before, all else considered, Applejack should be dead right now!" Twilight snapped, shaking on her hooves. 

"Well that's not very cheery! We're supposed to be cheery, remember?" Pinkie Pie said.

"It's not like we haven't run into these kinds of problems before, you'll figure it out Twi. Aj'll be fine!" Rainbow Dash reassured.

"Yeah…" Twilight said, her voice shaky. "You're probably right."

Her friends knew it was a lie, and not a convincing one at that, but it was all the permission they needed to press onward. Nopony knew what to expect when they opened the door. They were surprised to see the lights were off and there was a momentary hope that Applejack might have finally fallen asleep. While Rainbow Dash searched the wall for the light switch, the ponies all turned up their noses at the strange smell. 

"Is that…" Rarity started but was quickly cut off by Fluttershy's shrill of terror moments before the light flickered on.

"Blood!" Twilight cried.

The other ponies could only stare in horror at the chaos of the room. The hospital bed was thrown up against the walls, the medical equipment strewn in every corner. The restraints were empty but the one in the upper left corner of the bed was gnawed clean through and caked in a layer of blood. The blood smears on the floor and walls showed that quite a struggle had taken place. It didn't take the ponies long to notice the open window and the trail of blood that lead from it. 

"She can't have gotten far! Come on!" Rainbow Dash said, soaring out the window in pursuit. 

"Wh-what's she going to do Twilight? Will she hurt herself again?" Fluttershy asked.

"I… I don't know. We've got to find her. NOW." 

What's Wrong?

    Applejack's disappearance was only the beginning. When her friends were unable to find her within hours of discovery, they widened their search to no avail. Days passed with no sign of the earth pony, and to make matters worse, other ponies in Ponyville vanished within close proximity. The heat combined with the unknown had left much of Ponyville in a blind panic, including a particular green unicorn called Lyra Heartstrings. When she discovered Bon Bon was missing from their home that evening, she didn't hesitate to assume the worst. Her mind went into overdrive, pushing her onward despite the risks of wandering around alone. She HAD to find her. 

    She had searched everywhere Bon Bon could have possibly been. 

    Sugar Cube Corner? Maybe she was talking to the Cakes about a new recipe. 

    Vinyl and Octavia's house? They said they hadn't seen her in a few days. 

    Maybe Fluttershy's Cottage? Of course! She probably went for more fresh eggs for the current batch of treats she was making. 

    Lyra continued her gallop, praying and hoping that Bon Bon was safe. She saw a figure coming into focus among the clearing. They were slumped and slowly making their way along the trail. 

    "Applejack?" She recognized the now disheveled and filthy hat from afar. She galloped up next to her.

    "Thank goodness! All of Ponyville has been worried sick about you! Have...have you seen Bon Bon? All sorts of ponies have gone missing and not even Princess Twilight has been able to control the panic...but if you're here then there's hope, right? Maybe...Maybe Bon Bon and the others are okay too and -- wait...what happened to you?? Oh my Celestia, are you alright?" 

Applejack slowly tilted her head up from the ground to meet the green unicorn's gaze. The haunting glare from pin-prick pupils and the dark circles around her eyes sent a terrifying shiver down Lyra's back, catching her off guard. She retreated away in confusion. 

"Should I...call somepony?" she asked timidly, taking in the true nature of Applejack's appearance in horror. She had used a handkerchief to haphazardly stop the bleeding on her left front hoof where a good chunk of flesh was missing. The restraint marks on her hooves were still present from her excessive thrashing and the old dirtied bandages clung loosely to her back legs. Her skin looked aged and tired having lost some of its usual orangish color, marred by the scars of the branches that had fallen on her many weeks ago. Her mane and tail were unkempt; and although she still wore her iconic hat, it too had been a casualty to the fallen debris  and the unknown events that followed. 

All Applejack could make out from behind her haunted stare was the outline of Filthy Rich, the pony she'd been pursuing in her aimless wandering. The image her chaotic brain had given him was marked by an unholy grin, the likes of which frightened her to her very core. Thinking fast, Applejack turned and bucked the pony to the ground. Lyra was out cold by the time her head hit the dirt road. 

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