Great Big Sky

by shortskirtsandexplosions

Chapter 1: Great Big Sky

"The lil' apple princess tried to cast anchor, but the sailboat didn't catch on nothin'! At first, she was nervous, 'cuz she had sailed for so long and was so far away from home. But then, well, the lil' darlin' felt curious. Just where had the seabed gone? Had the tidal wave taken her royal yacht to a completely new and strange place?"

A tiny filly Applejack shivered, curling up tighter against her mother as the two laid on the living room couch beneath a warm quilt. "Where did she go, Ma?" She gulped hard. "Is the apple princess gonna be alright?"

"Oh sugarcube." A loving muzzle leaned in, kissing her freckled cheek. The warm light from a crackling fireplace illuminated a golden smile. "Of course she's gonna be alright! Adventures are meant to be fun, darlin'."

"But... b-but they sound so scary."

"Shhhh... just listen." The mare flipped the page of a book in her grasp. "Well, after pullin' the anchor back in," she read on, "the apple princess made a mad dash for starboard. Then, with bright green eyes, she peered over the edge of the deck. What she saw made her jaw drop somethin' fierce, and it took her breath away like nothin' had taken her breath away brefore."

"What is it, Ma?" Applejack squeaked, her tiny ears twitching. "What did she see?"

"You really wanna know what she saw?"

"Yes, Momma! I really do!"

With a warm chuckle, the mare held the filly closer with one forelimb, staring at her as she said, "She saw oceans... not just one... but several. Crystal blue sheets of water floatin' on top of one another. Well over a dozen of 'em! There was no seafloor because the seas didn't know when to quit. And the fish and dolphins leapt in between them, like squirrels hoppin' across the branches of an apple tree. There was no sharks or sea serpents or any of that nonsense. Just life findin' a way to live itself all fantastic-like."

"Wow..." Applejack gasped.

"And the light refracted through all these floatin' sheets of water that went everywhere in every direction. And do you know what a dozen seas mean? Over two dozen rainbows!" The mare giggled. "Arches of beautiful color and light, glitterin' as far as the apple princess could see! And that's when she realized that adventurin' ain't nothin' to be scared about. After all, life is an adventure, and if a pony had to be scared all the time—well—just how would the apple princess have any fun?"

"... ... ...Ma?"

"Hmmm. Yes, sugarcube?"

Applejack pouted, sticking her tongue out. "Yer not readin' from the book no more."

The mare chuckled, dropping the book entirely to hold the filly close. "My little silly pony. Ya dun need books or stories to go magical places." She kissed her forehead, murmuring closely against her ear. "Ya just need yer precious little heart and mind, and I believe in them both. Shouldn't you?"

Applejack merely smiled. Between the flames of the fireplace and the warmth of her mother's forelimbs, she felt toasty, safe, and secure. She surrendered to the embrace of everything, closing her eyes and drifting away on several floating seas, curious as to what multiple horizons—instead of just one—might bring.

Great Big Sky

Applejack panted, panted, and panted.

Rivulets of sweat ran down the mare's orange cheeks as she leaned her moist forehead against the bark of a tree.

As the seconds wore on into minutes, her breaths grew more and more ragged, and she started gnashing her teeth.

"Applejaaaaack?!" Apple Bloom's voice drifted up over the hillside behind her. "Hey! Sis! Land's sakes! Are ya still doin' chores?!"

Applejack shuddered. With a sniffling sound, she leaned back from the trunk, adjusting the brim of her hat. Instead of swiping her forehead, she allowed the drops of sweat to run down her face—especially over her eyelids. "Rrrrrrghh—!" She swung and slapped her hooves against the base of the apple tree. Thwap!

Several apples dropped into the baskets of a wooden cart parked directly beneath the spreading branches. Apple Bloom could be seen shuffling up and over the hill, carrying her bookbag.

"There you are, AJ!" Apple Bloom blinked. "Wow, I thought you'd be done with the apple buckin' by now!"

"Yeah, well..." Applejack dragged the cart over to another tree, sweating and huffing. "Guess I decided to take my sweet time." She pivoted her rear legs towards another trunk. "What's on yer mind, sugarcube?"

"Today in class, Miss Cheerilee gave us an assignment where we have to bring to school somethin' from home." Apple Bloom's yellow muzzle scrunched as she attempted explaining it. "It's kinda like show'n'tell, only she wants it themed on what makes our place special in Ponyville."

"Well, that sounds mighty fine!" Applejack wheezed before buckin' the next tree. She had to kick it a few times so that the stubborn branches would lose their fruit. "Gnngh... just dun take in anythang sharp or pointy or nothin'."

"I was thinkin' of bringin' one of our apple barrels!" Apple Bloom smiled. "We got so darn many of 'em, and apples is what our family's all about here in Ponyville!"

"Mmmfff... dun I know it," the mare muttered.

Apple Bloom cocked her head to the side with a little flounce of her bow. "Huh? What was that, AJ?"

"Erm..." Applejack looked over, squinting through her sweatdrops. "An apple bucket sounds fine by me. Grab one of 'em tiny ones."

"Okay, sis!"

"And Apple Bloom!" Applejack called after the scampering filly. "While yer at it, wouldja mind grabbin' me one of Big Mac's large wrenches? There's a squeaky wheel on this here wagon and I'm aimin' to fix it before I pull the thing back to the barn."

"Yeah! Sure thing, Applejack! I'll go fetch that for ya right quick!"

Applejack paused to catch her breaths. She plopped back on her haunches, peeling her hat off and fanning her labored face. "Good 'lil filly," she murmured, shutting her eyes as she enjoyed the kiss of a brisk breeze. "You'll make... a good grown apple... in no time..."

Just then, she realized she was fanning herself with nothing.

"Huh...?" Applejack's eyes opened, and the resulting gasp shook many sweat drops from her brow.

The hat was gone.

"What in tarnation...?" She spun and looked all around.

Something tiny and brown tumbled in the mare's peripheral vision.

She twirled about, squinting.

Applejack saw her brown stetson, windblown and carried aloft over the western fields.

"Awwww dog gone it!" Applejack leapt up on all fours and began galloping after the article. "I'm losin' my senses, I swear!"

The wind blew in sporadic gusts. As a result, the hat jerked left and right, ascending above the treeline before gliding like a kite towards the edge of the fields.

"This had better not be another one of Rainbow Dash's darn silly pranks..." Applejack's teeth showed as she huffed and puffed, galloping faster. "Gonna wrangle her up and tie her to the outhouse, I swear..."

To Applejack's delight, the wind carried the hat lower to the ground.

To Applejack's dismay, the hat then tumbled its way between the tree trunks of a dense forest bordering Sweet Apple Acres.

"Oh, con sarn it!" Applejack slowed her steps, squinting through the branches, shadows, and wooden bark. "I really need to put a chin strap on that darn thang!"

She didn't need to grumble for long. Her green eyes spotted the hat a few feet in front of her—for it had finally grounded, and just now was tumbling a few final feet past a line of trees and into a foggy mist.

"Gotcha!" Applejack slid heroically forward, grasping the hat in two hooves. "Whew-wee! Like I wasn't gettin' enough exercise..." She blinked, suddenly freezing in place. "...today?" She looked up.

A hazy fog surrounded her on all sides. It was a dense, pea-soup cloud of gray murk, shifting and settling in every direction. The temperature in the air had dropped significantly, and Applejack's ears tickled to a strange hum in the distance, gradually increasing.

"What..." The mare gulped, her eyes darting left and right in a shifty fashion. "...what's goin'...?"

Before she could even finish that sentence, a loud noise exploded off to her left, resembling an entire orchestra of brass instruments tuning up in a single cacophonous blast. A brisk wind came into being, shoving its way past the mare. She clung to her hat this time, wobbling slightly on limp hooves. Squinting one eye open, she could see the mist clearing, tearing off and dissipating like melted snow. And as every trailing inch of the cloud shredded apart, it revealed a bright blue sky above Applejack... and below her.

No words could escape her gasping muzzle—only a whimpering gasp that spun feather-fluttering loops before teetering off the edge of the world, and that very edge lingered before Applejack by a few mere feet. The mare found herself standing on the cusp of a jutting cliff overlooking nothing... and everything.

Applejack felt like she was floating high in the stratosphere, and she was not alone. Gazing off into the distance, Applejack could spot dark clouds. Only, they weren't clouds at all, but instead levitating clumps of earth, complete with dark layers of soil lingering in jagged clumps beneath carpeted sheets of emerald grass. Fuzzy green fir trees stood proudly on these drifting islands, seemingly oblivious to the magical feat that made their existence possible.

The wind kept blowing at Applejack's blonde mane, threatening to undo her red hair ribbon at any time. The mare paid the sensation no heed. And before she could pronounce another sound, she heard more salvos of sonic vibration, rolling in the distance like thunder. She turned to look, and the skyscape unraveled even more otherworldly detail.

She saw hundreds if not thousands of islands—miniature continents adrift in the clouds like flocks of brown and green geese. Some of these islands held forests; others sported mountains. A few of the land masses closer to Applejack held structures: buildings, towers, and bridges—all of which were epic in scale, but at a distance more closely resembled Apple Bloom's toys in crumbling disrepair. One island sported a waterfall, brimming crystal and blue from seemingly nowhere. Its majestic waters trickled down a bank of uneven rock before spilling over the edge, falling forever into the gray misty unknown.

There was another booming noise. Applejack heard something that resembled giant trumpets locked in grueling combat. She looked to the far left, and her eyes caught—at a distance—a floating obelisk situated in the middle of a small island, surrounded by loosely levitating rocks. The monolith pulsed with mysterious purple energy, firing thin beams of magic in random directions.

Then—out from the misty sky beyond—the scales of something was summoned... something big... bigger than big. Applejack felt her heart race increasing. She trembled in place, watching as the entire western half of the sky darkened, colored with the flesh of something too enormous to define, and it was coming closer, growing hotter, its lungs bursting with trumpet noise and bedlam.

And as Applejack could finally define the texture of its flesh, she felt her heartbeat slowing... almost calming down. The pulsing fear in her veins had nearly dissolved, replaced by something else... something delicious...

"Hey! Applejack!"

The mare flinched. She spun around, looking over the side of her apple cart.

Apple Bloom galloped up the hill, balancing a big metal tool over her shoulder. "I got Big Mac's wrench! Just like ya asked for!"

"Uh..." Applejack blinked, her sweat nearly dried as she stood and trembled. "I... uhm..."

"Where do you want me to put it?" Apple Bloom asked. She looked up, then squinted. "AJ, are you okay?"

"I'm..." Applejack glanced west, eyes twitching. She saw an open field with a random assortment of apple trees dotting the grass between where she stood and the forest. A shuddering breath left her, and she twirled the brown stetson in her grasp. "Of c-course..." She slapped the hat over her blond head and tucked the bangs away. "I'm fine. Thanks, Apple Bloom. Just lay the wrench against the cart. I appreciate it, darlin'."

"Heh, sure thing." Apple Bloom dropped the item against one of the wheels and scampered back for the heart of Sweet Apple Acres. "Good luck with the apple buckin'! Granny Smith says she's makin' dumplings and mashed potatoes tonight!" A foalish giggle. "Again!"

"Right..." Applejack gulped, trotting over and leaning against a tree trunk as she gathered her raspy breath. "Same old song and dance..." She bit her lip, glancing west again. An ordinary sky loomed, and the wind was dull and dead. Confused and more than a little bit rattled, the mare nevertheless resumed her chores, dropping apples with well-rehearsed ease.

That night, the dinner table had long cleared away. Still, Applejack sat there, silent and alone, gazing beyond the edge of the Apple Family kitchen.

The shadows of night bathed her figure, cascading over a pair of eyes that stared with melancholic longing into the living room. Her vision poured over an old weathered couch situated before a dormant fireplace. All was cold and peaceful, like a place that Applejack was used to visiting.

Sighing, the mare leaned her freckled cheek against a forelimb while the other hoof drew lazy circles against the tabletop. She sat there, doing the same thing—and yet nothing—while a chorus of crickets carried her ears into another time and place.

At some point during this unseen vigil, an elder mare came hobbling down the steps. Granny Smith shuffled towards the refrigerator, opened it, and retrieved a tall pitcher of water. As she turned around, she spotted Applejack's statuesque figure illuminated by the pale electric light.

"Ah! Snakeskins!" Granny Smith hobbled backwards, nearly dropping the fragile pitcher to the floor. A light splatter of water struck the floorboards, but the old pony quickly found her balance. "Whew! AJ, darlin', you gave me quite a fright!" She closed the refrigerator and placed the pitcher down onto a nearby counter. "What in the name of all things apples are ya doin' here, sulkin' in the dark?"

"I'm sorry, Granny," Applejack murmured. "I didn't mean to spook ya. Honest." Her features briefly tightened into a frown. "And I ain't sulkin'."

"Oh?" Granny poured herself a glass of water, took a liberal sip, then wiped her muzzle dry. "Cuz it's dark. Yer here alone. Yer quiet as a gravestone." She shuffled over to the opposite end of the kitchen table. "Sure does seem like sulkin' to me."

"Mrmmmff..." Applejack's ears twitched, one after another. "That was a fine dinner y'all cooked, Granny," she eventually muttered. "I'm mighty thankful. So is Big Mac and Apple Bloom, I reckon."

"Well, yer quite welcome, darlin'." Granny groaned slightly as she eased her tired bones into the chair. "But dun be changin' the subject none. I've still got my wits about me." She squinted across the table. "So how 'bouts tellin' yer dear ol' Granny Smith what's troublin' you?"

"It's... it's not troublin'," Applejack said, wincing slightly. "I... I dun rightly know what to call it, Granny."

"It's tearin' at you all the same, though, ain't it?" Granny took another sip, then spoke: "I know when our little apple princess has got her heart in a knot."

Applejack grimaced upon hearing that. Once the shudder was over, she looked up with moist eyes. "Granny, you know I'm an honest mare..."

"Darn tootin'!"

"But... for the first time in as long as I can remember, I'm a bit scared of tellin' the truth," Applejack murmured. "'Cuz tellin' the truth will make me sound plum crazy!"

"Yeah, well, I've been known to skirt the fine edges of loopty-headedness every so often." Granny smiled tiredly, leaning forward. "So why don'tcha lay it on my ears?"

Applejack looked at her, at the living room, then at her hat as it lay in an adjacent chair. Finally, after a deep breath, she began:

"I was buckin' apples... just mindin' my own business. It was a long day of chores, but it only seemed to roll on longer. Even Apple Bloom sounded surprised that I was still tryin' to get the simplest of tasks over with by afternoon time, and I dun blame her. I was feelin' mighty lethargic and tired-like all mornin' and noon. Well, the moment I saw Apple Bloom show up after school, I asked her to go fetch me Big Mac's wrench from the barn so that I could fix a squeaky wheel on the apple cart. She went off to do just that, and then out of nowhere comes this crazy strong breeze, knockin' my hat clean off. So, I goes runnin' for it, and... my hat just keeps flyin', right? I mean, at first I was all mad'n'grumpy, but then I gots to thinkin' that maybe it was Rainbow Dash playin' some prank on me, the lil' rascal. Or—heck—maybe Discord playin' one of his nasty, ridiculous games.

"But then... I-I chased my darn stubborn hat straight through the forest on the west side of the farm. Only, it wasn't our forest. It couldn't have been... 'cuz the trees ended just as quickly as they began. And once I was on the other side, I was surrounded by this creepy gray mist. Once the smog cleared, I bore witness to the most amazin' sight I ever did see. A great big sky... full of... of fl-floatin' landscapes, Granny! I'm talkin' about huge chunks of land, like the world exploded and then settled in the clouds, and everythin' was all adrift like balloons... or flower petals atop a pond.

"Well, I just kept... starin' and starin' at all of this nonsense. I had found my hat, but I couldn't summon the strength or wits to put it back on my head. I was just so plum flabbergasted at all of this. And... and there was sounds from the distance, great and boomin', like an orchestra fallin' all over itself. And then I saw waterfalls sprinklin' into nothin', and flyin' chunks of glowin' crystal. And then... and then it came...

"Like a livin' mountain, it flew towards me. It was huge... majestic... godlike! I dun even have any words to describe it, really. But... all I knew was that the thing lived... there was purpose to how and why it blotted up the horizon. And just as it was startin' to clear the mists...

"I heard Apple Bloom trottin' back with the wrench," Applejack said, sniffling. "And there I was, back on the farm, with my hat in my hooves and the apple cart right beside me." She sniffled again. "And... and even though everythang had just stopped, I swear... I almost felt... disappointed." She gulped. "As if I wasn't scared one bit to begin with. Just... disappointed."

Granny Smith nodded slowly. "I see." She pointed with a calm hoof. "Is that why yer cryin', darlin'?"

"H-huh?!" Applejack leaned back, and that's when she felt the trickle of tears down her muzzle. She reached a hoof up to her face, felt the moisture, and winced. "Ohhhhh Granny..." She choked on a sob. "I... I just dun understand!" She held her head tight, shivering. "What in Celestia's name is happenin' to me?! I feel so... so..."


"I dun told you, I ain't scared!" Applejack barked, then instantly regretted it. "Oh... oh I'm so terribly sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you like I did..."

"It's alright, AJ," Granny Smith said, sliding out of her chair.

"No. No it ain't." Applejack rubbed her eyes, shuddering. "Look at me! I'm a crazy mess and I dun even know why!" She sniffed. "I swear, I'm goin' mad!"

"Shhhhhhh..." Granny Smith shuffled over, gently grasping the mare's shoulders. "Shhh-shhhh... none of that, darlin'. Now think." She bore a patient smile. "Think hard about that 'disappointment' you described earlier." The elder mare's eyes narrowed. "Now just why do ya think you felt that way?"

"Because... b-because..."

"When you was in that crazy place you described... did it really feel so crazy?"

"Huh...?" Applejack looked up, her moist face wrenched in confusion. "Granny, what are ya sayin'? That... that all of that nonsense actually happened?"

Granny Smith chuckled. Squeezing Applejack's shoulders, she murmured, "AJ, darlin', when was the last time you ever... relaxed?"


"Y'know, laid back... had fun... let go of all yer worries?"

"Well, the girls and I..." Applejack gulped. "Reckon we go on train trips and rollickin' vacations all the time—"

"No no no no no no no, sugarcube, I mean you. When have you ever let things go and just... enjoyed yerself?"

"Granny, I... I-I can't rightly afford to be all lazy and leisurely!" Applejack stammered. "I've got a farm to keep afloat! Years ago, I made a promise to Ma and Pa! Just how would you think they'd feel if I—"

"—if you was chokin' yerself of all joy and fun in life?" Granny Smith spoke in a firm tone: "If you was workin' so hard to make a livin' that you never... lived?"

Applejack blinked. "Sometimes, them's the ropes, Granny."

"Are they, Applejack?" Granny asked. "Or do we just tell ourselves that because we're plum scared of what perfectly good peace and silence will bring us when we stop doin' whatever it is that we're doin'?"

Applejack sat in silence, simply gawking at the elder mare.

"Tell me somethin', AJ," Granny Smith leaned back. "When you was in this... this great big sky... did it really feel so strange?"

"I... I-I..." Applejack swallowed a lump down her throat. "I guess... no... it didn't."

"Did... it feel familiar?"

Applejack stared into the living room. Her eyes fell on a dead fireplace yet again, and then everything turned foggy on account of a fresh well of tears.

"Yes..." a foal whimpered.

Granny Smith nodded... then nodded some more. She leaned forward, folding Applejack's hooves in her own.

Applejack blinked the tears away, looking into her grandmother's face.

"You want my advice, darlin'?" Granny Smith asked.

Applejack merely nodded.

Granny smiled warmly. "The next time the wind blows yer hat away..." She patted the mare's forelimb. "Leave it," she whispered. "Go. Explore. Live."

Applejack grunted, hammering the wooden frame to a chicken coop back behind the barn. The first layer of sweat trickled down her brow, glistening in the morning light. She didn't even bother wiping it dry.

With tiny scuffling hoofsteps, Apple Bloom appeared behind the farmhouse with her book bag. She was also balancing a tiny wooden barrel on her back. "Doin' chores already?"

"You know it," Applejack stammered, dropping the hammer and reaching for another nail. "Another day, another bit."

"Want some help with the apple buckin' when I get home?"

"Thanks, AB, but I got it," Applejack called over her shoulder. "Though I'd like it if you kindly swept the front porch before sundown."

"Are we expectin' company?"

"Dun matter. Just good habits."

"Heh, sure thang, AJ." Apple Bloom waved a hoof, smiling. "Well, thanks for the barrel!"

"No problem." Applejack said. She heard the pitter-patter of Apple Bloom's hooves growing fainter and fainter. Suddenly, a gasp escaped her throat, and it turned into a voice: "Apple Bloom?!"

The tiny hooves scuffled to a stop. The filly turned around on the crest of a hill. "Yeah, AJ? Could ya make it quick? I gotta get to school."

Applejack turned around, finally wiping her brow. She trotted halfway towards the filly. "When was the last time you and yer friends got together?"

"Huh?" Apple Bloom blinked. "Oh, you mean Sweetie Belle and Scoots? Heh... we go to school together, AJ. You know that."

"There's no crusadin' that needs to be doin'?"

"Well... I guess there's always some way or another that we could find ourselves our cutie marks." Apple Bloom fidgeted in place. She nearly lost balance of the barrel, but swiftly reoriented herself. "I wouldn't mind hangin' out again... j-just to hang out."

"Well, why don't ya invite them over this afternoon?" Applejack smiled. "The treehouse is right where y'all left it, right?"

"Heh! Right!" Apple Bloom giggled. "Come to think of it, I've been wantin' to show them a bunch of new stuff I got for my birthday last month!"

"Well, there ya go!"

"But... but I can't..."

"Why not?"

"Well... I-I mean..." Apple Bloom glanced down the hill. "I gotta sweep the front porch... and do other stuff, right?"

Applejack chuckled. "It's alright, Apple Bloom. Go on and invite yer lil' crusader friends over."

"Really?" Apple Bloom grinned wide. "Ya mean it?"

"Absolutely." Applejack winked. "Have fun."

"Woohooo!" Apple Bloom galloped over the hill. "We've got some brand new crusadin' to do!"

"Be careful with that barrel, now, ya hear?!" Applejack hollered over the hillside. When her own echoes reached her, she smirked. "Little silly pony..."

The mare turned to trot back to the barn...

...when the wind blew her hat off.

"Augh! Dag nabbit!" She spun on a dime, charging after the flying article. "C'mere, you!"

The hat didn't have long to drift this time. It slammed into the side of a silo and fluttered to the ground.

Applejack skidded to a stop in the structure's shadow. As she leaned over to pick up the hat, she sighed... only to freeze in place.

All light had vanished in the mare's peripheral vision.

Slowly, she stood up, ears twitching to the sound of prolonged groans, accompanied by deep bass reverberations. She pivoted about, staring across a dark, murky landscape.

The sky twinkled with purple cosmic brilliance. Galaxies swirled overhead, casting an ethereal twilight over the realm. Gone were the apple trees of the farm, replaced with crystalline spikes that glowed from within. The horizon had been reduced to a bowing, tapering thing, and it occurred to Applejack that she was no longer standing on even ground... but instead on one of the many-many plates across the back of an incalculably ginormous, flying dragon.

And it was currently gliding towards a gigantic nebula, where stars of all shapes and colors were being born through magnificent explosions, echoing across the constellations with melodic soundbursts.

Applejack took a deep breath. Her heartbeat slowed to a normal throb as she drank it all in. Her hooves fidgeted, and she realized she was holding the brim of her light brown stetson.

The mare glanced down at the article, took one look at the rolling landscape in front of her, and smiled.

With a flick of the hoof, Applejack tossed the hat away, then went galloping forward in a bold leap.

Great Big Sky

A pic by Zaponator

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