by Jay David

Chapter 1: Unfair

Though the still air and calm of the moment would give the impression of peace, things were anything but. Applejack, noted member of the Apple family, stood at the front gates of her ancestral home, Sweet Apple Acres. Though once a lush and green orchard, this place had been reduced to little more than a food factory, churning out cans for the greater good, for the war. To see her home in such a light, even after all this time, ached for her, but even so, she knew she had other and more important things to focus on. So, she stood there, decked out in her usual work clothes, watching with bated breath at the horizon. Moment after moment, minute after minute passed for her, and still nothing. Ponyville, or at least what remained of it these days, was as silent as the grave. And yet, even so, she kept waiting. For she knew that, given who was to arrive, one had no choice but to keep to their place.

However, after what seemed like an eternity of standing still, the mare’s patience was rewarded. She saw movement, far away. Ponies, moving closer with every passing second, causing her to squint to try and get a better look. Sure enough, there she was, a bright light amidst the dimness of the surrounding area; Princess Celestia herself. The regal alicorn, the leader of their people, the very symbol of their hope, now walked towards her and her home, standing tall and imposing, just as Applejack had always imagined her to be. Almost instinctively, she got to her knees, keeping her head low so as to not offend the approaching monarch. But ever she heard the approach of hoof-steps, growing ever closer. In time, they stopped, and a silence took its place. In these moments, Applejack held her breath, though thankfully not for long, for a soothing, almost motherly tone now filled her ears.

“You are Applejack, yes?”

Slowly, the earth pony raised her head, looking upon the face of Equestria’s leader. To say that she was intimidated would have been a great understatement, for she now found that she was incapable of saying even the simplest word. Instead, she gave a nod, confirming her identity. Nodding, Celestia looked away from her for a moment, taking in the nearby factory. Rumours of her poker face were not understating it, as Applejack could not, for the life of her, read what the princess was thinking as she stared at this once-beautiful place. Eventually though, she looked down at her, gesturing with her hoof for her to stand. Nodding, Applejack did exactly that, getting to her hooves and dusting herself off a little before clearing her throat.

“It’s…it’s…it’s mighty kind of ya ta come all the way out here, yer majesty.”

Celestia, while maintaining a neutral expression, gave a brief nod.

“Indeed. Most days I find myself in more…active locales.”

Applejack looked away from her with that, silently ashamed of herself for causing the princess to think yet again of the war. Even here, there was no peace for her. Nevertheless, the princess continued to speak, getting Applejack’s attention once more.

“However…when word reaches my ears about the sighting of an alicorn…”

Looking down to Applejack, Celestia’s eyes narrowed a little.

“…one I have never known of…that gets my attention, Miss Apples.”

Nodding, Applejack opened her mouth, ready to reply, only to be stopped when another, harsher voice spoke up instead.

“Be warned, farmer, that the princess has far more important tasks to attend to. If this is some kind of prank…there will be consequences.”

Applejack turned, looking for the one who had spoken, and it was here that she finally took note of the ponies who had accompanied the princess here. There were three in total, all mares. Two earth ponies and a pegasus. From the look on her face, it was clear that it was the latter who had spoken. Bearing a distinct scar and, to Applejack’s shock, a prosthetic wing, it was obvious from looking that this rainbow-maned mare was a soldier, perhaps even one who had been at the front with the princess herself. Beside her were the two earth pony mares, one with bright pink colours and the other with grey fur and a purple mane, both similarly dressed, and looking a combination of glum and disinterested. For a moment, Applejack thought that they looked quite alike. Relatives perhaps? Regardless, she hadn’t the time to think on it, as Celestia spoke up soon afterwards.

“You’ll forgive my Captain, Miss Applejack. She and her lieutenants are rather protective of me.”

To that, Applejack gave a brief bow of her head.

“It ain’t no worry, Ma’am. Ah understand.”

Celestia nodded to her in turn, before turning her attention to the surrounding land around them.

“So…shall we go? I wish to see this, what was it, magic table you spoke of?”

Applejack nodded again, gesturing with her hoof in the desired direction. Looking over, Celestia began to walk there, flanked by her three guards. Applejack hastily trotted alongside the princess, always more than a little wary, especially when the latter spoke up again.

“I read the report…but I would prefer to hear it from you personally. Tell me everything of your experiences with this alicorn you say you witnessed.”

Applejack let out a sigh, having known full well that such a thing would be expected of her. So, taking a few calming breaths, and continuing her walk with the four mares, she did as she was asked. For the bulk of their journey, she told them everything. The alicorn named Twilight Sparkle. Her claims of time travel. The notion that the world they were in wasn’t how it should be. All this and more was talked about as they made their way, and while Celestia herself remained calm and thoughtful in her expression during this tale, her guards were less than interested, with the scarred one in particular seeming incredulous at the whole thing. Eventually though, and after Applejack had finished saying her piece, they turned a corner on the borders of Sweet Apple Acres, and for the first time, the farmer’s face lit up somewhat.

“Alrighty, yer majesty. The map is just around this…”

But, her words caught in her breath, for as she and the princess turned that corner, she found, to her horror, that while she was indeed looking right at the spot where the table had stood, it was no longer there. She froze, as if a statue, and took many deep breaths, her heart racing as she now knew how this must have looked. It was a fear soon confirmed with Celestia’s next words.

“Miss Apples…I see no table there.”

Applejack’s head darted in her direction, and then back to where the table had been, and before saying anything, she ran in its direction, stopping at that exact location, looking around herself as if expecting it to magically turn up.

“Ah…ah swear to ya, it was here!

Before the princess had a chance to say anything, the pink mare among her guard rushed forward stopping just short of Applejack’s face, and bearing a look of utter fury.

“Do you think this is some kind of joke?!

Applejack, needless to say, took a step back, fearful at the enraged mare before her.

“But…but ah…”

But, she was interrupted when the mare spoke up again, her voice practically seething with fury.

“The princess works hard every day to help protect our people, to fight for the survival of me and you, and here you are, wasting her time with childish stories!”

Applejack’s breathing was heavy now, and she looked down to where the table once stood.

“But…it ain't a story! It was here!

Before the pink mare could say anything else, the other earth pony, with the purple mane, walked beside her. And while her expression was just as dull as it had been this entire trip, her voice, though at first sounding monotonous, nevertheless contained a frustrated tint to it.

“The princess does not have the luxury to be away from the front-lines like this, and certainly not for the false pretences that you seem to be bringing up.”

Applejack was truly at a loss for words now, unable to come up with anything to defend herself. Although, as before, even if she had spoken, she’d have been interrupted yet again, as this time, it was the turn of the scarred mare, with the fake wing, to speak. She approached the farmer, her eyes bearing distinct menace to them, her voice low, almost like a growl.

“Maybe…maybe bringing the princess here was your goal all along. Maybe getting her away from the front, away from the fight, was what you wanted.”

The other mares looked to her, with the pink one especially looking like she knew where this was going. As for Applejack, she shook her head, fear of the surrounding mares now gripping her.

“No! It ain’t like that! Ah…”

But the rainbow-maned mare stopped her, looking to her with utter bile in her expression.

“I think we have ourselves one of Sombra’s filthy spies!

The other mares began to approach Applejack in a menacing manner, apparently already having come to the same conclusion. Applejack, by obvious contrast, began to back away, looking utterly mortified at the situation she’d found herself in.

“No! Ah swear ah’m tellin the truth! The alicorn was here! There was this map and…and…and she had a little baby dragon with her and…”

But the rainbow mare merely narrowed her eyes.

“I’ve heard enough! Take her into custody!”

Applejack watched in horror as this moment unfolded before her eyes. But, to her everlasting relief, they all halted the moment that well-known motherly tone spoke up from afar.


The guards all stopped, turning in unison to Celestia, who was beginning to walk in their direction. They all watched her, seeing her walk right past them, and instead take a step onto the spot where Applejack had been claiming that the table had been. There was silence, and during that silence, Celestia looked as if she was deep in thought over something, almost half confused about what was going on. Naturally, all the others were equally perplexed by this, but stayed silent, even as their princess began to close her eyes.

“I…I feel something. It is…a feeling I have not encountered since…”

Slowly, she raised a single white hoof, stretching it out before her, as if trying to feel the air around her. Moment after moment passed as everypony else watched her do this, but, in the end, her eyes snapped open, her expression one of sheer shock.

“…the tree.”

Another few moments of silence passed, and after it was all done, the princess turned to her guards.

“Stand down. Miss Apples is not to me harmed.”

While the two earth pony guards gave a salute, the pegasus looked to her monarch with confusion.

“Your majesty?”

Turning, Celestia looked right at Applejack.

“I believe her.”

And in the moment, all became clear. The pegasus turned, looking at Applejack for a while, before letting out a sigh and turning once more to Celestia, giving a deep bow as she did so.

“As you command.”

Nodding to that, Celestia gestured with her hoof, giving a silent command for her guards to leave. Seeing this, the three mares all saluted, before the pegasus began to lead the other two away from Celestia and Applejack. After a while, the farmer let out a long exhale, one that she’d been keeping in for some time now. And slowly, she took a nervous step forward the princess.

“Ya…ya really do believe me?”

Celestia nodded.

“I do. I confess I was as sceptical as my Captain for a while…but the feel of this place confirms it.”

Looking into the distance, Celestia narrowed her eyes somewhat.

“So…time travel.”

Applejack stayed quiet, watching as the princess looked to her once more.

“It would appear that there was indeed another alicorn here. As for the table not being here…perhaps whatever she sought to do has reached its end.”

Applejack looked down, right at the area where the table once stood.

“Princess…Twilight said none of this should have happened. Sombra. The war. All this fightin. She said she was goin ta fix it. If the table ain’t here, then…then does that mean she…she didn’t make it?”

Celestia considered that, looking once more like she was thinking hard on the matter.

“Even in the days when our greatest unicorns weren’t called to the fight, it was always theoretical. Time travel and the like. Even the smartest could only ever speculate on the subject. After all, this was the very field in which the famed Starswirl himself could not succeed.”

Turning, the princess looked back to the farmer.

“But to answer your question, Miss Apples, I would say that there’s little chance of us ever knowing if she succeeded at her task or not. Although…even if she had…I doubt that we would notice.”

Confused by that, Applejack raised an eyebrow before replying.

“Wha…what do ya mean?”

Celestia gave a sigh before giving an answer to that.

“It’s complicated, to say the least. But to put it simply, when one alters the past, they create an entirely new present, a new world. And that world…it will continue to exist, no matter if the past change is rectified.”

Looking back to Applejack, Celestia’s expression was one of utter seriousness.

“If this Twilight Sparkle you speak of did indeed undo that which she sought to, while it may appear to her that all became right with the world, in truth, she merely enabled herself to go back to her own timeline, to her world. And this world…”

Turning to the once green field around them, Celestia shut her eyes before continuing.

“…this world will continue its path regardless of her efforts.”

Applejack stood there, mouth agape at having heard that, all while Celestia continued to look away.

“To think…all of this…because of one change.”

She sighed as that notion became more and more clear in her mind. But, when she glanced to the side, she stopped. For she had noticed something about Applejack. A slight glint in one of her eyes as she looked at the ground. And Celestia knew a tear when she saw one. Taking a step closer to the farmer, the princess began to speak in a calm and soothing manner.

“Miss Apples?”

Looking up, Applejack realised that Celestia had noticed her, and so wiped away her tear.

“Oh! Princess! Ah…it’s nothin.”

To that, Celestia titled her head.

“It was not so long ago that one of my most beloved times of the day was when ponies from across Equestria could come to me with their problems. And while the age we live in may not afford me such a time…I would like to think I can still listen.”

Applejack looked to her, seeing the honesty there, and turned from her. She wrestled with herself, looking more than a little hesitant over what she needed to say. But, even so, the offer had been put before her, and in this moment, in this place, she felt compelled to speak.

“It’s just…all this…this terrible world…it’s all because one pony wanted ta change things! And Twilight…she can’t fix it.”

Applejack shut her eyes tightly.

“It…it ain’t fair! Our world is ruined now! A monster rules in the north, our people have lost so much!”

Looking back to the princess, her eyes began to well up once more.

“Before…we were happy! We had hopes, dreams! Now…it’s all gone! Ah wanted…just for a moment, ah wanted ta believe her when she said she could put it all right. But…”

Again, she stared at the ground.

“…but she can't. And now…now we’ll just have to keep on living…knowing everything we were…everything we had…it’s all gone.”

And now, the floodgates opened, as Applejack’s tears finally flowed down her cheeks in earnest. The moment caused her to fall to her knees, and for a while, all that could be heard around them was the sounds of her sobs. Celestia, watching this, afforded herself a soft expression, trotting over to the weeping mare before getting down on her own knees. She waited, letting her subject get out all of the tears she had in her, before placing a hoof upon her shoulder. Feeling this, Applejack looked up to her princess as she spoke.

“Yes…it is unfair. It’s unfair that our misfortune was caused by one whose heart was wracked with vengeance. It’s unfair that one change to a person’s life could have made everything so terrible. And it is also unfair that you had hope offered to you…only for it to be taken.”

Applejack remained silent, watching as Celestia, for the first time, broke out into a smile.

“But there is one hope we can cluing onto, Applejack. Out there, amidst the myriad of worlds and potential futures…there is one that is still bright and full of friendship. A world where you and I and everypony else are happy, where our hopes and dreams were truly realised.”

Looking into Applejack’s eyes, Celestia’s own were starting to well up now.

“And while we may never know that peace…I think it is still comforting to know that there is at least one Equestria…that the darkness of our world can never corrupt.”

Applejack didn’t know what to say. What could she say? She wanted to be angry, to be sad that the moment of fleeting hope she’d allowed herself was still gone, that the bright future Twilight had promised would never be seen here. And yet, her princess’ words continued to repeat themselves over and over in her mind, allowing her heart to feel, at the very least, easier than it had been in a long time. In the end, and after wiping away the last of her tears, the mare looked to the alicorn before her, smiling sweetly to her, before offering her final words.

“Ya know…I’d almost forgotten what it was like…ta not be unhappy.”

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