by DuncanR

Chapter 1: Introduction: No time to be trespassin’

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Applejack ducked under a thick, low-hanging branch and straightened her legs, lifting the obstacle up and away from the beaten dirt path. “There ya go, sis. See if you can scoot under there.”

Applebloom glanced at the thick forest to either side of the road. “Are you sure about this? Isn’t there an easier way through?”

“Them’s the breaks, kiddo. If there was an easier way, we wouldn’t need to clear the land in the first place.”

Applebloom stared at the branch. “Maybe I... should just ...”

“Go back?” Applejack turned to look at her. “But you’ve been excited about this all week. What’s the matter?”

Applebloom looked away and rubbed one knee against the inside of her leg.

“There’s nuthin’ to be scared of, I swear.”

“But it’s the Everfree forest! It’s where everything scary lives!”

Applejack pushed the branch aside and walked over to her. “I know we grownups are always tellin’ you young ’uns scary stories, and there’s a good reason for it. But you’re gettin’ older, Bloom. Clearin’ land is an important responsibility on a farm and you gotta start learnin’ the ropes now.”

“B-b-but...” Applebloom glanced around, knees wobbling.

“Aww!” Applejack gave her a gentle nudge. “I swear there’s nothin’ for you to worry about. This is one of the quietest parts of the forest, right on the edge, and as long as you’ve got me to keep an eye on you, everything’ll be just fine.”


Applejack nodded. “Cross my heart!”

Applejack lifted the branch with her back and Applebloom ducked her head and walked under it.

“There y’go. You’re only scared because you’ve never done anything like this before. Once you’ve learned all about it, it won’t be scary anymore.” Applejack climbed out from under the branch and turned towards the empty road ahead. “Applebloom?”

Applejack stared at the dirt path and the thick wall of fetid, blue-green foliage to either side. She stood perfectly still and listened to the quiet sounds of the forest. There weren’t any animal calls or bird songs here. Just the rustling of leaves and the faint buzzing of flies.


She jogged down the road a bit, searching the weeds and soil for hoofprints.

“Applebloom! This ain’t funny!”

She bolted down the road, turned a corner, and skidded to a halt in front of a small wooden archway with a rickety gate. The faded wooden planks were interwoven with prickly ivy, and there was a hoof-carved sign across the top of the arch. Applejack peered at the gate latch but found no sign of recent use.

Why would there be a gate here in the middle of nowhere? On a deerpath, no less?

She reared up and brushed the leaves away from the sign:


“Applebloom? Are you in there?”

She stared at the sign a moment longer, then reared up and tore the vines away completely.

Welcome to Paradise Estates!

Jolly and pleasant, just for the present, No sign of trouble in sight!

My Little Pony, My Little Pony, May all your days be bright!

Applejack glanced over her shoulder at the empty dirt road home. She turned back to the gate. “Hello? Anypony home? Is it okay if I come in and look around, real quick?”

Applejack listened to the sounds of the forest a moment longer before giving the gate a gentle push. The latch slid open without a noise.

“The sign says welcome, so I’m comin’ in now. If y’all don’t want visitors, you can just say so, and I’ll leave you be. No hard feelings.” She pushed the gate open, ripping apart the rotten vines and scraping an arc in the dirt. She stepped through and left the gate ajar as she continued on. The forest was as bleak and impenetrable as ever.

“This is no time to be trespassin’, Applebloom. Just come out and I promise not to be cross with you.”

She came to the end of the road, and the foliage gave way to a large, circular clearing with a gently sloping hill in the middle that was dominated by a great branching tree with flat, shelf-like foliage. The lush, vibrant leaves fluttered in the wind like goose-down and a spectrum of colored shapes hung from the branches, heavy and succulent.

Applejack stared up at the massive, triangular tree for some time. She stepped into the clearing and looked down at the smooth, lush grass beneath her hooves. It was perfectly trimmed, without any trace of weeds or shrubs. She stopped at the foot of the tree and examined the roots.

What sort of funny-lookin’ tree is this, anyhow? She peered at the lowest branch. And why are the fruit all different shapes and colors?

She looked all around. From the top of the hill, she could just barely see the crowns of the surrounding trees. There weren’t any buildings here, nor any evidence that there had ever been.

Not much of an estate, she thought. She took a deep breath. “Applebloo—”

She heard a low, loud hiss behind her and her throat clenched tight. She turned around and stared into a pair of slitted, teal eyes sheathed behind a grid of stone-grey scales. The serpent’s body was as thick as her own neck, and it’s long, looping coils were slung over one of the tree’s lower branches. The serpent drew closer and licked the air with it’s grey, wet tongue.

“Hullo,” the serpent said, momentarily baring its long, curved fangs.

Applejack bolted across the clearing, tearing divots out of the perfectly smooth lawn. She screamed all the while, though it sounded strange to her own ears.

The serpent made no effort to stop her. It slowly turned it’s head and tracked her movement. A soft smirk tugged at the corner of it’s scaled mouth.

“You’ll be back,” it said. “And I’ll be here.”

Next Chapter: We’ll have to call in a professional Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 9 Minutes
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