A Fresh Start: Tales of an Equestrian Ranger

by TheAndyMac

Chapter 1

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Dark. Deeper than sleep, deeper than anything I'd ever felt before. Drifting, incoherent and intangible.

The world solidified around me. I felt grass spread out beneath my body. A stiff breeze blew across my back. It felt distant, though, as if I were slowly waking from a long, cleansing sleep. I resisted the pull of wakefulness, wanting to linger in sleep for a little longer.

Then a dull ache at my collar pulled me forcefully to reality, bringing with it a flood of memories.

I remembered the dungeon, the sight of our captor, the glint of torchlight on metal...

My eyes squeezed shut, searching for the comfort of the deep sleep, but knowing it wouldn't return. What had come before hadn't been sleep.

Was this it, then? It had all seemed so long, and yet so short, but here I was, awaiting my final fate. In my heart, I knew that I should stand tall and accept the judgement of the gods proudly, but the very thought itself sent a cold lurch rushing through my insides. I was afraid. Too afraid to open my eyes and face it. For what would I see when I found the courage to look? Reward, or punishment?

Either way, I couldn't hide for much longer. One ear pressed to the ground, I could hear the steady sounds of two people approaching from a distance. I braced myself for their arrival, be they gods, daemons or something even greater.

There was no way I could have expected the one that found me.

"What the..."

It was masculine, almost painfully so. A voice deep enough to echo around your chest if the owner spoke too loudly. Incredibly, it seemed surprised. Wherever I was, they didn't seem to be in the habit of taking in newcomers. Might this be the Reward, then? I doubted it. Of the remarkably small amount that made it this far, I doubted I was good enough to be among them.

I opened my good eye, and looked up at the figure looming over me.

It was a horse.

An unusual horse, to be sure. Even discounting the deep red coat, the oversized and intelligent eyes, and the fact that it appeared to have spoken, there was something wrong about it. Nothing I could put my finger on, but definitely something wrong.

Most of these observations passed unheeded through my mind, however, and I said the only thing that came to me.

"Y-you're a horse?"

The horse raised an eyebrow at me. The look was surprisingly human, and only made me feel less at ease than I was already.

"Applejack? Y'all might want to take a look at this!" the unsettling horse cried over his shoulder. I didn't hear a response. Hadn't there been another? I had heard two people... Of course, I thought absently, four legs. Then I frowned.

"You're talking," I said, as though the fact had only just caught up with me.


That was the only reply I got. In the meantime, the wait for this 'Applejack' to arrive gave me a little time to think on my destination. This place seemed peaceful enough; I was lying in the shade of a blooming tree, one of many in what seemed to be a vast forest. The day was warm, and a few clouds could be seen drifting though the deep blue sky on the gentle breeze.

Despite the serene picture it painted, I was sure now where I was. This was the punishment. And it was a punishment delivered with a cruel sense of humour. For most of my life, I'd relied on horses, as all in the North had. We used them for transport, to plough the fields, to aid us in battle, and in one particularly bad winter we had even used one as food. And now, it seemed, I was plunged into a world where the circumstances were reversed. A talking horse stood over me now, no doubt about to condemn me to the same slavery I had forced onto the horses of my own land.

My head fell back to the grass, and I wished with all my might that I could find some escape. Ideally, I wanted to sleep, but in a pinch I would've been happy to sink into the earth for a while.

No such luck, though, and it wasn't too long before Applejack arrived. This one was surprisingly feminine, with an orange coat and a wide brimmed hat sitting on top of a blonde mane. She trotted up behind the red stallion.

"Mac, what's got you in such a tw- What in tarnation?"

Her already oversized eyes went even wider when she saw me from around the stallion's bulk.

"Now just what in Equestria is this? And what the hay is it doin' in my apple farm?"

"Yah might try askin' it," the stallion, 'Mac', said slowly.

Applejack looked at her - I wasn't really sure, husband maybe? - in confusion. "You sayin' it talks?"

"Yes," I said, raising my head slowly, "I talk."


She paused, eyes still wide in surprise, but they narrowed into a glare of suspicion as she leaned in and addressed me. "Then who are you, an' what the hay are y'all doin' on my apple farm?"


My voice faltered. What was I doing here? The life after was nothing like this place, surely. Was I alive, then? Alive and trapped in a strange land? Then what about my friends? They were left behind, far worse off than I could even imagine, standing alone against a monster, without me there by their side.

Would they ever know where I was? Would they even know that I was still alive?

"...I don't know," I said through gritted teeth.

The trees around me blurred. My cheeks felt wet all of a sudden. In my mind, the memory of the last time I'd seen them replayed itself over and over again as the grass beneath me seemed to spin out of control.

The touch of a rough hoof on my shoulder brought me back to reality. I looked up, blinking tears out of my eyes, and saw Applejack leaning down, concern somehow written across her face. She could see when someone was hurting, horse or not.

"...y'alright there?"

I nodded, clenching a fist and willing myself to be fine. The ground swayed a little, but that was an improvement over spinning.

"Aye, I think so. I just... I don't know where I am."

"You're in Sweet Apple Acres. It's an apple farm, just on the outskirts of Ponyville. Where are y'all from?"

Another world, I think.

"Somewhere far away from here," I said dully. "I've not heard of 'Ponyville' before. Not a very original name for a town of horses."

I immediately regretted saying anything when Applejack gave me a cold glare.

"We ain't horses. We're ponies."

"I'm...sorry?" I wondered what I'd done to offend her. Were horses some sort of taboo? A shunned race? Whatever the reason, I decided to stick to the better part of valour, and refrain from mentioning that there wasn't any real difference between the two, besides size. Thankfully, though, her expression softened somewhat.

"S'alright. I s'pose you didn't know any better."

She looked me up and down for a moment. In that moment, I suddenly became very aware that I was naked. In the land of ponies, I don't suppose that meant much, but I wasn't happy with the idea of wandering about without dignity, no matter the company.

Oblivious to my realisation, Applejack hummed to herself then looked over at Mac. Some sort of silent conversation must have played out between the two, because Mac gave Applejack an odd look and shrugged. It was an impressive sight with all four hooves still on the ground.

Evidently the shrug was answer enough for Applejack. She turned back to me and cleared her throat.

"Look, I can see y'all are in a bit of a bind right now, an' Granny always told us to help out folks in need, so I can't leave y'all out here. I don't rightly know if you're trustworthy or not, but I got a friend who I'm sure can tell me. So here's my offer. We can put you up in the barn for a while, get you a decent meal, an' if Twi gives you the okay you can stay the night if you need."

"That... It's very good of you to offer."

I almost smiled. In the middle of a whirlwind of shit, it was odd to see the hand of generosity offered so freely. It almost reminded me of home.

In the North, it's expected that you offer the hospitality of your home to a stranger with nowhere to say. When I left and went down into the Plains, it was an attitude that I saw very little, and one that I missed. In the cities, a man can live almost comfortably even with no home. In the North, being outside after dark without a place to stay is like a death sentence.

There was one thing that demanded attention though.

"Do you have something I could wear? I'd be happy with a piece of sackcloth and a rope, if you could spare them."

Applejack gave me a confused look.

"What do y'all need clothes for? We're puttin' you up in the barn, not takin' you to the Gala."

In hindsight, I consider myself lucky they knew what clothes were at all. As ponies, I imagined they didn't have an idea of modesty the way I did.

"Where I come from, it's rude not to wear clothes around others," I said, hoping she'd understand.

"It don't worry us any."

"All the same, I'd feel better if I had something. Like I said, a big enough piece of sackcloth will do."

To my relief, Applejack rolled her eyes and nodded.

"Alright, I think we can spare something. Big Mac, keep an eye on him till I get back."

Big Mac nodded, and then she was gone, galloping into the distance. In the silence that followed I looked up at Mac, who sat down against a tree and stared in my direction.

"You don't talk much, do you?" I said dryly.


Well, there was no arguing with that. We let the silence go on for a while, but it brought a sense of unease with it that gnawed at me until I couldn't stand it any longer. Once upon a time I could have been able to silence a room with nothing more than a dour glare, but all that time spent travelling with companions had robbed me of that skill.

"Applejack... Is she your wife?"

That earned me a response, but not the sort of response I was hoping for. Big Mac shot me a glare that could have felled a tree.


Ah. I saw all chance of a civil conversation pass beyond my reach, and mourned. Little else to do but wallow as I waited. With nothing else to occupy them, my thoughts turned back towards my friends, my life, and all the things it seemed I'd lost. I felt something like a sob building up in the back of my throat.

No! With a great deal of effort I forced it back down and set those thoughts aside. I'd deal with them later, when I had more time and less of an audience.

Instead, I looked around again. The scenery was fairly boring, especially from the ground. Rows of apple trees spread out across flat land and small hills. It was nice, though. A far cry from the rugged lands of the old home, but everything was simple and peaceful. In the distance, birds were calling. I could smell crushed grass and the smell of baking on the breeze. It reminded me of evenings on the road, when the days walking was done and our little company would take in the last of the day by the cook fire.

In my head I mused that a breadbasket farm like this was a real prize. Probably had a sizeable guard assigned to it, if it hadn't already changed hands a dozen times in the last decade. What was the town itself like? More farms, or a fortified hold?

Something seemed odd, though. I gave Mac a quick look over. Compared to his sister, he seemed pretty substantial. If this land was anything like the Drijian, he should have been called up on the spot, and put on the frontlines with a plate suit and a halberd.

Or perhaps not. I had been on the Plains too long, it seemed. I was assuming every land was an arena of little wars where career soldiers abounded, even when I had grown up somewhere that wasn't. Maybe this place was more like the North, then, where a man was only called to arms to defend his home or to raid a passing caravan.

I was about to ask about it when a shout from the distance heralded Applejack's return, sackcloth and rope cast over her back.

"This do ya?" she asked as she drew up beside me, dropping the load by my head.

"It'll do fine," I replied. Then, as I was wrapping the cloth around me, I added, "Thank you."

"Don't mention it," she said breezily. "Big Mac, you run into town and fetch Twilight. Tell her to meet us at the barn, and to bring any books she has on funny critters and the like."

Mac nodded once and was away.

"I don't think I made a good impression with him," I said, watching him go.

Applejack made a noise of agreement. "I doubt you made the best first impression you could. But Big Mac's always been a mite shy. Hardly known him to say more'n two words to anypony who ain't family."

I chuckled. "Big fellow like that? What's he got to be scared of?"

As I pulled myself to my feet, ignoring aches that spoke of a long time asleep, I finally got a sense of scale to world around me. While it was hard to judge height from the ground, from my feet I could see that Applejack stood somewhere between three and four feet tall. Tiny, even for a pony. I kept my mouth shut, though; even though that put Big Mac at four feet or so at the shoulder, he was probably still strong enough to crack my chest if I annoyed his family too much. If he could reach that high, at least...

"Strange creatures appearin' outta nowhere in the middle of the farm?"

She raised a brow and chuckled as she led me out of the orchard.

"Very good," I muttered back.

"Well, if you want to set that right, we can start by introducin' ourselves. I'm Applejack."

"I caught that from Big Mac. I'm..." My mouth opened, and closed again. Was there any point hiding behind that moniker anymore? There was no one here that knew my real name, and all that came with it. I could tell them, and they'd just accept it without asking the awkward questions. On the other hand, that stupid nickname was what I'd come to think of myself as. In a sense, it was as real as my old name now.

I looked over at Applejack, who was watching me expectantly, and sighed. Old habits... "You can call me Ranger."

"You know, a fake name ain't exactly reassurin'."

Damnit, I could taste the disappointment in that reproach. Bitter, and hard to swallow.

"Don't take it personally, Applejack. I haven't told anyone my real name in years."


There was a sense of sad understanding in that single word. Applejack turned to me, voice soft again. "You runnin' from somethin'?"

Another sigh from me as I looked at the ground. "No."

How do I explain the details of my life to a stranger, much less a stranger who was a talking, miniature horse? Maybe I should've just given her my real name and avoided this. "I was just looking for a fresh start."

"Well, looks like you might just've found one."

I looked to her in surprise, expecting a heavy dose of irony to be written over her face. Instead, I saw truth. An honesty that, were it anywhere else, I would have called innocent, maybe even naive. Instead, it made me wonder about this land. If Applejack believed I could find a clean slate so strongly, maybe I had found myself in a place where it was possible.

A fresh start. After so many years looking, could I even face that, knowing what I was leaving behind? I didn't know. I wasn't sure I ever would know. I wasn't even sure I deserved it.

"Lemme ask you somethin'. Y'all act like you've never seen a pony before, right?"

"You'd be the first, aye." The the first that talked, at least.

"Then how come you speak Equestrian so well?"

That was...a very good question. I hadn't questioned the language issue. Thinking at first that this had been the life after, it made sense that we'd be able to understand each other. If this was just another world, though, and I was still amongst the living...

I mouthed a few words, trying to feel any difference. Was I speaking another language? It didn't feel like it.

"I'm speaking in the Trade Tongue," I said.

"Are you sure? It sounds like Equestrian to me."

My brow creased into a puzzled frown. Why would a pony from another world be speaking the common language of the Drijian Plains? Discounting the fact that it could talk at all, of course.

"What about now?" I asked, switching smoothly to the Northerners' language. All those years, and it was still so easy to go to, like pulling on a familiar coat.

Applejack, however, didn't appreciate it.

"What the hay was that?" she yelled. Her eyes had gone wider than I thought possible.

The frown deepened. "Language of my home. If we were speaking Trade, it should have sounded similar, at least."

"Nope! That was some of the strangest sounds I ever did hear."

"Then whatever I'm saying, you're not hearing it as Trade, and I'd guess I'm not hearing Equestrian."

"Hmm. Magic," said Applejack, as if that answered everything. I'd seen my fair share of magic, though, so as explanations went, it wasn't that bad.

"Magic," I echoed.

"Okay, Ranger, I got one last question."

"Ask away."

"If y'all wear clothes all the time, how does anypony see your cutie marks?"

"Our what?"

Author's Notes:

So, against my better judgement, I'm posting fanfiction for the first time! I'm writing this by the seat of my pants, really, so I should warn you not to expect particularly regular updates. Or a coherent plot. So some constructive feedback would be very much appreciated.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2 Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes
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