Core of the Apple
Written By: outlaw4rc
Edited By: Pascoite
Chapter 1 – Falling Apple
Traditions never change, especially within the fences of Sweet Apple Acres.
Yet time has a habit of changing even the most hard-line of families, and one only has to glance toward the orchards to see the effect. Before, only members of the Apple clan would pick the apples from the trees, but now they received assistance from a smattering of ponies, each hoof-picked by the family and rigorously trained. Their help was needed since the farm had never seen such demand for apple products and it was because of one event earlier in the year.
Business had slowed to a trickle and after endless days of futility, the orange cowpony named Applejack stood alone by the gate at sunrise. She was hesitant to follow her older red brother, Big Macintosh, who after repeated gestures to move her rump, left her behind in frustration. When the old lime mare, Granny Smith, caught sight of Applejack's despair, beckoned her over and recounted a tale from her own illustrious past, hoping that would cheer her up. By some divine fortune, apple sales that day were the best they had been in years. After Applejack told her grandmother about what happened, both decided to make the story-telling a weekly tradition to keep the prosperity going as long as possible.
Today, as the sun peeked over the hills, Applejack exited the two-story house and trotted toward Granny Smith, sitting in her rocking chair as usual under the shade of a nearby tree. The cowpony listened intently as the sage told her story, and by the time the sun cleared the horizon, Granny was wrapping up.
"…and that's how I met Johnny Applehoof."
Applejack's mouth gaped open. "Darn tootin'? You met Johnny Applehoof?"
The grandmother nodded. "That's right. He was such a cute stallion too." Granny conjured up Applehoof's image and blushed. However, as more memories surfaced, her smile faded away. "Could never catch his eye, though. That buck only cared about spreadin' the apple seeds 'round Equestria. I betcha he hitched up with one o' them trees."
The orange mare snorted a laugh. "You're too much, Granny! Another great story as usual! I just can't wait to hear the next one!"
"Well, you never know." The farm's matriarch leaned back and scanned the skies. "When the big barn in the sky rings the bell, I can't keep 'em waitin'."
Applejack gave Granny a soft hug. "Aww, why do you have to keep sayin' that, Granny? You'll be with us forever. We can't have Sweet Apple Acres without ya."
Then a loud whistle sounded from afar near the gate. Both mares turned around, seeing Big Macintosh waving his hoof up in the air, indicating it was time to leave.
Applejack tightened her embrace before letting go. "Well, gotta skedaddle. I'll see ya for dinner."
The old mare responded with a nod.
As she trotted toward Big Macintosh, she yelled back, "We'll have good business today, Granny!"
Granny muttered something nopony understood before rocking in her chair, just like she did every morning.
When Applejack and Big Macintosh arrived at the marketplace, the expected crowds of ponies were nowhere to be seen. After they asked their fellow merchants about the mysterious lack of clientele, they pieced together that many of them had left on vacation to avoid the summer heat, which was no surprise. Applejack knew that Pinkie Pie had a Party to Make Up for Lost Parties celebration, but the invitation said it was starting at sundown, so the ponyfolk should still be out and about. However, the two siblings could hear the sound of loud music down the road.
Suddenly, Pinkie Pie appeared and presented the two with a pink envelope.
Applejack grimaced, hoping her gut instinct was wrong, but asked anyway. "What in tarnation is this?"
"It's the pre-party to the Party to Make Up for Lost Parties!" replied Pinkie, grinning.
"A what now?"
"I just thought of it minutes ago! You see, it's been so long since we last had a party, it would be really unfair for the town to wait until tonight!"
Applejack pointed toward the direction of Sugarcube Corner. "But how did you get everypony to come so qui—"
Pinkie disappeared like she arrived, materializing down the road to pass out more invitations to the other vendors.
Applejack ripped up the envelope and tossed the pieces to the ground. "You gotta be kidding me! That's the last thing we need!"
"Eeyup," said Big Macintosh in his usual nonchalant tone.
The two siblings tapped their hooves on the counter as time dragged on until the town square's clock struck noon. Applejack peeked inside the bag used to hold their bits, frowning at what she found. Then she heard a loud cheer coming from the direction of the festivities, which sent tremors all the way to the apple cart. The earth mare turned her head toward the source of the racket.
"Throwin' a pre-party before the actual party," muttered Applejack. "That don't make no sense. Don't she know she's hurtin' our business, big brother?"
She took out a sack, opened it, and presented it to Big Macintosh. "I mean, look here! Six bits! Six! Even the pear stand has more than us right now!"
Applejack's green eyes twitched and her fury exploded in the stallion's face. "Now, what is that supposed to mean? That's been your answer to everything for the last half hour! What? You don't support your sister here?"
Big Macintosh sighed and tried a calm approach. "I'm just sayin' that there's no point in gripin' 'bout things we can't control."
She slumped on the counter and began rolling an apple back and forth. "Sorry. You're right. I just thought we'd do a lot better today."
"Maybe the stories have lost their touch."
"Can't be. I mean, we did everything right. I was by Granny, then you left the gate, she told me a story, and you came back to get me, just like the first time. Why else would they stop..." The apple spun beyond her grasp, and it landed on the ground. She reached down to grab it when something within twisted her stomach and her face contorted with displeasure. "Big Mac. I ain't gettin' a good feelin' 'bout all this."
Both then spotted somepony off in the distance approaching the deserted marketplace, kicking up dust.
Applejack's eyes opened wide, and she shook her brother. "Hold on! We got ourselves a potential customer! Assume sales positions!"
As the pony in question got closer, they realized it wasn't a potential customer at all. It was Noteworthy, a slate-blue earth pony with two backwards musical notes as his cutie mark. He was one of the few seasonal workers from the farm, but he had been scheduled to pull apple carts all day. In addition, he preferred going home for lunch rather than partake of the delicacies offered in the marketplace. When he arrived at the stand, the smell of sweat oozed out of his blue body.
"Howdy, Noteworthy" said Applejack, tipping her hat. She scratched her forelock. "Whatcha doin' here?"
Noteworthy gulped the air around him as he spoke with his bluegrass accent. "You two… must… go back… to Sweet Apple Acres... now!"
Big Macintosh raised an eye. "Trouble a-brewin'?"
The two Apple siblings turned to each other, both seeing each other's hearts sink into a sea of dread.
"You… have to—"
Applejack cut him off. "Noteworthy, rest up and close up shop for us, won't ya? C'mon big brother! We gotta hurry!"
Big Macintosh nodded, and the siblings pushed every muscle to its limit galloping toward Sweet Apple Acres, frightened of what awaited them.