A Powerful Silence
An MLP: FiM fic
Synopsis: After the Cutie Mark Crusaders get kidnapped by a pack of Diamond Dogs in the Everfree Forest when a few of the Mane Six overreact to some of their constant annoyances, they have to learn that being stubborn, overthinking things and rushing into action isn't always the best solution. Sometimes it just takes a calm perspective and an easygoing attitude. And they know one workhorse can teach them what that means. Eeyup.
MLP is the property of Hasbro Inc.
"Ooooooow!" moaned Sweetie Belle, rubbing her horn as the badminton shuttlecock stuck to the tip of it, two racquets sitting next to her. "When you play badminton you aren't supposed to let go of your racquet Applebloom!"
"Ah'm sorry!" cried the yellow filly, running to help her friend up.
"At this rate you guys will never be Cutie Mark Crusader Badminton Champions!" mocked Scootaloo, bouncing a shuttlecock on a racquet held in her teeth. The three of them had made their attempt to become CMCBC's as, they put it, in the middle of the Sweet Apple Acre's orchards after running into a bit of trouble involving a library window and a purple dragon with a mysterious case of concussion.
It was still fairly early in the day, just past ten o'clock in the morning and the CMC's were already hard at work.
"Ya'll be careful over there!" scolded Applejack, who was busy bucking apples, a single kick emptying the trees of their contents and into strategically placed baskets. "Ah don't wanna hear from Rarity tomorrow with a medical bill! Celestia knows Ah'd be the first to blame."
"Sorry sis," said Applebloom, kicking a rock. "Ah guess CMCBC's ain't gonna work out like we'd hoped."
Seeing the dejected look on the little fillies made Applejack roll her eyes.
"If'n ya need somethin' ta do, why not help Big Macintosh with the delivery he's makin' to Ponyville. He's in the barn loading up his wagon."
"Okay," said the fillies, grabbing up their things and taking them to the barn.
"You know Applebloom," said Sweetie Belle, carrying her racquets with her unicorn magic. "I don't think we've ever actually talked to your brother. What's he like anyway?"
Scootaloo nodded at Applebloom with clenched teeth, unable to speak through the racquet in her mouth.
"Big Macintosh?" asked Applebloom, her things in a bag around her neck. "Well, he's big. Awful strong. One time, when I was just a little filly, not even in school yet, some Diamond Dogs came around these parts lookin' for jewels. We was gonna go to our cousin Braeburn's birthday party when he lived on another farm an' they saw Granny Smith was wearin' her favorite necklace that grandpa gave her a long time ago. As soon as they got in buckin' distance Big Macintosh had em' cryin' for their mommas!"
"No way!" said Scootaloo as they came in the barn. "You made that up! No way would that guy beat anypony up, he's too quiet! I bet he's just a big wimp!"
"Hey you better take that back about mah big brother!" said Applebloom, getting in Scootaloo's face, setting her bag aside.
"Or what?" challenged Scootaloo, her little wings buzzing.
"Stop it you guys!" said Sweetie Belle, getting worried and backing off.
"Well, I'm not sure I'd say wimp, but Ah do mah best," said a deep voice behind them, the fillies turning to see Big Macintosh walk in with a few crates of apples strapped to his back, walking past them indifferently.
"I'm sorry!" said Scootaloo, looking down. "I didn't mean anything like that, but I don't think anypony could beat a bunch of Diamond Dogs in a fight."
"Well Rarity whined some to death one time," giggled Sweetie Belle.
"That doesn't count!" said Scootaloo, rolling her eyes.
"Well brute strength don't count for everything," drawled Macintosh slowly, loading his crates onto a large wagon in the back of the barn. "Rarity used some good thinkin' in that situation, and it worked pretty well Ah reckon."
"Well, did you beat them up?" asked Scootaloo, walking up to Macintosh and looking up at him expectantly.
"Eeyup," he said, tying his crates down and walking to the front, fastening his harness to the wagon.
"Oh!" said Applebloom, her argument with Scootaloo forgotten for now. "Applejack asked us to go with you to see if you needed any help!"
Big Mac stopped for a second to think.
"Well Ah suppose I could use some help makin' sure no one tries to snatch any apples from mah cart while I head to Sugarcube Corner. That there Mrs. Cake ordered a cart full of apples because she said she an' Pinkie were going to have an apple themed bake off at their next party. Never really took an interest into them parties mahself."
He let his sentence hang as though he started to think. He then looked down at the CMC's who had seemed to gather around him like it was story time, looking up at him.
"If'n you wanna help, just climb onto the wagon an' sit on the crates while Ah take it to town, an' let me know if you see anything that might cause any trouble."
The fillies nodded and climbed onto the back of the cart as he wheeled it out, the CMC's giggling as the cart bumped underneath them. Applejack came out from the orchard with some apple baskets strapped to her back.
"We'll be back soon AJ," said Macintosh, adjusting his harness as he pulled the cart towards the gate.
"Have fun y'all!" called Applejack, setting her baskets down and heading for the farmhouse. "Think Ah'll get mahself some iced tea."
The ride was rather uneventful, the little ponies talking about school and enjoying the ride while Macintosh chewed on a stalk of wheat, pulling the cart at his usual easy pace. They could see Ponyville in the distance, the Everfree forest behind them to the east. They went through a mostly wide open valley with some trees here and there.
"Hey Big Mac," said AppleBloom, hanging her front hooves over the front of the cart and looking down at her brother. "How many apples are we haulin' anyway?"
"They ordered twenty crates," he replied. "Ah'd say three hundred pounds."
"Woah!" buzzed Scootaloo. "That's gotta be a heavy load for you! How do you pull it so easy?"
"T'ain't hard," he said, moving his wheat stalk from one side of his mouth to the other with his tongue. "Ya get used to it pretty quick when yer a farmer."
Big Mac stopped suddenly when he noticed something moving in some bushes nearby.
"Why did you stop?" asked Sweetie Belle.
Big Mac didn't respond, he just kicked a rock into the bushes and out of it popped Angel Bunny, rubbing his head angrily and stomping his feet at Big Mac.
"Sorry 'bout that," said Macintosh with a slight smile. "Thought ya'll might be a snake or something. C'never be too careful."
Angel Bunny huffed and started chucking rocks at Macintosh who shielded his muzzle from the projectiles with his hoof. He then stomped his hoof hard on the ground, with enough force to make Angel jump up in fear.
"Angel Bunny!" called a soft voice, and over a few trees appeared Fluttershy with a frantic expression, flying over to their location as soon as she spotted her favorite pet. "Oh there you are you silly little bunny!"
Macintosh shifted his stalk of wheat as Fluttershy came down and landed next to the rabbit.
"I keep telling you to stop going off by yourself," she scolded. "You know those nasty creatures in the forest could snatch you up when I'm not around. If that cockatrice…."
"Hi fluttershy!" called the CMC's simultaneously, causing Fluttershy to spring up with a loud squeak and dart into the bushes, her big eyes showing from the hole she made flying in. When she realized who it was speaking to her, she came out her wings fluttering gently.
"Oh hello girls," she said, walking up to the cart. "How are you today?"
"Just fine," said Sweetie Belle.
"We're helpin' mah brother take an order of apples to Sugarcube Corner!" said Applebloom, Scootaloo nodding with them.
"Your brother?" said Fluttershy, turning to see Big Macintosh who was looking at her with a bit of surprise, the fact that she hadn't noticed such a large pony a bit odd to him.
"Mornin' Miss," he said, nodding. Due to the fact that she had never really been introduced to Big Macintosh previously, and the fact that he was at least twice her size, Fluttershy shifted uncomfortably and squeaked in response. The fillies giggled at her meekness and Applebloom grabbed a riding crop she found next to an apple crate. She swatted Big Mac's flank with it, making him turn his head to peer at her sternly.
"Let's get movin'!" the little filly said happily, smacking him again.
"Eeyup," he said, ignoring their giggling, nodding at Fluttershy who backed away nervously as the large pony made his way to Ponyville, his cart creaking to life as he picked up the pace to make up for lost time. When they reached the outskirts of town they saw Rarity and Twilight, Spike on Twilight's back with a few bandages around his head. They saw Mac and the girls and walked up to them.
"Hello girls, morning Macintosh," said Twilight cheerily. "Pinkie said you were bringing her some apples earlier."
"By some, do you mean the entire orchard's worth?" giggled Rarity. She saw the CMC's sitting on the crates enjoying their ride. "Having fun girls? Behaving?"
"Yup!" they all grinned at Rarity and Twilight.
"Mornin' ladies," said Macintosh, nodding to them. "They've been fine all mornin'. Not a single piece of broken farm equipment that Ah've seen."
"We don't always break suff!" said Scootaloo, smacking him on the flank with the riding crop. Macintosh swatted her with his tail making her sneeze. Twilight and Rarity giggled.
"You fillies are too cute," said Twilight. "We are just heading to Fluttershy's to get Spike checked out. A badminton racquet came through the window this morning and knocked him out cold."
Spike scratched at his bandages.
"This is fun and all," he complained. "But these things are making my scales itch! Can we go?"
Macintosh raised an eyebrow when he heard badminton and glared at the fillies behind him who hid behind the crates when they saw him look.
"Well, I reckon I know the culprits," He cleared his throat staring at the crates.
"Oh really?" asked Rarity, raising her eyebrow as she realized where he was going with this. "Sweetie Belle?"
The filly in question poked her head out from behind the crate.
"Yes Rarity?" she asked.
"Would you happen to know who could have injured poor Spike here?"
Spike giggled and waved his hand and Rarity in an "oh you" fashion. Twilight shot a look at him.
The other two Crusaders poked their heads up.
"I-it might've been us," stuttered Applebloom. "But it was an accident, Ah swear!"
"Applebloom," said Big Mac sternly, his tone catching all their attention. "Ah know Granny Smith and Ah have raised you better than this. What are ya'll supposed to do when ya break somethin'?"
"Durn right!" he said, stomping his hoof, making Twilight and Rarity jump. "Now ya'll coulda hurt Spike real bad, and what would ya'll have done? Gone ta play? Now I know no lil sister a mahn would ignore somethin' like that."
They could see that Applebloom was really listening to him and was considering his words. She hopped down to the ground from the back of the cart and walked up to Twilight and Spike, tears in her eyes. Her two friends followed suit.
"We're sorry Spike," they said in unison. "Sorry Twilight."
"It's alright girls," said Twilight. "But please promise me you will be more careful from now on. Spike got hurt and that's what happens when you don't watch what you are doing."
"Aw, lay off 'em Twi," said Spike, scratching his bandages. "It was an accident!"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure how I'll pay for that widow to be fixed. I only get enough from Canterlot to get by."
"It'll be comin' outta Applebloom's allowance," said Macintosh. "As a matter of fact, I'll see to it that she's grounded for a week or so. Sound fair Applebloom?"
Applebloom nodded and sniffled, wiping her eyes with her hoof.
"Sounds fair to me," said Twilight, nodding at Macintosh.
"Sweetie Belle," said Rarity, looking down at her sister with disapproval. "Same for you. No allowance and you are grounded."
Sweetie Belle nodded.
"Your parents will hear about this too," said Rarity, looking at Scootaloo, who winced.
"Ah'm gonna take this order up to Sugarcube Corner and then I'll take these girls back to the farm. Ah think some good ol' fashioned chores this afternoon will do 'em some good."
"Agreed," said Twilight. "If you'd like we could walk them back there and tell Applejack what's up before heading to Fluttershy's. That way you can make your trip a bit quicker."
"Thank ya kindly Miss Twilight," said Big Mac. "Be good you three."
Macintosh then went on his way with his cartful of apples, realizing he was ten minutes late already.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders fell in line with Twilight and Rarity as they left Ponyville. Rarity looked back at Macintosh and sighed.
"He certainly knows how to handle children," she said. "I should ask him for tips!"
Everypony giggled a bit at that.
"A big strapping pony like him," said Spike, scratching at his bandages. "How old is he? He's great with kids, why isn't he married yet?"
"'Bout three years older than Applejack," said Applebloom. "I think he's nearin' twenty four. I asked him once why he didn't look for no filly friends."
"What did he say?" asked Twilight.
"He said 'I ain't got no time'. I asked 'Is that it?' He said 'Eeyup'."
They all giggled at her imitation of Big Macintosh.
"I read a book on this sort of thing once when I was in school," said Twilight. "It said that some ponies prefer to be alone."
"Doesn't sound like Big Mac," said Applebloom. "He plays with me when he can, and when he got hurt right before applebuck season we played board games every day together. He's just quiet."
"How did he get hurt anyway?" asked Rarity. "He's so large; it's a shock that something could injure him so badly.
"He was takin' an order of apples to Ponyville and got jumped by some Diamond Dogs. They've been after Granny Smith's necklace for a long time and thought if they tied up Big Mac they could just go take it, but that didn't work out."
"I remember that," said Rarity. "Poor dear still made that shipment and had to be carried back by that Caramel fellow."
As they reached the cross road that lead to Sweet Apple Acres to the south and Fluttershy's cottage to the north. Rarity said she would take the girls to the farm so Twilight could take Spike to get his head checked.
When they got there Applejack was just finishing her day's work, sitting on the steps in front of her house to sip some more iced tea. When she saw Rarity instead of Big Mac she became worried and trotted out to meet them.
"Howdy," she said. "Where's Macintosh?"
"We ran into him and these three while leaving town," says Rarity. "It turns out that the Crusaders broke Twilight's window this morning while playing badminton in town, gave Spike a concussion, and came here to avoid trouble."
"APPLEBLOOM!" Roared Applejack, making the Crusaders leap behind Rarity in terror. "I oughta take you out back and give you what for with my riding crop!"
"Now now, Applejack," said Rarity cooly. "Big Macintosh already came up with a good punishment. Their allowances will pay for the damages while they will be grounded for a week. No crusading and no play time. He also suggested they do some chores here for the rest of the day."
"Too kind a consequence if ya ask me," growled Applejack, glaring down at her crying sister. "Make it a month and no Crusading at all!"
"Now hold on AJ," said Macintosh, trotting up the path at a quick pace. "Calm down sis."
"Where's the cart?" asked Applejack, turning to Macintosh.
"Ah've got Caramel bringin' it back up here, saw him slackin' off in town. Should be back soon. I ran here cuz I knew you would react this way."
"Macintosh, they hurt Spike!"
"They didn't intend no harm," He said, his calm expression never leaving. "The window'll be paid for and they'll learn their lesson through hard work today, and their week long groundin'."
"That ain't enough!" said Applejack, getting in Mac's face, his expression not wavering. "I'm sick an' tired of these three always causin' trouble, always makin' a mess!"
"Were you any different at that age?"
"That ain't the point!"
"Sis you're too stubborn fer your own good."
Applejack reared up and stomped her hooves, Rarity wanting to interject but thinking better of it, the CMC's cowering behind her.
"Dang't Macintosh," she growled. "You don't know what you're talkin' about!"
Macintosh's expression changed to one of irritation.
"Excuse me?" he said, his ears going back. Applejack faltered, knowing she had crossed a line. "Ah've been runnin' this farm since Applebloom was just a baby! I might not be the best big brother in Equestria but dangit I know what is best for mah little sisters."
He regained his usual air of calm indifference and sighed, spitting out his wheat stalk.
"They said they were sorry," he said. "Now drop it while I give 'em some chores to do."
Applejack huffed and got back in his face.
"Ah'm gonna go see how Spike is doing, but this ain't over til the fat dragon sings! Come on Rarity!"
Applejack didn't even look at the fillies as she stomped off, Rarity saying a quick goodbye before they headed to Fluttershy's place to see how Spike was doing. Applebloom sniffled and tried not to cry, and stopped when she felt her brother give her a warm nuzzle, returning it.
"Come on, let's have some lunch and then we can get started on applebuckin'," he said coolly.
"No!" said Scootaloo. "I feel really bad for what happened and I want to go apologize again!"
She ran off before Macintosh could respond.
"Me too," said Applebloom. "Ah never wanna see Applejack that mad again!"
"What about that lunch?" asked Sweetie Belle. Macintosh rolled his eyes and she giggled before following her friends.
"Chores can wait," muttered Macintosh. "Best they make their peace with them ladies now than later. Ah'm hungry though…"
When Applejack and Rarity walked into Fluttershy's, Twilight, Fluttershy and Spike were eating some soup and sandwiches while making some small talk. Applejack almost kicked the door down, causing some mice that had cuddled up to Fluttershy to dart into their mouse holes with loud squeaks. The bang of the door made Spike hold his freshly bandaged head in pain.
"Those little ponies have gone too far with their antics this time!" she said to Rarity. "If it weren't for Mac Ah woulda flogged em right there!"
"Flogged?" squeaked Fluttershy, going wide eyed. Applejack sighed.
"Sorry Fluttershy," she said, her anger turning into weariness. "I didn't mean it. They just get on mah nerves."
"Oh yes," said Fluttershy. "They can be rather destructive. They scare the animals around here a lot. Poor critters…"
"I've lost more than one sewing machine to their crusades," muttered Rarity.
"And they've burnt a lot of cupcakes," said Pinkie Pie, who bounced in through the door.
"Hey Pinkie," said Twilight, taking a bite from her sandwich. "What are you doing here?"
"Well I thought I'd visit for lunch!" said the bubbly pony, bouncing around the room. "But it looks like the party already started!"
"Did someone say party?" came the voice of Rainbow Dash, who floated in through the window. "Hey Fluttershy, weren't we supposed to work on a new trick today?"
"Sorry Rainbow," said Fluttershy. "But the Cutie Mark Crusaders left a mark on Spike's head, so I had to treat him."
Spike chuckled and scratched his bandages.
"Those kids? How'd that happen?"
Rarity explained what had transpired and filled them in on what happened at the farm. When she mentioned how harsh Applejack had been, they looked at the farm pony a bit coldly.
"That wasn't very nice of you to say to your sister," said Twilight.
"Well Ah'm sorry," she said. "But Ah stick with what I said before. Ah woulda flogged em if Ah could. Sometimes Ah just… cannot STAND those little ponies!"
"I know what you mean," said Rainbow Dash. "I love Scootaloo like she was my little sister and all, but she can't fly yet and she slows me down whenever she wants to go somewhere with me. It's annoying!"
"And Sweetie Belle," said Rarity. "Is a bit of a know it all. Her attitude could use an adjustment."
They all nodded in agreement but stopped when they heard some sniffling. They looked out the window and saw three little ponies walking away from the house with their heads hanging.
"Oh no…" muttered Twilight, as they all went out the door.
"Applebloom!" shouted Applejack. The little ponies turned around teary eyed and crying.
"Shut up Applejack!" shouted Applebloom. "We said we were sorry and we didn't mean to do anything bad! But… but…"
Applejack looked like she regretted everything she said, but didn't say anything.
"And if you don't like the way I talk or something you should say so, not complain to everyone else," whimpered Sweetie Belle to her sister. Rarity backed up a little in shame of her gossiping.
Scootaloo stared at Rainbow Dash as though she had been betrayed.
"Slow you down?" She said simply. Dash scratched the back of her head in shame.
The little ponies waited for a response and Applejack was the first to respond.
"Well it ain't our fault you don't listen!" she growled, not willing to apologize due to her pride. The fillies looked at their older friends for a few seconds longer, then ran away crying.
"Aw shucks," muttered Applejack. She looked up to see her friends glaring at her. "Not my fault they won't listen!"
The Cutie Mark Crusaders stopped at the road to Sweet Apple Acres, tears running down their cheeks.
"So what?" sniffled Scootaloo? "They just don't love us anymore?"
"I guess not," muttered Sweetie Belle, wiping her eyes. "What do we do now?"
"Well when Ah'm sad and don't have nopony to talk to," said Applebloom. "Ah go to see Zecora. Maybe she can give us some advice."
"Good idea," said Scootaloo as the three went in the direction of the Everfree Forest. Coming up the trail was Caramel a brown pony with a mullet and a horseshoe cutie mark, pulling the empty wagon Macintosh had left behind in Ponyville, whistling a tune to himself when he saw the three fillies walk right towards the forest. He immediately panicked and unfastened himself from the wagon and ran over.
"What are you fillies doing out here by yourselves?" the clumsy pony asked, stumbling over to them.
"We were gonna visit Zecora in the forest," said Applebloom.
"Well, if you wait for me to drop off the wagon at the farm I'd be happy to come with you just in case."
The fillies looked at each other and nodded at him. He grinned and walked back to the wagon.
"Ooooh, leetle ponies!" said a high pitched, accented voice from the forest.
"I know the yellow one!" said another voice. "She know where that pretty necklace Old Pony wears sometimes is!"
"I no like those ponies," said a third voice. "The big red one kick hard!"
"Should we really wait for that pony?" asked Scootaloo.
"Naw," said Applebloom. "Just wait for him to head up the trail and we can head into the forest by ourselves."
But just as Caramel backed into the wagon, watching the little ponies he saw three sets of paws reach out and grab the fillies, covering their snouts so they wouldn't scream.
"APPLEBLOOM!" He shouted, running for the forest. When he leapt into the trees he was greeted by a large pack of Diamond Dogs.
"Hello Pony!" said one of them, a tall one with pointed ears and an under bite. He had Applebloom in his paws, a smaller one with bent ears had Sweetie Belle and the largest one with floppy ears had Scootaloo. They were surrounded by other diamond dogs, all holding various weapons. Caramel gulped and took a shaky step back before they converged on him.
"Now where the heck is that durn'd Caramel?" muttered Macintosh as he trotted down the path to the main road, stopping when he saw his wagon nearby. "Well there's the wagon but where's the pony?"
There was a noise coming from the direction of the Everfree Forest, so he turned and looked and was shocked to see a beaten up Caramel stumbling his way out of the trees. He ran over and caught Caramel before he collapsed and hauled him to the wagon, helping him sit.
"Caramel," he said, his usual calm demeanor gone and replaced with an almost frantic worry. "What in the hay happened?"
"Dogs," panted Caramel. "They took Applebloom and her little friends. They wanted to go see Zecora and I said I'd take them myself, but I didn't expect a pack of Diamond Dogs!"
Macintosh didn't say a word. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes. Caramel knew what it meant when Big Macintosh got like this. It meant he was angry, and he was trying to keep down his temper. Macintosh took a deep breath and spoke.
"Caramel, I want you to go toward's Fluttershy's place and get Applejack. Tell her what happened and that I'll be going into the forest to look for the girls. Hopefully I'm not too-"
"Tell me what Big Mac?" asked Applejack coming up behind him. Macintosh winced visibly, turning around to face his sister and her friends.
"Applejack, those Diamond Dogs came back, they took the girls," He said as calmly as possible.
The girls lost it immediately, shouting their worry and fear, Fluttershy fainting dead away and getting lifted up by Rainbow Dash before they ran past Macintosh and into the forest. Mac didn't look after them and sighed, reaching into his harness and pulling out another stalk of wheat, sticking it in his mouth.
"Get yerself cleaned up Caramel, and stay with Granny Smith a while," he said. "I'll be back."
He bolted away, leaving a dazed Caramel to get the wagon back up to the farm.
The ponies, and Spike, ran through the forest a bit, looking for any sign of the Diamond Dogs, but could find no clue to their whereabouts. Eventually they stopped in a clearing not far from where they started, all of them panicking to no end.
"Where could they be?" cried Twilight.
"I have no idea," wept Rarity. "Ooooh I should have just apologized earlier!"
"We all should have," said Fluttershy, patting her on the shoulder.
"Not me," said Pinkie Pie. "I love their crusades. You guys are just meanie heads!"
"Eeyup," said another voice, as Big Macintosh walked past them, glaring at them all. "Tell me exactly what happened when they ran off the farm?"
"There's no time for that!" shouted Rainbow Dash. "We need to—"
Big Mac held up a hoof to silence her and looked at Twilight.
"Miss Sparkle, if you please?" he said calmly.
Twilight explained to Big Mac what the fillies overheard. He rolled his eyes and sighed.
"Well running around the forest in circles aint gonna get you nowhere no how," He said, sniffing the air and walking around the clearing, examining the ground.
"Well then what do you propose we do Macintosh?" said Applejack. "Throw 'em a fancy soirée and hope they get their invitations in the mail?"
"This way," said Macintosh, stepping through some trees, the other's close behind. "Be careful, them dogs'll have some traps set."
"How do you know?" asked Spike, hopping from Twilight's back to Macintosh's.
"Cuz they know me," he said simply. "They used to live near the Pie family rock farm; I do believe that is the place Applejack mentioned Rarity got kidnapped once. Somethin' must have forced 'em to move to the forest."
Rarity and Twilight shared a glace.
"Well," mumbled Rarity. "We did kind of… take all of their gems…."
Macintosh looked back at her.
"Then it's no wonder they relocated," He said. He stopped near a small tree with some broken branches and shifted his wheat, sniffing the tree and examining the ground. "Ah'd say there's ten dogs, maybe more. They came through here not ten minutes ago."
"How do you know so much about tracking them?" asked Fluttershy curiously, floating next to Macintosh.
"They've been tryin' to get some Apple family heirlooms fer years," he said, walking past her and looking up at the tree canopy. It was getting close to two in the afternoon. "Once they got ahold of some, me and Pa chased 'em down and showed 'em the Apple family means business."
Spike scratched his bandages some more.
"Man, those jerks never know when to give up huh?" he asked from his perch on Mac's back.
Twilight walked up next to Macintosh.
"Hey Macintosh, you said your dad taught you to track the dogs right?"
"Eeyup," he said, pushing onward through the trees.
"Can you recommend any books on the subject of tracking? It might prove useful in the future."
Twilight looked slightly offended.
"Well I get that It might be an Apple Family secret or something but—"
"T'aint no secret Miss Sparkle," he replied calmly, not taking his eyes off the ground in front of him. "It's just something that you learn after dealing with these critters for some time. If you wanted to write a book on trackin' Diamond Dogs, be my guest. Heck, there might be some already, but I ain't had the time ta read 'em."
Twilight nodded and considered his words. Perhaps you can't learn everything from a book. She continued to think about it as they pushed on. Slowly. An hour had passed silently among the tracking party and a certain Pegasus was becoming impatient.
"This is taking too long," muttered Rainbow Dash. "I'm gonna go scout ahead!"
She revved up her wings to try and speed off but was stopped by an oversized hoof on her tail.
"Hang on their Miss Dash," he scolded. If you rush out there too quick they might spot ya. Where would that leave the girls?"
Dash spun on him and got in his face.
"What do you want me to do? Wait quietly while you follow dirt?"
He pointed to the ground in front of him and she was surprised to see a large paw print with a small gem stone embedded in the middle of it.
"If'n ya take the patience and observe things carefully without speeding off you might just find somethin' of interest," he said, and nodded towards the surrounding foliage. "According to this print and the damage to these bushes one of the girls tried to struggle a bit. The Diamond Dog's won't hurt 'em, they ain't too violent unless they are up against a larger colt or someone they perceive as a threat. They licked Caramel good just before I found out the girls were gone."
Applejack examined the area.
"You know we should have brought you when Rarity got kidnapped by the Diamond Dogs!" she said, nudging him.
"Coulda just asked," he replied, moving on forward. They watched him as he moved on without looking at them.
"LEETTLE PONIES BITE HAAAARD!" Screamed the leader of the Diamond Dogs, Rover. Scootaloo was latched to his ear as he ran around, banging into trees and rocks. He finally tripped and landed in the mud hard. One of the guard dogs pulled her off of him, and she spit out some fur, leaving Rover with a bald ear. The other dogs pointed and laughed at him until he spun on them. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle, held by Rover's friends Spot, the smallest, and Fido, the largest, giggled at the tussle and tuned towards eachother.
"I wonder where they are taking us," wondered Sweetie Belle aloud.
They had been wandering the forest for hours, unable to get the dogs to speak to them in anything other than insults. Scootaloo kept attacking Rover from time to time and it was slowing them down quite a bit.
"Yeah, these guys aren't too scary, but Ah'd like to go see Zecora soon," said Applebloom. "She makes the best tea!"
Sweetie Belle smiled at the thought.
"I am getting a bit thirsty."
"I'm thiiiiirstyyyyyyy!" moaned Rarity. "It's so hoooot! It feels like a hundred and twenty degrees out here!"
"Can't be more than a hundred and fourteen," muttered Macintosh so only Spike would hear, the little dragon chuckling at the comment.
"Shut up Rarity," growled Rainbow Dash.
"I could go for some of Gummy's favorite punch right about now!" giggled Pinkie.
True, it was mid-summer and very hot out that day. He sniffed the air and nodded for them to follow. He led them to a nearby stream with fresh water flowing through.
"Take a break, ladies," he said, taking a drink for himself and sitting down. "Fluttershy, If Ah remember correctly, you can communicate with animals?"
She nodded affirmative.
"Do me a favor and ask any woodland critters around here have seen the dogs."
The yellow mare nodded and floated off to perform her task. Rarity flopped down into the dirt and took a long drink. Twilight sipped from the stream and took a breath, looking around the forest.
"You know, this is the first time I've stopped to enjoy the sights in this forest," she said. "It's kind of nice."
"Pretty!" cheered Pinkie, who was in a tree… somehow.
"Eeyup," said Big Macintosh, taking another drink.
Rainbow Dash laid on her back in the dirt and took a breath. She knew they should be looking for the girls, but there was something on her mind.
"If'n you're lookin' for a way to say sorry to Scootaloo, just say so," said Macintosh, kicking a rock. "Never good to leave things bad for a long time. Those girls saw that, that's why they came lookin' fer Applejack an' Twilight."
"I feel awful about it," mumbled Dash.
"Me too," said Applejack, looking at her reflection. "I said some awful nasty things."
"Ain't nothing to go cryin over now," said Mac as Fluttershy floated over to him.
"Some squirrels said they saw fifteen dogs with the girls," she said. "They passed by a clearing to the north and one that fits Scootaloo's description kept biting one of the dogs. But they didn't hurt the girls as far as the squirrels know."
"Thank's Miss Fluttershy," said Mac with a smile. "Take a drink and we'll leave when you are ready."
Fluttershy took a few gulps of water from the stream and nodded at Mac.
"Let's get goin' everypony," he said, moving back into the trees, the others following closely.
They'd traveled for another hour when he stopped suddenly. Pinkie Pie didn't see him stop and bumped into him hard, sending him and Spike right into a rope that snapped and slammed a wooden cage right onto them.
"Awwww horse apples!" cried Applejack, pushing on the posts to no avail. The ponies began to panic and tried to push it, except for Twilight who stood off to the side with an eyebrow raised. Her horn began to glow and she threw the cage off of them, just as Dash charged the cage and slammed into Macintosh, who didn't budge. He shifted his wheat and nodded at Twilight.
"Thank ya kindley," he said.
"Awesome Twilight!" cheered Spike. "I got scared for a second. Just a second though."
"Why would they set up a wooden cage here I wonder?" asked Twilight, walking up to Macintosh. "What were they trying to trap?"
"You mean what were they tryin' ta feed?" muttered Macintosh, nodding at a large foot print. It belonged to no dog he'd ever seen. No way would it get caught under that cage.
"M-maybe he knows," stuttered Pinkie Pie, pointing behind Macintosh. He turned around and was face to face with a large Minotaur, the fifteen foot tall creature leaning down and releasing a deafening roar in his face. In an instant his calm demeanor was gone and replaced with a look of frantic anger and fear.
"RUN!" shouted Macintosh, turning and bucking the Minotaur in the face, sending it into a tree before he took off after the others. Leading their pack was Twilight, and Macintosh ran up beside her. He looked ahead and saw something that gave him an idea.
"Miss Sparkle, reckon you can use that magic of yers to bring down that rock formation up ahead?" he shouted at her.
She looked ahead and saw that there was an archway made from a natural rock formation, large enough for the Minotaur to fit through, but high enough to do some serious damage on whomever it fell on. The idea clicked immediately and she grinned at him.
"I can try!" she replied her horn glowing violet.
"On my mark!" said Mac. Just as the last of them, Pinkie Pie, passed under the archway he shouted "NOW". With a shout, Twilight grabbed the arch and brought it down on the Minotaur, crushing it to death under a mountain of rubble. The ponies stopped to catch their breath. Rainbow Dash let out a war cry and did some victory flips, Applejack nuzzled her brother and Pinkie Pie tackled them both for a hug, Twilight and Rarity giggled to each other about the show of affection while Fluttershy hyperventilated in to the side. When they had all caught their breath they decided to keep moving. They returned to the stream first and then went back to the cage and moved from there. They walked for another two hours before deciding to stop again.
"I didn't realize the forest was so big!" panted Pinkie, flopping down next to the rock Macintosh picked out as their resting place.
"It aint," said Macintosh. "The dogs are moving in an uneven way, making their way all over so they can throw off their trail every so often. Never works too well, but it makes our job longer."
He looked up and sniffed.
"That a campfire I smell?"
Twilight looked around and saw a few poison joke plants near a tree.
"Oh, we must be near Zecora's place," she said. "I recognize this area. Let's go see if she's seen the dogs."
They made their way to Zecora's hut a few minutes away and knocked on her door.
"Who is at my door?" came the voice of the Zebra shaman from inside. "I warn you dogs of the moor! If you return to this home, you will lose those legs on which you roam!"
Zecora swung open her door with a shaman's staff clamped between her teeth. When she saw her friends staring at her instead of a pack of Diamond Dogs she set the staff aside and let out a sigh of relief.
"Hujambo my friends!" she said, allowing them room to enter. "Excuse my rude intimidation, but with all these dogs I have a bit of justification."
"Zecora!" said Applejack, getting straight to the point. "Those Diamond Dogs have Applebloom and her friends! Do you have any idea where they might be?"
Zecora's eyes went wide in terror and she reached into a bag near her table and pulled out a map of the Everfree Forest.
"The dogs made their way two hours ago, and a day," she said, pointing out that the dogs had settled in the forest recently. She pointed out a cave on the map, right next to the Froggy Bottom Bog, in the side of Dragon Mountain. "There is where they mine their jewels, you'd best be quick and catch those fools."
"Thank ya kindly," said Big Macintosh, running out the door at began a slow trot towards the place she pointed out on the map. Spike bounced on his back and scratched his bandages.
"You sure know your way around the forest Macintosh," said Spike, looking up at the trees.
"When you're a farmer, it's good to know the lands around your property," said Macintosh. "Ah mapped out these areas years ago."
"Why hasen't Applejack ever mentioned any of it?"
"Ah'm sure none of ya have ever bothered to ask," the large pony remarked with a smile. "Durin' the whole Nightmare Moon fiasco I had to take care of Applebloom and Granny Smith. I trusted Applejack to save us, and Ah still do. But this is one of those times where a Pony has to get involved for the sake of his whole family."
"They really mean a lot to you don't they?" said Twilight Sparkle, trotting up next to him. He looked back to see all of the ponies, including Zecora, who had her staff and some bags following closely. Big Macintosh smiled.
"If anything happened to any one of the Apple Family," he said, looking forward. "Mah heart couldn't take it."
Applejack silently nuzzled her brother as they marched on towards the Diamond Dog settlement, and he returned the gesture.
"What you mean you no know how to find jewels?" Rover screamed at the Cutie Mark Crusaders. "Miss Rarity know how! Why not you?"
"Because," shouted Sweetie Belle right back at him. "Finding jewels is my sister's special talent, not ours! Only she has that power!"
They were inside a large dank cavern, with very few gems to be found. The dogs seemed to be desperate for gemstones and were reaching their breaking point.
Rover pulled on his ears and screamed in frustration.
"PUT THEM TO BED!" he roared, as several guard dogs snatched up the little ponies and taking them to a cell down a corridor and tossing them in roughly. Applebloom whimpered in pain because one of the Diamond dogs had dropped her earlier and it sprained her ankle.
"It's okay Applebloom," said Scootaloo, nuzzling up to her.
"A-ah miss Applejack and B-Big Macintosh," she wept quietly. All three of them were homesick and it showed. They all tried to keep brave faces but soon they were all crying quietly.
After another hour of walking the ponies reached the cave and Big Macintosh held up a hoof. He turned around and cleared his throat.
"Now things might get a bit hairy," he said. "So Ah want you all to hang back. If things do get out of hand Ah'll need your help and Ah'll call for you. But until then, stay hidden and stay quiet. Ah'mma try and negotiate the release of the girls."
The other ponies and Spike hesitated and looked at eac hother, but after today, they didn't question Big Mac's instruction. They went back into the trees and hid themselves as best they could. Upon Mac's instructions Rainbow Dash flew high up to keep a look out, hiding behind some low clouds. Mac walked up to the cave entrance and shouted into it.
"ROVER!" he shouted, the anger showing in his voice. "GET YOUR THIEVIN' BEHIND OUT HERE THIS INSTANT A'FORE I COME IN THERE AND BUCK YOU BACK TO THE ROCK FARMS!"
It was a few minutes before they got a response.
"I NO WANNA!" shouted the Diamond Dog, which was followed by raucous laughter from deep within the cave.
"ROVER GIVE ME THOSE LITTLE PONIES RIGHT NOW!"
"GIVE ME YOUR GRANNY NECKLACE AND YOU HAVE A DEAL!"
"AH GOT IT RIGHT HERE YA PIECE OF FILTH!" he bluffed stamping his feet aggressively. "COME GET IT!"
Applejack and traded a look with Twilight, worry etched onto their faces.
"How come you never told us your brother fought the Diamond Dogs before?" whispered Twilight. "I didn't know they were on a first name basis."
"Truth is," whispered Applejack, a sad look coming over her face. "It'twere a fight with Rover's gang what killed mah Ma an' Pa. Last time we dealt with diamond dogs we thought we'd never see em again. I didn't expect to see Rover when they took Rarity. See, Mac thinks I don't know, but he an' Rover have a deeper history than anypony I know. Almost as deep as Celestia an' Luna. I didn't say nothing a'fore cuz I didn't want Macintosh to catch wind that Rover had come back. He'd gotten hurt too many times fightin' them dogs, I couldn't bear for it to happen again."
"I understand," said Twilight, watching as Big Macintosh glared at the cave entrance.
"Me too," said Fluttershy. "Those mean old dogs don't learn do they?"
"Indeed," whispered Zecora.
"BUT IF YOU DARE COME OUT HERE WITHOUT THEM FILLIES YOU GET NOTHIN BUT A MOUTH FULL OF MAH REAR HOOF, YA HEAR ME ROVER?" roared Macintosh.
"I HEAR PONY! I HEAR!" came the response.
Macintosh backed away from the cave entrance and huffed angrily, stamping his feet.
"I hate it when he gets mad," said Applejack, shuddering slightly.
"What happens when he gets mad?" asked Pinkie.
Macintosh's patience was wearing thin and in his frustration he bucked a nearby tree with enough force to uproot it slightly, the bark from it gone and replaced with hoof prints.
"Well well well," said Rover, coming out of the cave with a moving sack over his shoulder. "Getting stronger every day, Leetle Macintosh?"
"Open the bag Rover, I need to make sure them ponies are safe," Macintosh said, ignoring the goad.
"Show me necklace first!"
"Rover, don't test me!"
"You no test me, Pony!"
Macintosh red face only seemed to get redder as he and Rover got into each other's faces, both of them sizing up the other.
"You lying," said Rover quietly. "You no have that necklace!"
He grabbed his bag and opened it, Spot flying out of it and latching onto Macintosh's face, laughing insanely. Macintosh reared back and threw the smaller dog off and charged at Rover.
"Get him boys!" shouted Rover as a few guard dogs leapt out of the cave and tackled the large pony to the ground.
"Let go of mah brother!" shouted Applejack, bolting to Mac's side and bucking off one of the dogs. The remaining one lunged at her but Macintosh grabbed its tail and yanked it down hard, giving it a good stomp and knocking it unconscious. He turned on Rover who was backing away in fear. The other seven ponies and Spike joined his side.
"Where you get all these ponies Macky?" chuckled Rover nervously. "You used to always come by yourself."
"Well this time lives are on the line you hound!" growled Macintosh, stamping his feet. "Give… me… my… SISTER!"
The last word he roared in the dog's face. Rover screamed and ran into the cave.
"Let's follow 'em!" said Big Macintosh, giving chase. They ran through the labyrinth of tunnels, following the scent of frightened dog until they entered a large antechamber where there were ten other guard dogs waiting for them with lances and clubs, grinning maliciously. The ponies gulped and backed away slightly, but Big Macintosh sighed and took off his harness. Spike ran up and took it. Macintosh spit out his wheat and cracked his neck, sauntering up to the nearest dog.
"Rex," he said, as though he knew this dog. "Ah aint here to fight, Ah just want to get mah little sister and leave."
"Sorry Mac," said the dog. "But we got no jewels here, we need em, so we need them ponies to find em for us."
Macintosh sighed and looked back at Applejack, nodding slowly.
"Can't say Ah didn't try," he said, spinning around and bucking the dog hard on the chest, sending him flying into a pile of empty crates, out cold. The other dogs charged in immediately swinging their weapons. Twilight and Rarity acted fast, throwing debri at them with their magic, knocking out three of them right off the bat, Fluttershy flying high above and warning them of incoming dangers, Zecora fending them off with her staff and Pinkie Pie dodging their attacks and redirecting their momentum by tickling them when they opened their guard, making them bump into and strike eachother. Rainbow dash was spinning around some dogs quickly making them pass out from dizziness. Applejack and Big Macintosh bucked whoever was left into the walls. When they were all done, the only one left was Fido, the largest Diamond dog of them all.
Macintosh marched up to fido and got in his face. Fido pointed to a corridor nearby.
"Leetle ponies down there," he sobbed, getting on the floor and rolling onto his back submissively. "No hurt Fido!"
Macintosh smiled and rubbed Fido's belly, the dog shaking his leg happily. Macintosh then addressed the rest of the group.
"I'm gonna go find Rover and put a stop to all this," he said, his calm expression on his face. "You go get the girls."
"Alright big brother," said Applejack, nuzzling him. "Be careful."
The girls, Spike and Zecora ran down one coridoor while Macintosh headed down another, a winding trail up to the top of Dragon Mountain where Fido waited at the cliff side. It had become dark, a cloudy night with some stars showing through the overcast. Fido laughed maliciously as he saw Macintosh come out of the cave and reached into his bag.
"SWEETIE BELLE!" shouted Rarity as she and Twilight pried off the rusty bars to the cell with their magic.
"Scootaloo!" Rainbow Dash cried, snatching up the little orange Pegasus and hugging her tightly. "I'm sorry!"
"It's okay Rainbow Dash!" said Scootaloo, pushing away. "But the leader dog! He got—"
"APPLEBLOOM!" cried Applejack, looking around frantically. It dawned on her. She bolted from the cell. "Oh no… MACINTOSH!"
"Put her down Rover," said Macintosh calmly, his expression that of his usual bored indifference. "You wouldn't hurt her we both know it. You never meant to hurt nopony."
"If you so sure, then why you ponies always so mean to us Diamond Dogs!" said Rover, holding Applebloom over the cliff.
"Because you steal from us, that just aint right!"
"What else we supposed to do! You see what happen to your mommy and daddy ponies!"
"You could turn yourself in to the guards! Princess Celestia would take care of you!"
"LIES!" The dog dropped Applebloom on the ground next to his feet, and she cried out in pain from her sprain. Rover charged at Macintosh who took a deep breath and charged right back at him. Applebloom closed her eyes tightly as she heard the scuffling and roars of anger and pain coming from the dog and her brother. Eventually there was a loud yelp and she opened her eyes to see a very battered and scratched up Macintosh towering over a bruised and beaten Rover. Rover was whimpering in pain and tried to drag himself away. Macintosh put a hoof on his back to keep him from moving.
"Listen Rover," he said. "What happened all those years ago happened. If you are willing to stop tormenting mah poor Granny for her necklace and never show your face in Ponyville again, Ah'll forgive you for everything."
Rover turned his head and Macintosh let him go. Rover stood up and faced Macintosh shakily.
"I no care about that Pony," said Rover slowly. "I WANT YOUR JEWELS!"
He charged at Macintosh again, but the pony spun and bucked him hard. Rover went flying over Applebloom's head and fell to the Froggy Bottom Bog below with a blood curdling scream. Macintosh walked over to his sister and lay next to her, nuzzling her mane. She sniffled and nuzzled his nose.
"Sorry little sis," he said. "It's mah fault for lettin' you go off by yerself."
"No, it's our fault for going to the forest instead of coming home," she said. "Ah'm sorry."
Big Macintosh smiled at her and let her climb on his back. As he limped towards the cave entrance he heard voiced of the other ponies.
"We're both sorry," he said as Applejack came running up the slope with tears coming down her eyes, their friends following closely. She flew into Macintosh and nuzzled his bloody fur.
"Ah'm sorry!" She wept, looking at Applebloom. "I shouldn'tve reacted the way Ah did! Can you ever forgive me?"
Applebloom looked down at her brother and to the cliff face where he had launched Rover to his doom.
"I do forgive you sis," she said. "But only if you forgive me for the window thing."
"I forgive ya sis," grinned Applejack.
Twilight Sparkle smiled as she watched the little family relish in their reunion.
"Spike, take a note."
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today I learned several very important things about both friendship and family. Sometimes, when things get out of hand, it takes a calm and steady hoof to guide you through the darkest of places. You can't overthink things, or rush into them. You have to take the time to listen, and learn. And while the teacher might not be one of your closest friends, they are still someone worth listening to.
Another thing I learned is that when someone wrongs you, it's never okay to overstep your bounds or overreact. Even the greatest criminal deserves to be forgiven, no matter what they did wrong. Sometimes they won't accept that forgiveness immediately. Sometimes it takes a show of true compassion.
And lastly I learned that your family is forever. No matter how badly you treat them, your family will always come back to you with open arms, and that should never be taken for granted.
Thank you Princess, for everything you do for me. You are like my second mother and my greatest mentor.
Your faithful student,
P.S. As a favor to me and the Apple Family, give the Diamond Dogs a light sentence, and when they are released, put them to work in return for jewels. I think they would like that.
In the Froggy Bottom Bog, a screaming dog could be seen running through the night being hunted by a multi headed monster. Most of its cries couldn't be made out other than a loud scream of:
"I'LL GET YOU PONIES!"