Chapter One:

Fire at the Pageant

Big Macintosh strained at the end of a thick chain in Sweet Apple Acres southernmost field. Celestia's August sun shone down mercilessly on the red workhorse's back.

Ponyville had a sandy loam soil, but being in such mountainous terrain, it also had an annoyingly large number of rocks and boulders. The loam was perfect for apple orchards, but all the rocks could be a source of incredible frustration when one wanted to plant a field of new trees.

The rock Big Macintosh was currently pulling at was about the size of a small pony, and it had been silently mocking his toils for the past twenty minutes. Big Mac stopped pulling at the chain hitched to his harness while he caught his breath. He turned and silently scowled at the rock. Then he turned back away, carefully lowered his head, and heaved at the chain. Sweat dripped down his face, his muscles bulged like knotted ropes, and his hooves dug deep into the soil.

The rock sat smugly in place, unmoved by the work horse's efforts.

Big Mac collapsed in a heap, thinking evil thoughts about geology.

"Yer gonna go and hurt something if you ain't careful."

Big Mac turned his head towards the speaker, blinking sweat out of his eyes. His sister Applejack stood there, examining the rock with a grin on her face.

"Well shoot, Big Mac, you really having trouble moving this little pebble? Why it's hardly bigger'en Apple Bloom."

To most ponies, Big Mac's expression would have seemed identical to his normal one. AJ however, had known him long enough to be able to giggle at the very slight narrowing of eyes and tightening of jaw.

"Ah reckon," he said in a deliberate manner, "there's a good amount of it buried still. Ah'm gonna hafta dig it out some 'fore Ah can move it."

"Well," AJ said, taking the chain in her mouth to unhitch it from the rock, "tat can wai' tiw watah." She spat out the chain. "It's time for supper, and afterwards ya need to go and fetch Apple Bloom and her friends from in town. They're havin' a sleepover here. Ah'd go, but Ah promised Granny Smith Ah'd help her with her baking."

AJ helped wrap the chain across Big Mac's back, and they trudged back home to wash up.

It was almost sundown by the time Big Mac reached town. He walked into Sugarcube Corner, where the young fillies had been spending the afternoon "helping" Pinkie Pie. He walked through the door, making the bell jingle. A white pony suddenly popped up in front of him.

"Hi Big Mac!" the pony chirped excitedly.

Big Mac froze for a second, and then let out a laugh as he realized that it wasn't a white pony, it was just Pinkie Pie covered in flour.

"How'dy do, Pinkie. I guess you already answered my question 'bout how it went with the girls."

"Oh, it went great!" Pinkie paused. "Although, we didn't seem to actually get much baking done. But it was still a ton of fun!"

Big Mac followed her through the shop and into the large kitchen in the back. He stopped as he entered the room, staring in shock. To call it messy would be accurate. To call it a disaster zone would be even more accurate. Pots and pans were scattered around the room, there was cake mix trickling down the walls in large globs, and the whole room had a fine layer of flour coating it.

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were seated in the center of the room. Between them sat what appeared to be a filly-sized brown lump of brownie mix, with a small white horn poking out the top.

Scootaloo poked Sweetie Belle, and then licked the batter off her hoof.

"I think this is the best batch yet," Scootaloo announced.

"Alright kids, time to go," Pinkie Pie called.

"Hey Appleja-" Apple Bloom froze when she saw who it was with Pinkie Pie.

"Aw, shoot," she said, knowing what was to come.

Big Mac closed his gaping mouth, and narrowed his eyes.

"'Aw shoot' is right!" he exclaimed. "Miss Pinkie Pie here invites y'all to come over and play, and y'all pay her back by making it look like a twister came through here!"

"It's okay, Big Mac," Pinkie said. "I'll clean it up. I make messes like this all the time. They don't have to help."

"They most certainly do!" Big Macintosh replied. "We ain't leaving this place 'til it's clean enough for me to see mah reflection in the floor. 'Cept you, Sweetie Belle, you can get on home."

"What! Why's she get to go?" Scootaloo complained.

"'Cause 'til she washes up, anything she touches is gonna just get dirtier."

Sweetie Belle tried, and failed, to hide the delighted grin from her face. The other two Cutie Mark Crusaders glared at her.

"Don't think she's off the hook," Big Macintosh said, "Ah'll find something for her to do when we get to the farm."

"Nuts," Sweetie Belle said. She walked dejectedly out of the kitchen, leaving tiny brown hoofprints every step of the way.

The sun had set by the time the kitchen had been cleaned to Big Mac's satisfaction. Finally the large workhorse and two little ponies walked out of Sugarcube Corner, and started across town towards Rarity's boutique,

Apple Bloom whispered to Scootaloo, "I wish it had been Applejack who'd come to get us."

Big Mac took pity on the two tired fillies.

"Well, you know girls, Applejack's been doing a whole heap'a baking this evening. Ah'll bet once we get back she'll let us have some nice hot apple pie."

The faces on the two girls immediately brightened.

"With ice cream?" Apple Bloom asked excitedly.

"Ah don't know..." he teased, and then laughed at their pleading faces. "Shucks, what'd pie be without some ice cream?"

"Alright!" the two fillies shouted, hoof bumping each other.

"Hey Big Mac," Scootaloo started, "we never asked how you got your cutie mark."

"Well…" Big Mac began, and then paused as something caught his attention.

There was a flickering light coming from around the corner of the building they were walking by, and Big Mac suddenly noticed a familiar smell, one that evoked long buried memories. "Wait here," he said sharply to the girls.

"What is it, Big Macintosh?" Apple Bloom asked, worried by his sudden change in tone.

Big Mac didn't answer, instead trotting around the corner, a twisted feeling in his gut. As he rounded the corner he saw Rarity's home. Inside he could see a red and yellow glow. The boutique was on fire.

He wheeled around to face Apple Bloom and Scootaloo.

"Get over to Twilight's and tell her to get to Rarity's!"

"Why, what-" Apple Bloom started.

"Do it now!" he bellowed, and then took off towards Rarity's boutique.

When he got close he could see Rarity standing frozen in front of the burning house. As he galloped up to her she turned to face him.

"I, I just, looking for Opalescence, I…" she managed to stutter.

"Where's Sweetie Belle? Is she with you?" Big Mac shouted.

At his words she began to shake. Her mouth moved but no words came out.

Without hesitating Big Macintosh turned and galloped to the house, smashing his huge frame through the door. He was immediately assailed by choking smoke and intense heat. There were flames licking up the far walls of the main show room . As he stood there he suddenly felt a great panic. Where would she be? How could he find her? His mind screamed the questions at him. Suddenly, an image appeared in his mind, that of a batter covered filly, being sent home early from to clean herself up.

She went to take a bath! he thought to himself. Where'd she go for that? Upstairs!

Big Mac ran across the room, but stopped abruptly when he reached the staircase. The staircase was engulfed in flame. There was nothing for it. He galloped up the steps. The flames licked up his legs, twisting and biting.

He finally reached the top and collapsed to his knees. Thick black smoke hung across the ceiling. He could barely breath, wheezing for air like a dying fish. Big Mac called out for Sweetie Belle, but could only let out a choking gasp . He tried to stand, and found his legs wouldn't support him. He forced himself to crawl along the flour until he reached the first door. It was closed. He turned away from it, and pressed his rear hooves to the door. He heaved, and the door splinted and opened. Inside was a child's bedroom. It was empty.

He almost gave up. He was going to die there. He had failed, and he would burn into ash as punishment.

She went to take a bath! his mind screamed at to him.

Big Mac willed himself back to his knees, and crawled to the next room down the hall. Forcing the door open he was confronted with a small bathroom. At the far end, sat a tub filled with water, in which sat a small crying unicorn. At that moment the fear that had been squeezing his chest like a vice disappeared. He made his way over to the tub.

"Sweetie Belle," he managed to croak.

She let out a cry of surprise hearing him, then realizing who it was, grabbed him in a tight hug.

"I went to take a bath, and I smelled something, and when I went to look there was smoke, and I called for Rarity, but she didn't come!" she explained through her sobs.

"It's okay," Big Mac reassured her, his voice sounding small and weak. "Ah'm gonna take ya to Rarity." At his words she shrank away from him and started crying harder.

"I don't wanna die," she cried.

"Rarity ain't dead," he said adamantly. "And we ain't gonna die neither, ya hear me?"

He grabbed a towel with his teeth and dunked in the tub.

"Wrap this 'round your face," he instructed her. He bent his head towards her. "Now climb on my back, and hold tight to my harness."

She did as she was told, and Big Mac started back out of the bathroom. He knew he wouldn't be capable of making it back down the stairs; he would have to find a room with a window instead.

As he entered the hallway the smoke which lay overhead slowly ignited. It started over by the stairs, and traveled along the ceiling looking all the world like a stream of water pouring down a hill.

Big Mac crawled towards the room at the far end of the hall. He got to the door and forced it open.

As they entered into what must have been Rarity's room, he felt the air being sucked past him into the hallway. He crawled to the window and heard what sound like an animal's roar behind him. With one final burst of strength he leapt through the window, as he felt a sudden searing heat across his flank.

Big Mac didn't remember hitting the ground, but he remembered ponies gathered around him and panicked yelling. He looked down and saw that his normally red fetlocks looked black. He told himself that he must be very badly injured. He didn't feel particularly concerned about it.

"Don't worry," Big Mac whispered. "Ah'm fine, it don't even hurt." And after that he remembered nothing.

Author's Notes:

I of course, do not own MLP: FiM, nor do I own the chapter or story titles, which are named after songs. "Fire at the Pageant" is by the Felice Brothers, and "The Lucky One" is by Alison Krauss and Union Station.