Chapter 7 – The Family Business
Pumpkin was waiting for Twilight anxiously when she climbed out of the burrow, struggling beneath the weight of the homemade saddlebag. When the purple unicorn was finally out of the earth, the filly began jumping, impatient and ready to move.
"Hold your horses," muttered Twilight. "I told you I would take you home. Leaping around like this isn't going to make it happen any faster."
Pumpkin dug her hooves into the earth in irritation. "I know," she groaned. "But we're finally getting a move on, and even then you're slow."
Pumpkin had been ready to leave not long after Twilight had met Fluttershy, but Twilight had refused to let Pumpkin go off into the Everfree Forest on her own. Fortunately, Fluttershy had somehow managed to get Pumpkin to stay, as Twilight would have been unable to force the issue herself.
"I mean, my mum's probably scared to death," said Pumpkin. "You made me stay a whole day. A whole day! What if she thinks I've been eaten by a manaco or something?"
The thought of Pumpkin's poor mother hadn't really occurred to Twilight. "I'll explain everything to her, I promise," said Twilight. "And you're lucky. Fluttershy really wanted me to rest for two days before I left. I managed to convince her I'd be fine with one."
Fluttershy. Something was very wrong with her. That much was apparent, even for somepony who didn't know her. But after their first encounter, during their second conversation, Twilight realized just how bad her condition was.
"I'm really sorry to bring this up again," Twilight had said when she and Fluttershy were alone in the burrow. "But how long have your wings been, you know?" She didn't want to finish, but what she had said should have been clear enough.
"It's fine," was Fluttershy's reply. "It doesn't bother me that much anymore. They don't hurt. But they've been like that as long as I can remember, as long as I've been living here, perhaps."
Something about Fluttershy's behavior had unsettled Twilight. The pegasus seemed nervous around her, even though they were good friends. Twilight slowly realized that Fluttershy had never referred to her by name.
"Fluttershy," she had asked, scared of the answer. "Do you know who I am?"
The silence that followed told Twilight everything she needed. Fluttershy didn't remember her. From the conversation that followed, it became clear that she didn't remember Pinkie Pie either. Or Applejack. It was as if all of her memories had been wiped clean, and none of their adventures together had ever happened.
Now, as Twilight and Pumpkin began their journey through the woods, Fluttershy's health was the only thing on Twilight's mind. "We need to get a doctor out here," she told Pumpkin. "First thing when we get back to Ponyville."
"Why don't you ask Fluttershy?" asked Pumpkin. "She patched you up nice enough."
"I mean, a doctor for Fluttershy," explained Twilight. "She doesn't remember who I am. There's something in her head, like some kind of mad horse disease, and whatever it is that's got her acting like this is making her not remember things she really should know."
"Oh," said Pumpkin, and both ponies stopped talking.
The only way Twilight could measure time was by evaluating her energy. Each step made her a little more exhausted.
After a while, Pumpkin broke the silence. "Are you sure we're going the right way?" she asked.
"Of course," said Twilight. "Fluttershy showed me which way to go. Why, don't you trust Fluttershy?"
"Not really," said Pumpkin, and Twilight realized that she might agree with the filly's decision.
"Why can't you use your adventurer skills to get out of here? Retracing your steps, maybe?" Twilight asked Pumpkin, recalling their first meeting.
"'Cuz," said Pumpkin. "Adventures are always going into jungles, to find treasure and stuff like that. You never see an adventurer leaving a jungle, do you?" She looked up at Twilight, who was straining under the weight of the saddlebag. "You positive you don't want any help with that?" she asked.
"Nope," said Twilight, determined. "A good part of it is food, anyway. I just don't think Fluttershy wanted us to be completely unprepared.
"I helped," said Pumpkin, who was now on Twilight's back and eating salad out of the bag. Twilight glanced over to where the filly had been standing a moment ago, wondering how she could have possibly moved so quickly.
Pumpkin sprung off of Twilight's back, and the saddlebag felt noticeably lighter. She begin jumping in circles around Twilight.
"Did you eat all of that?" Twilight asked the filly.
Pumpkin nodded. "All gone."
"Well then, you'd better slow down, or else you're going to get a stomachache, or you'll get all worn out," warned Twilight.
Pumpkin was still bouncing when Twilight collapsed, all of her energy gone.
"Trixie," moaned Pumpkin, prodding her, and Twilight mentally berated herself for not coming up with a more bearable name to use. "Trixie, we're almost there."
"I don't care," said Twilight, who had found the dirt road surprisingly comfortable. Then the words registered. "Really?" she asked, trying to lift her head. The trees had gotten noticeably thinner since they had started, but Twilight hadn't been willing to get her hopes up. "How do you know?" she asked.
"Easy. I can see the light."
Twilight looked around. "Lights?" she said. "Where?"
Pumpkin looked at Twilight sternly. "Now you're just foaling with me," she said. "I don't like bein' foaled. Up there, in the sky."
Twilight looked up and saw it. A single bright light hovering above Ponyville. She might have thought it was a star, but it was far too bright. Nothing else in the sky came close to matching it. Then, to her amazement, the light moved. It swung sharply downward beneath the canopy before rising up again, somewhat to the right.
"What is it?" asked Twilight, transfixed.
Pumpkin rolled her eyes. "It's the Ponyville light. Honestly 'tain't nothing too special. You've never seen it before, though? What are ya, nocturnal?"
"Nocturnal?" echoed Twilight.
"Yeah. The light only comes out during the day. It's like the sun, but smaller."
Twilight was still confused. "This is daytime?" she asked. If they were really close to the edge of the forest, the lighting shouldn't still be pitch-black.
"Duh. 'Cuz of the light. That's how you tell the night from day."
It took Twilight a few seconds to realize that Pumpkin was probably playing some kind of prank on her. The filly must have seen the light and decided to have fun with it. "Well, you got me," said Twilight, and Pumpkin stared at her, not comprehending. "Maybe we should just take you back to your mom now," she added, trying to give Pumpkin a chance to move past the joke without any embarrassment.
Ten minutes of trotting later, a very familiar building came into view on the very fringe of Ponyville.
"This is where you live?" asked Twilight, shocked.
Pumpkin smiled, proud to be home. "Yup!" she said. "Welcome to Sweet Apple Acres."
The barn stood majestically in front of the sprawling fields; there was no mistaking the farm. Yet something put Twilight on edge, something that she couldn't place. Actually, Twilight mused, that feeling, that familiarity overlaying a sense of the bizarre, was beginning to become a recurring theme in Twilight's struggles. She felt like there was always something in the corner of her eye, something just beyond her comprehension, and it created a sense of dread, a pit in the bottom of her stomach.
"You live here?" said Twilight, trying desperately to fit together the pieces of the puzzle.
Pumpkin stared at her again. "That's what I said."
"But I've never seen you here before."
"And I've never seen you before, period," said Pumpkin. "What's your point?"
"I thought only Applejack lived here, with Granny Smith and Big Macintosh," said Twilight.
Pumpkin shrugged. "Beats me," she said. "There were lots of ponies living on the farm when Gramps and Mum and Dad moved on." She began sprinting down the road toward the large entrance gate without checking to see if Twilight was following her.
Twilight followed slowly, her face furrowed into a frown and her eyes looking at the ground. She wondered how long she had been gone. Was Pumpkin some relative of Applejack's?
As Twilight examined her surroundings, the differences began to compound. Pumpkin was right; there were many ponies on the farm. Twilight saw mostly glimpses of them, through windows or in the distance, but she could easily count past the four residents of the farm she knew. The fourth was Apple Bloom, whom Twilight had accidentally skipped over in her confusion. Some of the buildings seemed old worn down, including a shed that Twilight remembered had been rebuilt a couple months ago; she had helped.
Twilight tried to figure out why there were so many other ponies working, and according to Pumpkin, living on the farm. The Summer Sun celebration was still a few months away. Was it apple harvesting season? Twilight couldn't remember, so she looked out into the apple orchard and realized what had looked so wrong with the orchard: a distinct lack of trees.
There were some apple trees; the fields weren't completely barren. Yet large swaths of grass littered the farm, and some sections were growing other plants, like potatoes and pumpkins.
Twilight could only think of one explanation for the sudden changes. A lot of time must have passed since the last time she had seen the farm. She reached up and touched the bandages on her face. Maybe the injuries and concussion had caused some memory loss. That would explain why everything seemed so disjointed, why the day Twilight had gone into the forest with Rainbow Dash seemed so distant. The distorted memories could be her mind trying to repair itself. Twilight wasn't a neurologist, but she decided that this was a possible explanation, and seeing as she couldn't think of a better one, Occam's Razor said it was probably correct.
She needed a calendar. She was about to try and catch up to Pumpkin to ask her the date when a shrill voice calling Pumpkin's name interrupted her thoughts and made both ponies freeze. Pumpkin turned and leaped even higher than normal when she saw who was speaking to them.
"Rarity!" she cried, and she dashed between Twilight's legs and out of sight. Twilight tried to track Pumpkin as the filly moved but only ended up viewing the now upside-down world between her forelegs.
A white earth pony wearing a Stetson looked at Twilight briefly in confusion before turning her attention to the bouncing filly. She bit down on Pumpkin's ear, holding her in place. "Settle down, now," she instructed between clenched teeth. Pumpkin's leaps became smaller until she was vibrating slowly on the ground. The white pony let go and promptly spit onto the ground. "Better," she said. "But you taste terrible. What have you been up to? Your mother is worried sick." Before Pumpkin could answer, the white pony looked back at Twilight. "And who's the mare who looks like she lost a fight to an owl-bear?"
Twilight self-consciously rubbed the bandage, wishing she would stop being reminded of it. "Rarity?" she said quietly, trying to wrap her head around this new piece of information.
Rarity sighed. "Go take a bath," she told Pumpkin. "I'll let your kin know you're safe." She swatted Pumpkin on the rump with her tail, and Pumpkin took off toward the house. "You. With me," Rarity ordered Twilight, and she complied. "What's your name?" Rarity asked, once the gap had been closed.
The voice did sound like Rarity's, thought Twilight. It wasn't something that she would have figured out purely by listening, but since she knew it was supposed to be Rarity, she could see the resemblance. Rather, it sounded like a hybrid between Rarity's normal voice and Applejack's, like a cowpony that chose her words carefully. She had both Rarity's elegance and Applejack's softness and honesty. "Rarity?" Twilight repeated, not knowing what else to do.
Rarity shook her head. "No, that's me. I'm asking who you are."
Yet the pony standing before her looking intimidating couldn't be Rarity, thought Twilight. She couldn't see the cutie mark from this angle, but this "Rarity" didn't have a horn. Then Twilight remembered Fluttershy, her wings broken off, the stubs standing out at an angle, and Twilight almost threw up again. She forced herself to look up at Rarity, the other pony's blue eyes examining her suspiciously. The dream of Rarity selling apples returned, and Twilight tried to remember if the dream-Rarity had a horn.
"You," began Twilight, "Your, you don't, I mean, what happened to your..." Unable to get the words across, she began frantically gesturing to the horn on her own forehead.
Rarity rolled her eyes, annoyed by their newest guest. "You mean this?" she asked, pushing up the brim on her Stetson, revealing the horn underneath.
Twilight breathed a giant sigh of relief. "Thank Celestia," she breathed.
Rarity eyed Twilight no longer with suspicion but with confusion and concern. "Are you all right?" she asked. "You're the first pony that's asked to see my horn before." Realizing what she had just said, her face flushed with embarrassment. "There were probably a dozen better ways to word that," she muttered. Desperate to move on, she asked Twilight, "Would you like to come inside for a moment? Those bandages look atrocious. We should change them out, and you look like you could use something to eat."
Twilight nodded eagerly, thankful for Rarity's generosity. She still had many questions running through her, and one of them was more important than the rest. Based on Rarity's behavior, however, Twilight was afraid that she already knew the answer.
Do you recognize me?
Five minutes later, Twilight was sitting at a small circular table across from Rarity, sipping some cold apple cider. They were in a back room of the main building, a room the farm had decided to use as a combined food storage and tool shed.
"So," said Rarity, leaning forward. "Who did you say you were again?"
Twilight felt crushed. Rarity didn't remember who she was either. She answered honestly, not wanting to hide anything from her friend, even if the friend didn't know her.
"Twilight Sparkle," repeated Rarity slowly, as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Well, I guess that explains quite a bit. Except what you were doing with Pumpkin."
"I found her in the forest. I wasn't going to eat her soul or anything!" exclaimed Twilight, getting defensive. To her surprise, Rarity began laughing. Twilight sat still dumbfounded.
"Darling," laughed Rarity, "you hardly seem like the type to eat anypony's soul. Even if that were possible."
"But Pumpkin said..." muttered Twilight, trailing off.
"I've been trying to figure you out, Twilight," continued Rarity. "Who you are, that sort of thing. It's easy to figure out what you're not. For example, I know you don't eat souls. But you're clueless enough to listen to a little filly on matters you should already be well-aware of. Namely, yourself. Be honest with me, Twilight. What are you doing here?"
Twilight finished the cider. She leaned in to match Rarity. "I think that there's something wrong with me," she confessed.
Rarity started laughing again. "Oh, I doubt there's any argument against that," she said. Noticing Twilight's empty cup, she added, "Sorry, darling. I wish I could give you more, but everything here's strictly rationed. They can't notice anything's gone missing."
"Rationed?" The word surprised Twilight. "But this is the Sweet Apple Acres. Half the food in Ponyville comes out of here."
Rarity sighed again, and her face once again showed worry. "That may have been true, before the Darkness. Now it's all we can do to get enough to eat."
"The Darkness?" asked Twilight, who hadn't heard anything after that.
Rarity raised an eyebrow. "You really are behind the times, aren't you, Darling? Look outside. It's the middle of the day, if you still believe in differentiating them. The sun doesn't rise anymore. It hasn't, not since the Summer Sun Celebration two years ago. And food doesn't grow without sunlight. The whole extended Apple family's moved here to work together, to make what we can, even if it's barely enough to get through. We've got the Apples, the Melons, and the Pumpkins, all under one roof."
Twilight stopped breathing. "That's impossible," she said. "We stopped it. We did. Both of us. Together."
Rarity shook her head and looked at Twilight sadly. "I don't know what you're going on about, Twilight. I'd remember something like that, I think. And the two of us have never been acquainted before today."
Something Rarity had said before began to bother Twilight, and she figured now would be a good time to ask. "Which one are you?" she asked.
Rarity didn't understand. "Excuse me?" she said.
"The Apples, the Melons, and the Pumpkins. Which one are you?"
"Oh, I'm nothing yet," said Rarity, and a small mischievous smile spread across her lips. "I just work here. And I've started living here too. I'm not a blood relative, but I'm still part of the big family. At least, they treat me like I am, and I like it that way." She picked up Twilight's plate and carried it to a sink. "Now, let's get those bandages replaced."
That evening, Rarity was sitting in a rocking chair behind the house, watching Apple Bloom and Scootaloo tussle on the ground over a ball. The game was a sport of Apple Bloom's creation, and she would often force the other fillies on the farm to play it with her when she wasn't trying to find her special talent with her friends.
Rarity watched as Apple Bloom gained control of the ball and bucked it toward Pumpkin, who shot it past Sweetie Belle and into the goal. What she wouldn't give to be that young again, without a care, not understanding the hardships she would have to endure to make a living.
Today had been a relatively lax day, but tomorrow she would have to start uprooting some of the potato plants to see which ones had become infected with a rather nasty worm. It would be a lot of hard work, and Rarity figured she could manage. She wasn't averse to labor like she had been as a filly, and it paid well. She could feel the muscles in her chest and couldn't imagine what it would be like to live without them. She also couldn't forget the numerous lessons discipline had taught her. She recited the Wayfarer's Creed silently to herself.
Never do by horn what can be done by hoof. Patience, endurance, and the value of work can't be taught with magic.
It had taken Rarity far too long to realize this, and so she had made the promise with herself. Nopony else was enforcing it but her; maybe that's why she found it so compelling. If she broke it, it would become meaningless, and she had lived by it far too long to risk sacrificing its meaning.
After she had changed Twilight's bandages, it had become apparent that the purple unicorn still hadn't recovered enough to be out of bed. She was easily fatigued and had trouble maintaining focus during the procedure, and so she gave up her bed to Twilight. After all, it wasn't like she used it that much now.
Pumpkin's mother had approached her soon afterward, anxious to meet the stranger that had rescued her daughter. That would have to happen tomorrow too.
Who was Twilight Sparkle? Rarity had heard the legends; so had every pony, but she'd never given them much credit. The real Twilight had turned out to be a confused, disoriented mess, and Rarity had taken pity on her. She only hoped the rest of the farm would react the same way when they learned who their new guest was.
Pumpkin bucked the ball again, and this time it went over goalpost, hitting Granny Smith, who nearly toppled over backward. Rarity called out the filly's name, scolding her before going to check that the older mare was unhurt.
"Pumpkin Alyssa Pie!"