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Something Ain't Right · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple
Family was the most important thing for Applejack. Her kin meant the world to her, and she was happy whenever she heard of them and got to know how they were faring. But the contents of the letter that had arrived that morning put her as far away from a good mood as could be.

Applejack’s brow furrowed as she read it once more. It was long. That should’ve tipped her off. Her relatives were talkative, but never as much in writing. As for the contents…

“Watcha got there, dearie?” Granny Smith asked as she walked into the kitchen.

“It’s a letter from Uncle Cortland,” Applejack replied. The rest of her words died in her throat. She wouldn’t dare hide it from them but… She’d be lying if she said it would be easy.

“Oh, how nice to hear from him. Shame he missed the last reunion. How’s he doin’? And how’s that lil’ runt of his? Lil’ Babs, she was.”

“Yeah… That’s why he wrote the letter.”

Silence descended over them after she said that. Granny’s expression went from mild shock to concern in the span of a few seconds. Over at the stove, Big Mac lowered the flame under the pot of oatmeal he was making and turned to face her.

“What was that about Babs?”

Applejack turned to see her younger sister sneaking around Granny Smith’s leg and running up to her.

Seeing her little sister looking up at her with those wide eyes was too much for her. A loud exhale escaped her, and she brought the letter up and read it again.

“Uncle Cortland doesn’t go into much detail. But he ain’t faring too well. That much’s true. Babs… Uh…” Her eyes briefly flickered towards Apple Bloom. Swallowing hard, she continued. “Seems she’s been hangin’ ‘round with the rowdy kids lately.”

“Oh, Babs…” Granny Smith said in the peculiar intonation only a disappointed old relative can produce.

For her part, Apple Bloom had turned very serious. Wrinkled snout and darting eyes.

“You know something, Bloom?”

Her little sister opened her mouth, but said nothing for a few moments. “Ah… Well… Babs told me she was meeting new ponies to join the Manehattan branch of the Crusaders. She’s always looking out for ponies to help.”

“Meeting with them a tad too much it seems,” Applejack replied. “Seems she’s been spending a lot of time outside of home, even coming back way past her curfew.”

“Those darned city kids. They like actin’ grown up way too much!”

Uncle Cortland was sparse on details, but she could tell from his writing. Something wasn’t right with her cousin. It would be easy to blame it all on a rebellious phase, or just puberty kickin’ in…

“Must be hard on uncle Cortland. What with having to raise Babs on his own,” Applejack continued, her eyes scanning the letter once more.

Apple Bloom got closer to Applejack, standing on her hind legs as she tried to read the letter. “What more did he say?”

“Actually, he’s asking for help.” Glancing to her side, she continued, “Even mentioned you by name, Bloom.”

“Wait, really?” the filly asked, her features flowing between confusion and worry.

“Since you’re so close with Babs, he was hoping you could talk some sense into the girl.”

In a moment, all other emotions drained from Apple Bloom’s face, leaving only shock. “Wait… Does that mean…?”

Applejack folded the letter and set it on the table before giving her little sister an earnest smile. “If you don’t mind skipping town for the weekend. Whatcha’ say, Bloom? Want to go to Manehattan?”

“Do I!”

“I’m gonna see Babs! I’m gonna see my cousin again!”

All around the jumping filly, the members of the Apple family smiled warmly. Family was important for them. When times got tough, there was no Apple who wouldn't buck apples, wrangle critters, or face any challenge that came their way to keep 'em smilin' and feelin' safe.

'Cause when you're part of the Apple family, they stuck together through thick and thin, no matter what.

The following morning, they’d woken up way before Celestia rose the sun to make sure they could catch the first train to Manehattan. Summer was a few ways away from coming, so there was a small chill to the air in the train station as the Apple sisters sat on the wood bench under a lonely lamp, huddled next to their hastily assembled bags.

Apple Bloom had stayed up late, not only packing but excitedly thinking about how she was going to spend the weekend with her cousin. A cute one, was she. It seemed the excitement almost made her forget why they were going to Manehattan in the first place. Perhaps, Applejack thought, she assumed they’d arrive at Uncle Cortland’s home, wait for Babs, and get all sorted out after a quick talk, leaving the rest of the weekend for their Crusading shenanigans. As a result, the filly now rested against her leg, lightly snoring and with her mouth agape.

With a sigh, Applejack looked up, past the lamp’s light and into the vast expanse and the stars shining above.

There was a part of her that sympathised with Babs. Once upon a time, she’d been a naïve little filly who looked for ways of acting out. Darn, she’d even ran away from home once before. Perhaps that was why she couldn’t bring herself to judge Babs Seed too harshly. She couldn’t imagine living in a city such as Manehattan would do much to help a growing filly. Perhaps things would’ve been similar had she been in Babs’s hooves.

However, the contents of the letter rushed back to her mind. The sadness that dripped from those words was crossing a line. As much as she could bring herself to understand why Babs was acting that way, it was really taking a toll on her dad, and that was something Applejack could not condone. She wouldn’t be harsh on the girl, but she was gonna make darn sure Babs understood how this was affecting uncle Cortland, and that they had a heart to heart about it, finally reaching an understanding. If all went well, that is.

She smiled. Perhaps she’d have a friendship report to send the Princess once this was all over.

The train ride had been mostly uneventful, save for Apple Bloom’s sporadic bouts of excitement which had not abated in spite of her obvious tiredness. And once the Manehattan skyline had become apparent, her enthusiasm only grew.

“We’re here!” She said, pressing her face against the window, as if trying to close the distance between herself and the city.

“Hold your horses, girl,” Applejack replied, grabbing her sister by the withers and pushing her back onto her seat. “You won’t make the train go any faster by fussing about. Just wait until we reach the station.”

“We’ll be going straight for Babs’s house, won’t we?” Apple Bloom continued, her older sister’s words ignored.

Applejack couldn’t help but chuckle. “Sure thing, sugarcube. We may even catch ‘em just as they’re waking up. We’ll talk things out over breakfast.”


That seemed to calm Apple Bloom somewhat. But she’d meant those words. Celestia willing, Babs wouldn’t have left before they arrived at their house. The look of shock in the filly’s face alone would’ve made the trip worth it. Still, Applejack knew things rarely ever went that smoothly. All she could do was hope for the best and help in whichever way she could.

As they entered one of the tunnels that lead into the fancy subterranean railroads they had and darkness enveloped them, Applejack’s mouth twisted into a confident smile.

“The city’s so big!” Apple Bloom exclaimed. It was amusing how the big pink bow on her head bobbed up and down as she looked all around her, taking the sights of the impressive skyscrapers and fancy buildings.

“Sure is. But don’t you go scampering off now, you hear? The city’s mighty big, and the last thing we need is you getting lost,” Applejack said, though she couldn’t lie her eyes were wandering around the streets, as well. It was a curious feeling, seeing how the city had grown and changed since she was first here as a filly herself. Them fancy roads were made of asphalt now, and it seemed the buildings had doubled in size. The smallest of them all would tower above most of Ponyville. Strange, but curious.

With equal parts caution and excitement, the sisters made their way through the rigid grid of streets of the big city, and Applejack couldn’t help but notice another change in the atmosphere of Manehattan.

Back in her foalhood, ponies in the city had mostly been the froufrou kind she associated with places like Canterlot, but as they walked deeper into the city, she realised there were far more normal ponies than she’d expected. Though there was a part of her that felt happy about this, she couldn’t shake the nagging notion that maybe her cousin wouldn’t be in this situation if the city had remained a haven of fancy ponies.

“I bet there’s so much to do ‘round here!” Apple Bloom said, bringing Applejack back from her reveries. “Oh, I wish we could’ve come when things were normal… Just think of all the opportunities for Crusadin’ we’d have! Oh, I have to talk with the girls. We’ve got to come here! It will be like a meeting of the Cutie Mark Crusaders branches!”

She couldn’t help but giggle at the antics of her sister and her foalish innocence. However, that just made her think of Babs Seed. A filly no older than her little sister who should only be worrying about school and playing with her friends. It was just like Granny had said; city kids seemed like they wanted to act all grown up.

Uncle Cortland’s letter hadn’t specified how exactly Babs behaviour had changed lately, other than it becoming obvious around the time the filly had started hanging out with some fillies and colts she’d met downtown. Who knew what those kids got up to. She hoped her cousin wasn’t keeping secrets from her uncle, but she couldn’t deny it was a big possibility.

So lost she’d become in her thoughts, that Applejack didn’t notice when she walked right into a pony just as she turned a corner.

“Oh! Mighty sorry, mister. I didn’t—” Applejack’s throat seized when she saw the haggard looking pony staring right back at her.

Far be from her to judge somepony based on their looks, but she had to admit the filthy coat with visible stains and matted fur, overgrown facial hair, and bloodshot eyes with heavy bags under them did little to inspire confidence. The sisters exchanged a nervous glance. The derelict remained in place, his tired eyes focusing on the two of them as if only now realising they’d bumped into each other.

With no small amount of unease, Applejack cleared her throat and forced a smile. “Eh… hehe… Yeah, as I was sayin’, we should’ve been paying more attention to where we were—”

“Shoulda ne’er come.”

The stallion’s quick reply caught her off-guard. As the stranger continued to stare at her without as much as blinking, she slowly felt her body tense up as a strong sense of unease crept upon her. She wasn’t sure how to reply to that, but she had to wait little before he spoke again.

“Damned outsiders.” He shook his head, but his eyes never left hers. His words bursting forth like a waterfall. “Coming here like they own the city. Don’t know shit.”

“Well, I’ll be!” Applejack replied. The stallion’s voice devolved into a tangled mess of mumbling madness, but she wasn’t listening anymore. Without bothering to say anything more to the rude vagabond, she turned around and pushed her sister away.

“Don’t pay him any mind, Apple Bloom. Big cities sometimes attract odd ponies like that,” she said, making an effort not to let the bitterness seep into her voice. If that was going to be an attitude shared by Manehattanites, then she was worried about the influence they were having on her cousin.

She hoped to Celestia that wasn’t the case, but she was feeling far less optimistic.

The final stretch of the trip was spent with considerably less enthusiasm. Apple Bloom seemed less eager to look at the fancy buildings all around her, but hopefully that was more because she was looking forward to finally seeing her cousin than being rattled by their earlier run-in with that odd stallion.

Applejack shook her head, forcing herself to ignore the weird encounter and focus on the task at hoof. Babs Seed and uncle Cortland.

“Now, remember, Apple Bloom. We ain’t trying to come off too strong here. We’re not here to tell ‘em what to do or not to do, just to get them to talk to each other and sort out their problems. We wanna know what’s bothering our cousin and help her and uncle Cortland in any way we can.”

The filly nodded. “Gotcha. There’ll be time for crusadin’ later.”

“That’s the attitude, right there!” Applejack said with a smile, fighting the urge to rustle her sister’s mane. It was good to know the girl had her priorities straight.

Looking at the street signs, she knew they were just a few blocks away from their goal. The sun was already shining brightly, signalling the start of a brand new day. One with that would carry less heartache and would hopefully end on a brighter note.

Not long after, they reached the correct street. Rows of contiguous brick homes. Some with signs of neglect. Some with graffiti. Even a few broken windows here and there. These signs were enough to tell Applejack this was slowly becoming the bad part of town. That revelation did little to ease the restlessness taking shape somewhere deep in her chest. She wouldn’t dare speculate on how this would influence Babs’s seemingly rebellious tendencies, but her mind did wander.

“This is it, AJ! Two-one-six!” Apple Bloom said, pointing at the rusty iron numbers next to the big wooden door of a small apartment complex. With eager steps, the little filly ran up the stairs leading to the door and burst in, her excitement leaving little care for things such as cordiality or respect for private property.

Speeding up, Applejack tried to catch up with her sister, running up the internal staircase all the way to the third floor, the wood creaking due to her weight every couple of steps. She found it odd how these newfangled buildings couldn’t be much older than her parents would’ve been, but they fell apart so quickly. The farmhouse had been standing since Granny Smith’s younger days, but just a bit of care and elbow grease kept it in great shape. She was gonna have to talk with uncle Cortland. Maybe they could fix this up while the girls played.

As they reached the second floor, she couldn’t help but notice how… quiet the building felt. The noise of the wood bending filled the air devoid of the sounds she would normally expect on a weekend morning. Ponies going out, or coming back. Families getting ready for breakfast. Radios or those televisions.

However, it seemed the so-called “city that never sleeps” was yet to wake up.

Finally, both stood in front of the apartment door. Without wasting more time, Apple Bloom jumped and hit the doorbell. The distant ringing broke the stillness of the building, but the nagging feeling of something being wrong simply wouldn’t leave Applejack alone. Everything was just too quiet. Too lifeless. Too…

Her thoughts never managed to go further. There were some muffled voices behind the door, and a few stumbling sounds that turned into a frantic gallop. Before either of them could react, the hoofsteps grew louder and the door flew open, revealing a ghastly looking uncle Cortland standing under the doorway.

Sunken, red eyes, unruly green mane, and a pleading expression that crumbled the moment he saw the two sisters.

“Uncle…?” Apple Bloom said, her voice wavering.

“I… I’m sorry, girls. I just…” He swallowed as she fell down on his haunches. “I was hoping it would be your cousin.”

Something deep inside Applejack froze. “What do you mean?”

“Yeah, where is Babs?”

The older stallion directed his lightless eyes towards Applejack. He silently worked his jaw for a few seconds before he swallowed, took a deep breath and said, “Your cousin never came back home last night.”

Applejack pushed the cup of warm tea towards her uncle.

“It’s alright, just take a deep breath. We’re here with you now,” she said, gently rubbing his back.

“What happened?” Apple Bloom asked with that foalish tendency to forego tact and go straight for the matter.

Uncle Cortland stared at the gentle swirls of his dark tea, as if it held the answers nopony else seemed to have. He opened his mouth, only for a hitched breath to come out. Apple Bloom looked as if she wanted to press him and ask again, but a steadying hoof on her shoulder told her to remain quiet.

It was hard to imagine what her uncle was going through. In the years since she got her cutie mark, Granny Smith and Big Mac had told her how her leaving for Manehattan had impacted them. But that had been a decision made after a long time with the agreement of the whole family. Whatever Babs and uncle Cortland had been through, it was obvious he didn't expect Babs to suddenly disappear.

Which meant that either Babs had been planning to run away… Or something else had happened.

“Feels like it was just yesterday that we were having breakfast like normal,” Uncle Cortland spoke, his voice as frail as a crystal ornament. “I’d wake her up. She’d fight and complain about wanting to sleep in. I’d get her breakfast ready. We’d even spend a good bit of the morning just talking.”

Applejack listened. She wanted answers just as much as Apple Bloom, but she understood their uncle needed to vent. Let things off his chest before he was in any condition to cooperate.

“Then last week she went out with her friends after school… I should’ve known something was wrong.” His monotone voice acquired the faintest bitter edge. “It was just like when those bullies were picking on her for being a blank flank… But she had friends now. She did that whole crusading thing! She was happy!” His voice kept rising, anger dripping from his words. An anger aimed squarely at himself. But just as quickly as it had increased, his voice suddenly lowered as his face slacked. “At least… I thought she was… What did I really know?”

“Uncle, no!” Apple Bloom interjected, pressing both of her hooves on his side. “She was! She really was! She told me as much in her letters!”

Blinking away tears, uncle Cortland looked at Apple Bloom. “You think so?”

A firm nod. “Mmhmm! She always said good things about you in her letters. And how much she enjoyed spending time with you!”

Light seemed to return to his eyes. This was short-lived, however, as if a lit match was extinguished by a strong breeze.

“What happened last week, uncle Cortland?” Applejack asked, hoping to get the conversation back on track.

“She mentioned this group of foals. Just arrived at school. She and her friends wanted to meet them. You know, be friendly, make ‘em join their little group and all that.” He shook his head, defeated. Somehow, his demeanour seemed to sour as he recalled the memories. “It all seemed so nice. She was making more friends, so when they wanted to hang out after school, I… I said it was okay.”

He brought his hooves up to his face and leaned forwards, rattling the cup of tea as he hit the edge of the table. “They took the subway after school. Don’t remember where they went. Babs came back later that day. I… I tried talking with her, but she went straight to her room. Just thought she was tired, but something happened that day.”

Silence followed. Applejack and Apple Bloom exchanged worried glances. A shake of the filly’s head told her sister she didn’t know anything about this.

“The morning after she was back to normal. Or at least I wanted to believe she was… I asked how things had gone, but she wouldn’t say much other than it was alright. No matter what, that’s all she said, so I stopped asking.”

Applejack remembered that much. His letter mentioned Babs acting withdrawn for a while before she…

“And then she came home late. Really late. I was so worried, I must’ve raised my voice at her.” At this point he started gently rocking back and forth. “She just exploded at me and wouldn’t talk to me again. I didn’t want to pressure her, but I couldn’t have her stay like that… But it only made things worse. Babs has never yelled at me like that. Then she just left and hasn’t come back since.”

“Have you told the police?” was Applejack’s immediate reply. His uncle just nodded, but said nothing more.

“Well? What did they say?” Apple Bloom pressed on, her limited patience having obviously ran out.

“They’re doing what they can. They already went to her school and are checking on her friends. I’m just waiting here and hoping she comes back.”

Afterwards, silence filled the room. Uncle Cortland apparently had nothing more to say, and neither of the girls seem to have anything to add.

Clearing her throat, Applejack patted her uncle’s back. “I can’t rightly say what happened to make Babs act that way. But I’m sure she regrets saying those things. Just you wait. She’s probably looking forward to coming back home and patching things up.”

Apple Bloom mimicked Applejack’s motions, but said nothing else.

“It’s alright, uncle.” Applejack said. “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

“What are we going to do?” Apple Bloom asked.

Uncle Cortland had let them stay in the guest bedroom, and as soon as they’d gotten inside and closed the door, Apple Bloom had thrown her bags on the bed and turned to face her big sis with a pleading look.

Applejack, however, was at a complete loss for words. She’d come to Manehattan mentally prepared to solve one problem, but now… What could she do? Part of her wanted to let the authorities deal with it. That’s why they were there, after all. However, the Apple in her couldn’t leave her family hanging. She was always certain that, as sure as Celestia would rise the sun, so would an Apple look out for their kin. So, she had to help. In whichever way she could.

“Consarn it… Maybe Twilight would know what to do. Can’t rightly say what’s even the right thing to do in this situation.” Her words were blunt, but they did little to dull the eager look on her sister’s face.

She sighed. Perhaps trying to buy some time, she took off her hat and set it on a nearby perch.

“You’ve been exchanging correspondence with Babs, right?”

Apple Bloom nodded.

“Any of them mentioned those new ponies she’s been seeing?”

“Her last letter came well over a week ago. She did mention some new colts and fillies came to her school. They were blank flanks, too, so she wanted to offer them a membership to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. I wrote her back after that, but I don’t think she had time to reply before this whole thing went down.”

“Hmmm…” Applejack crossed the room, walking towards the window. “Well, we have no way of knowing what she did since then… Did her letters mention what she usually did with her friends?”

She shrugged. “Crusadin’.”

“Right…” She turned to look through the window. The sun was still high in the sky. Plenty of time left in the day. “I figure the cops will do their best. Maybe we can look for her crusader friends and ask if they know anything.”

“Of course!” Apple Bloom cried out, startling her. “It’ll be just like a detective retracing the steps of a criminal…”

“Uh… right.”

“Babs mentioned where a couple of her friends lived. I got the addresses for when I came to visit. That way it would be easier to meet them all! Gimme a map, and I can tell you who’s the closest one!”

Applejack cracked a smile at her sister’s enthusiasm. She supposed that was the better attitude to have regarding this entire situation. Making the best out of a bad ordeal. Honestly, she just hoped Babs was really just rebelling and was staying with one of her friends.

“Eeyup. Let’s do that. It’s all gonna be alright in the end. Just you see.”

With the sun shining bright, Applejack allowed herself—or, perhaps, urged herself—to feel optimistic.

The knot in Applejack’s throat tightened with every step she took. It must’ve been well into the afternoon, and the scant optimism she’d managed to scrounge up that morning had started to wane. She didn’t want to imagine how Apple Bloom felt.

At the first house they’d visited, they’d been met with nothing despite spending more than fifteen minutes knocking.

The second house was hardly better. They only had to knock once before a rabid overweight mare came out. She had been entirely confrontational the entire time, and only seemed to get worse once the matter of her son was brought up. Once all was said and done, they’d only gotten a door slammed on their faces for their trouble.

She threw a sidelong glance to her little sister. It appeared as if her bow chose to reflect Apple Bloom’s emotions, seeing how it hanged limply on the sides of her head. She couldn’t let her little sister get her spirits down like that. Even if she wasn’t feeling too well herself at the moment.

“Third time’s a charm, eh, Bloom?” she said, gently nudging the filly as they walked down the sidewalk.

Apple Bloom let out a long exhale of defeat. “I guess… It’s just that Barely Grind’s house was empty… And Cloudy Daze’s mom was so mad… She wouldn’t even hear us.”

Carriages ran past them. The clopping of hooves and wheels against asphalt were the only sound accompanying their walk.

“Then we must hope this Bluetune girl’s family is willing to cooperate.”

“Bluenote,” Apple Bloom whispered.

“Right. That. Sorry.”

They turned a corner and saw the small two storey home where Bluenote lived. Applejack took a deep breath and sped up her pace. This was it. The last of the kids they could ask about the events of the last week. About these new foals, about whatever happened last week to make them act weirdly. About wherever it is they could be.

As they opened the small wrought iron gate around the garden that separated the house itself from the sidewalk, they heard someone call for them.

“Hey, you two!”

She turned around, looking for the source of the voice.

“Aye, over here!”

Looking up, they saw an older mare in a gown and way too many hair curlers in her mane. She had a lit cigarette in her mouth and looked at them with a mix of annoyance and detached interest from her second storey window. “Who you lookin’ for?”

Applejack blinked. Putting on her best polite smile, she took off her hat and pressed it against her chest. “Good evening, ma’am. Name’s Applejack, and this here’s my little sister, Apple Bloom.”

The mare arched an eyebrow, but said nothing more, as if urging them to explain themselves.

Her smile wavered, but she pressed on. “Well… We were looking for a little girl called Bluenote. Y’see, my cousin is her classmate and we wanted to see if we could talk with her for a bit.”

Silence was the mare’s only reply. Taking a drag out of her cigarette, she tilted her head towards the house. “You’ll be waiting for a while. Whole family’s gone.”

That killed her smile for good. “Guh… Wait, what do you mean ‘gone’?”

A frown. Certainly a step up from the silence. “Waddaya think I mean? They’re gone. First that ‘note filly went and vanished. Sent her poor parents into a frenzy. Then her mom goes out, looking for her and doesn’t come back. Just last night the dad left and hasn’t come back, either.”

Next to her, Apple Bloom took a sharp breath. She didn’t know what to say. Or what to think.

“Ah… I—”

“Yeah, yeah. It’s none of my business. But if you see that filly, make sure to give her a good whack for making such a mess!” With that, she got back inside her home and slammed the window shut.

Despite the sun shining warmly in the sky, Applejack felt her blood running cold.


She looked down at her little sister. Apple Bloom’s expression seemed… Well, it was an expression she didn’t want to see in her face any longer.

“Let’s go, Apple Bloom,” she said, forcing a smile once more. “We’ll try something else.”

“Like what?” the filly replied. “They’re… They’re all gone, too, AJ.”

It was true. Applejack didn’t know what else to do. Asking the other fillies and colts had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now she was left with more questions. And she wasn’t too keen on what the answers were, either. The police should know about the other disappearances already. They should be able to figure out what was happening… and put a stop to it.

“Well… It’s like you said, right? We just have to retrace her steps, don’t we? Uncle Cortland said she took the subway with her friends. Maybe we can find a clue there.”

For a while, Apple Bloom said nothing. Then, she just nodded, and looked up, trying to put on a brave face. A transparent attempt, but one Applejack appreciated. They just had to keep their chins up, hope for the best, and keep working hard.

And Applejack prayed that would be enough.

Once more in the span of half a day, Applejack and Apple Bloom found themselves waiting for a train. It felt more of a symbolic gesture than anything. They only knew the line Babs was most likely to have taken. That was all. They were as likely to find a clue on Babs’s whereabouts as they were to find a five legged cat. Or a clean toilet in the station.

Nevertheless, they were there. Anything that would at least feel like progress.

“Train should be here any minute, Bloom,” she said, holding her sister close. “Maybe we can figure out what she was thinking while we’re there.”

A sigh. “I guess…”

“Come on, Bloom. Babs wouldn’t want to see you all gloomy, now, would she?”

“You’re right, AJ.” A deep breath. Was that a sniffle she heard? “Let’s just keep—”

“Shoulda ne’er come.”

“Gah!” Applejack whirled around to see the same vagabond from that morning standing a few strides away from her. Just as dishevelled, just as tired-looking, and with that same frenzied look in his eyes.

“Hey, you’re that pony from earlier!” Apple Bloom cried, pointing a hoof at him.

Regaining her bearings, Applejack’s brow furrowed in anger. “Are you following us? What’s your problem?”

“Darned outsiders, thinking they know better,” he said, speaking in his half mumbled stupor.

“Now listen to me here, mister,” Applejack’s tone dropped, and she made sure to carefully enunciate every syllable. “My family and I are going through a very, very difficult time and the last thing we need is some crazed pony threatening us! I get your life must be tough out in the streets, but you ain’t got no business messing with me or my—”

“You won’t find your cousin there.”

Shock overrode all other brain functions. “Wha… What did you just say?”

The stallion spat, but never broke eye contact. “You heard me. Down that line there’s nothing but trouble. You think the city’s bad, but you’re messing with something far, far worse. Far worse. A city of the damned that is.”

Somewhere, Applejack heard the sound of the train reaching its stop, and anger once more took the front seat in her mind. All around her she could see ponies looking their way.

“I ain’t gonna repeat myself,” she said. Not far behind her, the doors of the train opened, and ponies started flocking out. “Stay away from me and my family.”

She didn’t give the bum a chance to speak more nonsense. Without breaking eye contact, she reached towards Apple Bloom and walked backwards into the train.

The crazed stallion never stopped looking at her. Not as they walked into the subwaycar. Not as the doors closed. And not as the train started moving. Applejack kept the same unwavering stern look. However, just as the train pulled away, she could’ve sworn the eyes on the stallion took on a sad edge before he got lost in the crowd.


Blinking, she forced herself back to reality, and the matter at hoof. Finding clues on Babs.

“It’s okay, Apple Bloom. He’s gone.” She then ruffled her sister’s mane as she gave her the best smile she could muster. “He ain’t gonna bother us anymore.”

It must’ve been an hour or so since they boarded the train. Most of which had been spent making small talk and reminiscing about the times Babs had gone to Ponyville. But after a while, even that conversation had died down. Now the sisters just sat, looking through the window at the setting sun in silence. Perhaps neither knew what to add. What to say to lift their battered hopes.

As the train entered a tunnel, darkness enveloped them, and all Applejack could see were their sad reflections on the window.

She brought her sister closer, holding her tight. “We’re gonna find her, Apple Bloom. You’ll see.”

The filly smiled. A sad smile, but a smile nonetheless. “It’s gonna be alright, isn’t it?”

“Yeah…” Applejack said. “Just alright.”

With nothing to occupy her mind, Applejack thought back to Babs Seed. Something had gone down. That much was obvious. Something bad. Could she have found herself entangled with something? Crime? Drugs? Worse? She wondered why Babs couldn't have turned to her dad. To aunt and uncle Orange. To Bloom or herself. Or any of the Apple Family. Maybe she did get herself thrust into something bad.

But, like Twilight would say, these were just hypotenuses. There was no way to be sure, and until Babs was found, they couldn’t know.

She hugged her sister closely, and tried not to think about that anymore.

After a while, she found herself getting lost in the random chatter of the last stragglers around her.

“I think I’m going down with the feather flu…”

“Are you gonna go to Sapphire Shore’s concert next weekend?”

“Yeah, gotta get a bigger haul after Cloudy Daze.”

“I just found this great recipe for lava cakes.”

Wait… What?

She turned around, trying to look for the source of that voice who mentioned Cloudy Daze. She knew that name. He was one of Bab’s friends. And what in Tartarus had they meant by “haul”? Before she could ponder these thoughts any further, Apple Bloom had already shot off, chasing after Celestia knew what.

“Apple Bloom!” she cried out, and started running after her sister.

“You there! Stop!” the filly yelled, and way ahead Applejack could see a group of colts running out of the cart and into the next one.

Being a filly, it was easier for Apple Bloom to sneak between the legs of the ponies in the cart. And as the distance between them grew, Applejack abandoned all sense of propriety and started pushing ponies out of the way just to keep advancing. Thankfully, the last few carts had fewer ponies in them, so it was easier to move, but Apple Bloom was already plenty far ahead.

Once they reached the last cart, the colts huddled at the very tail end.

“Stop right there!” yelled Apple Bloom.

Just then, Applejack managed to catch up with her sister. Though a bit short of breath, she was still more than energetic enough to stare down that group of kids, and just enough to make sure her voice was as stern as possible when she spoke. “Y’all got nowhere to run. Now stay still. There are a few things I’d like to ask you.”

For a second, she felt energised. This could lead somewhere. They may get Babs back home before the day was over. It was not meant to last, though. As if they were one single body, the colts turned around and kept running, way to the back, to the emergency door.

“I said stop!” Apple Bloom cried out, running after them.

It happened way too fast. The kids shot them what ought to have been the most malevolent expressions Applejack had seen come from a pony. There was so much ill-intent in those eyes, she actually had to do a double-take. In that brief moment, one of the colts opened the door and jumped out of the train, with the rest of the group following suit.

A few seconds later, so did Apple Bloom.

“No!” Applejack hollered, and ran faster than she ever had, jumping through the open door, and landing hard on the gravel carpeting the inside of the tunnels. Pain shot through her body, and that helped keep the adrenaline running through her veins.

With shaky legs, she stood up and wobbled to the side of the tunnel. Just a few ways ahead, Apple Bloom squirmed on the ground.

“Bloom…” Applejack said, her voice barely a hoarse whisper.

Slowly walking, she finally reached her sister. A cursory glance told her that she was alright. Beaten up, sure… But safe.
“They… they went ahead…” she whispered.

This was too much. Applejack had the feeling they were in way over their heads, but at the same time… They could be close. She couldn’t forgive herself if it turned out she could’ve rescued Babs if she’d only walked a few more steps.

“Come. Lemme help you.”

Carefully, she took Apple Bloom by her barrel and lifted her. In the darkness of the tunnel, she could barely see a few steps ahead of her, but she could still discern the determination in the filly’s eyes. With slow, pained steps, the siblings walked down the rails, towards where Apple Bloom had seen the colts walk. A minute.
Twenty. An hour. Neither was sure, but they pressed on.

After a while, they found a discarded jacket. One that the colts had been wearing. Why throw it away? No… That didn’t matter. They were getting closer. One hoof in front of the other. The carved stone walls of the tunnel seemed to catch and reflect even the tiniest bit of light, making them feel surrounded by dancing shadows.

They thought they heard something. Steps? A wetness to them. Probably a water leak that caused puddles. But where? Up ahead, the tunnel continued. Applejack felt herself become lightheaded, she pushed on regardless.

The crevices and irregularities started to become more frequent. More marked. The tunnel started to feel less like a structure made by pony might, and more of an unforgiving cavern moulded by nature.

When did the train tracks stop?

Looking down, Applejack could see that they were now walking over plain gravel. No sign of the metal tracks. How? They’d been walking in a straight line. And when she looked up, Applejack let out a choked gasp at the sight.

A gash in the wall.

“What… What in Celestia's name?”

Just then, the shock must’ve worn off, because she could sense Apple Bloom about to run into the cavernous entrance. Reacting as quickly as she could, Applejack leaned forward and bit down on her sister’s tail.

“Apple Bloom, don’t!”

“No, Applejack! You don’t.”

“Babs has been missing for more than a day already. Her friends have been missing for longer, it seems. The police ain’t helping. And this is the only lead we have! Babs Seed needs us!”

“Bloom. This… This ain’t right. There’s something else going on here. We… We’ve got to talk to the police. Or the Guard. The Princesses. I… We can’t—”

“Didn’t you tell me the Apple family stuck together through thick and thin, no matter what?”


“‘No matter what’ means no matter what, AJ! We don’t know what could be happening to Babs, but she’s only got us now, and I don’t know if she has long, either. I don’t know about you, but I ain’t gonna leave her hanging!”

The panting of the two ponies was the only sound heard in the tunnel. Far in the distance, deep into the cavern, they could almost make out something that was certainly not just the wind.

“We… We’re going in together.”

“It’s gonna be alright. Right, AJ?”

“Yeah… It’s gonna.”

With pain, and more doubt than determination, the sisters walked into the opening in the wall, and continued down the winding path. The gravel was more like uneven rocks now. Every now and then, she’d step in such a way that something would get lodged in the underside of her hoof. Painfully. But she’d still push through.
Applejack feared they’d be plunged into total darkness, but as they got deeper and deeper into the tunnel, a warm glow started to reach them. She didn’t know what that was, but was grateful for having some sort of light all the way here.

They walked. They walked, walked, and walked. The air got stuffier, and Applejack wondered where they could possibly be. It was as if there was a whole ‘nother city beneath Manehattan. One that ran far deeper.

Just as the words of the vagabond resonated in her head, the sisters heard… Something. What, neither could tell for sure, but it hinted at movement. They ought to be closer. They had to be getting closer to whoever, or whatever had taken those ponies.

Gathering their strength they hurried the last stretch of the tunnel before it opened into a larger room from where the glow seemed to come.

“Just wait, Babs,” Apple Bloom said. “Your family is—”

The words died in her throat just as they walked out of that corridor, and into the open. A vast cavern lit with torches and unattended fires, smoke rising towards them, carrying with them the unmistakable scent of death.

Blood. Puddles of blood. Trails of red grime, as if something had been dragged against the rock. Looking ahead, that something turned out to be the worst possible thing. Flesh. Blocks of flesh, still bloody. Piles of hides of all colours laying in heaps.

“What… in Celestia’s name…”

But Celestia was nowhere to be found.

Instead, deeper still. Way down at the bottom of the room… Were the culprits. Who they thought had been the ponies they’d been chasing were ponies no more.
Spindly limbs. Distended maws with jagged teeth. Exposed flesh. Orifices that could’ve been noses, eyes, or ears. More biological details that challenged what she thought she knew animals could look like.

Shocked, she fell down, making several snapping sounds. Looking down, she realised that what she’d assumed was the gravel used to even the ground in the tunnels… was actually hundreds of bones, picked clean and with clear gnashing marks all over them.

Not all were small.

An unearthly screech made her snap back to attention. It seemed Apple Bloom couldn’t take it anymore, holding the sides of her head as she screamed. Down in the bottom of the pit, the creatures turned their bulbous heads towards them, and for a second all stood still.

And then the creatures jumped and started going towards them.

The prime, animal instinct inside of every pony kicked in, and Applejack barely managed to grab Apple Bloom before she turned and fled. The filly continued screaming like there was no tomorrow, and Applejack ran so they’d have one.

Had to get out of there. Had to get Bloom to safety. Had to get out. Out. Get Twilight. The Elements. The Princesses. Whoever. And smite this misplaced bit of Tartarus into oblivion.

And then she tripped.

Her hooves must’ve gotten caught in one of the many clean bones laying on the ground. Whatever the case, she stumbled once. Twice. Each time losing more and more stability before she finally crashed down on the bed of bones, ribs and femurs poking and scratching her sides.

“Apple Bloom!” she yelled. “Apple Bloom!”

She heard bones snapping in the distance as Apple Bloom landed just ahead… And she heard the loud stomping and shattering that got closer and closer from behind.

“Apple Bloom! Run!”

She heard her sister’s small steps turn and come back towards her.


“No… No! Bloom! Please!”

“I can’t leave you!”



She felt them already over her, and could sense when one leaped over her, and landed behind her sister.

“Applejack! Please!”

The little filly’s ragged screams were nearly drowned by the gurgling screeches all around her. Applejack felt her heart break at the same time as her flesh ruptured and blood sprayed out.

“You said everything would be alright.”

She closed her eyes.
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