Chapter 8: When Love Said No
Apple Bloom crested the hill and rushed frantically to her sister's side. "Wake up!" she said, crying over the broken form, as Winona frantically nuzzled at her. "Wake up, AJ!" The orange mare didn't respond though.
Scootaloo landed a few yards away. Approaching, she could hardly stand to look. Applejack's back was obviously broken, her rear legs twisted in a way that would be impossible otherwise. A sharp piece of rib was sticking out of her barrel as well, sliding in and out slightly with each breath. But she was breathing, at least for now.
"Don't just stand there!" Apple Bloom yelled. "Go get help!"
"Right! On it!" Scootaloo leapt and sped for Ponyville, forcing herself to wait an entire fifteen seconds before cracking the barrier, so as to avoid further injuring Applejack with a shockwave.
Sweetie Belle limped forward from where her teleport spell had landed her a moment earlier. She gently ran her magic over the injured mare, hoping there was some way she could help. What she found was even worse than expected though, and she realized her talent could best be spent elsewhere. Promising Apple Bloom she'd return shortly, she teleported away.
Big Mac was surprised as a blue flash lit up the barn from behind him. Turning, he was even more surprised to find Sweetie Belle. Realizing the filly was missing a leg ratcheted up the surprise several more notches, but it wasn't until Sweetie explained what had happened to Applejack that the stoic and level headed stallion let emotion show on his features.
The two quickly rounded up Granny Smith, and Sweetie teleported them all to the far orchard so they could say their goodbyes to Applejack. By the time he approached his fallen sister, Mac was weeping openly, and he didn't care who knew it. He wrapped Apple Bloom up in a hug, their tears soaking each other's fur as Winona whimpered in confusion.
Twilight and Spike arrived a moment later with another pop. Looking up at the new arrival, Apple Bloom ran toward the purple alicorn. "Twilight! You have to save her, Twilight!"
The alicorn trotted over quickly to the injured mare, scanning her with magic fields. She found the same thing Sweetie had discovered, and hung her head.
Seeing the reaction, Apple Bloom screamed. "No! Do something!"
Twilight turned to Apple Bloom, tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry, Apple Bloom. There's nothing I can do."
"Cast a healing spell!"
"There's no such thing."
"There has to be! I see unicorn doctors fixin' ponies up all the time!"
"A unicorn can try to fix injuries. They can relocate bones, try to close wounds, even remove infections. But you can't just 'heal' a pony."
"Then fix those things!"
"I wish I could! More than anything..." Twilight broke down into sobs. "There are just too many injuries. Anything I do would just hurt her more."
"No!" Apple Bloom said, stamping her hoof. "There has to be somethin'. What about Princess Celestia? She can fix anythin'. I just know she can!"
Twilight wiped tears from her eyes. "Don't you think I tried?"
"Celestia and Luna are on a mission to the Caribou. Their high places are guarded against all foreign magic. I couldn't scry her location, and even if I could, I wouldn't be able to teleport there. I tried and failed at sending a message with my own magic. Even Spike's dragonfire couldn't get though. Trust me, I tried everything I could think of when Scootaloo told me what was happening."
Spike hung his head. "I'm sorry Apple Bloom, I tried a bunch of times, but I'll keep trying." With that, he pulled out a scroll and started scratching another message. "Maybe we'll get lucky and she'll take a break or something and one will get through."
As Spike continued to burn scroll after scroll, Scootaloo returned, leading the other Elements as they galloped and flew through the orchard. Rarity let out a barely audible gasp as she came upon the scene, the sight of the strong farm mare, broken and twisted before her, leaving a fierce and stalwart determination on her visage in lieu of her usual theatrics.
Fluttershy was beholden to no such reservations though. The yellow pegasus broke down in tears upon seeing her dear friend in such a mangled state. She walked up to Applejack's barely breathing form, her own tears dripping and mingling with the blood trickling slowly through the fur of the unconscious pony.
Rainbow Dash was likewise unabashed in her grief. Applejack had been her best friend and friendly rival for years now, and the thought that somepony so strong could be in such a state... it wasn't possible. She tried to go closer, but the sight was too much. She didn't want to remember her friend that way, so she turned and rejoined those at the edge of the gathering. Fluttershy followed a moment later, leaving the Apple family to say their goodbyes in private as Apple Bloom returned to her sister's side.
Granny Smith was the next to retreat, limping back to the larger crowd. She'd seen too much death in her time. Her own husband, of course, as well as her son and daughter-in-law a few years later. She had sincerely hoped she'd never have to witness the passing of one her grandchildren, but the old mare was wise enough to know that a pony didn't always get what she hoped for in life. Holding her granddaughter's hoof a moment earlier, she had felt the life inside her draining away, and knew Twilight was right. Some things were more powerful than magic, and death came for every pony in the end.
Big Mac sat, holding his younger sister, and watching his older one slowly dying in front of him. Tears left dark red tracks down his muzzle as he watched the slow rise and fall of gurgling breaths, the gap between each becoming longer every time. In his hooves, Apple Bloom was clutching Applejack's one uninjured foreleg, her own tears soaking into the fetlock and earth around it. She was muttering promises, oaths, demands, and anything else she could think of to convince her sister to come back to her.
All the while, Winona was dividing her attention between licking the tears from the face of Apple Bloom, and nuzzling her fallen master. The poor dog didn't know why she wouldn't get up, but she recognized the sounds the other ponies were making, and she whimpered along with them.
Apple Bloom's mind was racing a million miles an hour. There had to be some way to fix this. There just had to. She wouldn't let this happen. She'd stop it. As she squeezed the hoof of her only sister, she could feel the life draining out of her, and with it, time. If only she could think of something. Some way to reach one of the Princesses maybe. She wished she could find some way to fix this... any way at all.
Then the breathing stopped.
Apple Bloom felt the change in rhythm, and looked up. She held her own breath for a moment. The moment became two. Applejack's chest still didn't move. Winona began to howl.
"No!" she said, scrambling out of her brother's hooves to stand up. "No! Applejack! Noooo!" The filly began pounding on her sister's lifeless chest in a crude imitation of what she'd seen of first aid techniques.
Big Mac stood and looked down at her. "It's over, Bloom," he said between his own sniffles. "Time to let her go."
"No!" the filly said, determined. "There's got to be a way to fix this!"
Mac put a leg around Apple Bloom, trying to usher her away. The filly would have none of it though, and he couldn't bring himself to forcibly drag her away. Instead, he hung his head and stepped away to join the others, hoping Apple Bloom would follow in her own time.
Rarity saw what was happening, and stepped toward the crying filly. "Come on dear, let her go."
Apple Bloom ignored her, and continued to pound on Applejack's body.
Sweetie Belle limped forward on her own three legs, joining her sister. "Come on, Apple Bloom, it'll be okay. Just let her go."
Apple Bloom turned her head briefly and shouted "No!" before turning back to her task.
The other ponies all watched in a sad kind of shock as Apple Bloom continued to pound on the lifeless body of her sister. Scootaloo tried next, her voice quavering at the horrible sight. "Please, just stop, AB. Just stop and let her be."
Apple Bloom did stop, then turned slowly to face the assembled ponies behind her. Her entire body was shaking with rage and fear and sadness as she stepped toward them. Planting her hooves as she was halfway between her sister and the crowd, she glared at each of the gathered ponies in turn.
"I..." she said, panting and nearly hyperventilating with fury as Winona continued to howl. A sudden wind began to whip through the grass.
"Said..." she continued, her tone dark, even as her eyes began to glow with an actinic whiteness. She reared onto her hind legs and Winona howled even louder.
Apple Bloom took a deep breath, then slammed her forehooves to the ground and screamed the most powerful word in the universe.
The final crying shout put even the Royal Canterlot Voice to shame, matched in intensity only by the howl of the loyal canine behind her. As Apple Bloom's hooves made contact with the ground, the earth itself cracked beneath her. A shallow fissure split the ground impossibly fast, racing out of sight in both directions, causing the assembled ponies to stumble in the resulting quake.
Windows throughout Ponyville shattered. Tiles and frescoes in Canterlot cracked and split. Far away in the Griffon kingdoms, stones and bricks fell from parapets that had stood for a thousand years. The mighty river in the center of Zebra lands formed waves large enough to surf on. Across the sea, the Caribou high chieftain found his meeting with two princesses interrupted when all the candles and fires in the keep were extinguished. And deep, deep below, in the darkest caverns and caves, stalactites rained from the ceiling, passages collapsed, and the guardian of Tartarus himself covered his three heads and began to whimper in fear. Pinkie Pie however, just giggled, her tail suddenly twitching in much the same way Winona's was now doing.
All around Apple Bloom, life erupted. The grass itself became a veritable bamboo forest, cutting her off from the ponies on the other side of the fissure. As she turned toward her fallen sister, the rock Applejack had lain against shifted underneath the injured pony and rose to become a stone plinth.
Flowers shot up everywhere, blooming to impossible sizes in seconds. Bluebells, sunflowers, daisies, roses, and even tulips sprang up as Apple Bloom walked slowly back toward her sister, each step causing an explosion of life. As she approached, the plinth began to wrap itself in saplings and branches, some even growing though the rock itself. The limbs snaked beneath Applejack, lifting her gently, as others quickly grew and weaved to form a sort of shallow cradle beneath her body. Lush, green leaves quickly covered the new surface, followed moments later by thousands of white and light-pink flowers, before the branches receded, and lowered Applejack onto the soft petals.
As Apple Bloom reached the bottom of the plinth, more branches grew, reaching out in sequence from the side of the stone and interlocking to form a new step just as she placed each hoof. Reaching the top of the living staircase, she looked down at her sister and smiled.
Applejack felt like she'd slept on a rock. All her muscles were sore, her back ached something fierce, her throat was scratchy, and her eyes felt like they'd been sandblasted. Opening her eyes, things were blurry. Looking up, she saw a pony towering regally and serenely over her. She was smiling down at Applejack, her eyes glowing a bright and fierce white. Blinking to clear her vision, Applejack looked again and this time recognized the fuzzy outline of a giant pink bow that could only belong to one pony.
"Apple Bloom?" she croaked, her throat and mouth dry as could be. At the recognition, the white glow faded from Apple Bloom's eyes, replaced with tears of joy as the filly collapsed onto her sister and wrapped her in a tight hug.
Back across the fissure, the other ponies could see nothing of the tearful reunion, obscured as it was behind a massive wall of grass-turned-forest. Instead, they stood transfixed by what they had seen. Following the fissure to the right as it appeared, they saw that it pointed directly to where the timberwolf had fallen. As they watched, what had been a pile of logs between the orchard's hills had sprouted and grown into the most impossible tree any of them had ever seen. The trunk reminded Rarity of skyscrapers she'd seen in Manehatten. It was hundreds of feet in diameter at least. The exposed root tops were massive enough to be hills in their own right, and a pony could only imagine how large they must be as they continued underground. Turning eyes skyward, they watched as branches climbed a thousand feet or more into the sky. There, among the clouds themselves, they spread out into a canopy that cast a shadow over at least a dozen acres of farmland, before blossoming into millions of white and light-pink flowers. Then they heard Winona bark excitedly, and turned their attention back toward the grass forest.
Apple Bloom held the hug for what seemed an eternity. Eventually, she heard Winona barking nearby. When she felt a cold nose poking at her flank a moment later, she finally gave up and released her sister. Turning, she found a familiar snout to blame, and gave the dog a good scratch behind the ears before her eyes went wide.
Applejack sensed the movement, and looked up to give the dog a pat herself, getting a cold nose to her own hindquarters in return. Then she saw what had Apple Bloom's attention. There, on the filly's hindquarters, was her cutie mark. It was simple, yet bold, the silhouette of a tree, deep roots supporting a strong trunk, leading skyward to a massive canopy. It was the sort of tree that becomes a landmark, weathering any storm, stalwart in its sheer presence, always there season after season, and generation after generation. Above it, two small stars sat in the sky. No words were needed as the two sisters looked each other in the eye, smiling, and simply hugged again.
Looking around a moment later, Applejack started to take stock of her surroundings and her memories. Last thing she recalled was a massive tree-cum-paw colliding with her side. Now she was, for some reason, in the middle of a sort of jungle, laying in a bed of flowers... and not just any flowers. "Wait a minute," she said, pointing to the petals. "Are these...?"
Apple Bloom lifted her head and looked around. In her fugue state, she'd not really been aware of the details. All she remembered was the single-minded purpose of saving her sister, and beginning to draw on the land and life around her to do so. Wiping some lingering tears away with a fetlock as she looked at the flowers, a smile grew on her face. She recognized them as readily as her sister did. "Heh, apple blooms. Whadda ya know?"
It took only a few minutes for the other ponies to arrive. Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo had been first, scouting by air, before returning and helping the others across the fissure and grass forest. As Fluttershy delivered Granny Smith, a cheer broke out. Looking up, the old mare saw her two granddaughters—and that wonderfully stubborn mutt—standing at the top of some overgrown boulder, smiling and healthy. Well how about that, she thought. Even at my age, the universe keeps insisting on proving me wrong. Though, technically, she'd been right. Therewere things more powerful than magic—even her granddaughter's amazing earth pony magic—and death was certainly one of them. But she'd forgotten that another one—perhaps one of the most important ones—could be the love of a young filly for her sister.
Still weak from her near death experience, Applejack found her legs shaking beneath her as she tried to descend the stairs from the top of the plinth. Seeing this, Rainbow quickly flew up and gave her a lift to the ground.
"Sorry about that, AJ," Dash said. "We would've been here sooner, but we got kinda distracted by that tree."
"Tree?" Apple Bloom said, joining them on the ground.
"Uh, yeah..." Dash said, pointing a hoof up and over the high grass into the distance.
The sisters could only stare, their heads slowly tilting further and further back as they followed the trunk and branches into the sky.
"Gah!" Apple Bloom snorted in surprise. "What happened?"
"That," Dash said, looking down at the filly. "Is what I'd like to know."
"As would I," said a third voice, which after recognizing the exchange that had just occurred, amended. "Oh dear, I hope this isn't becoming a pattern."
Turning, Dash was less surprised this time to see Celestia and Luna behind her. The flying reindeer was a bit of a shock though.
"Princess!" Twilight said, running to greet her mentor.
"Hello, Twilight," she said, before turning to the rest of the ponies, most of whom were bowing. "Greetings to all of you."
"Did Spike finally manage to get through?"
Celestia had received nothing from the young dragon, and was just opening her mouth to say so when a cloud of smoke streaked out of the sky and coalesced into several hundred scrolls, burying the princess up to her knees in paper. As Twilight often overreacted—with results quite similar to this—Celestia was about to laugh off the incident to help spare her protege some of the embarrassment that usually followed. Surprisingly though, Twilight didn't seem embarrassed in the least by the flood of messages that had apparently been sent. That was worrisome. It meant Twilight had genuinely felt that many message attempts were necessary, and still felt her actions were justified now. Celestia doubted even the sudden appearance of a thousand foot high tree near Ponyville would cause that much alarm for the young alicorn.
"Twilight," Celestia said, her tone suddenly more serious. "What's wrong? How bad is it?"
The librarian looked up, and Celestia could see tears forming—apparently again—in her already bloodshot eyes. "It's okay now," Twilight said, taking a steadying breath. "But it was bad. Real bad."
Celestia looked around, and didn't doubt for a moment that it must have been. Something incredibly powerful had happened here. There was an altar of some sort, a world tree had formed, and the sheer force of magic involved had breached every one of the Caribou defenses all the way across the sea. That had alerted her, Luna, and the Caribou chieftain as well. Finding the source had been easier than finding the sun at midday. In the thaumaturgical spectrum, this place had literally been lit up brighter than her own sun.
The somber thoughts were interrupted as an orange and purple blur came swooping in.
"Hey Sweetie!" Scootaloo said. "I found your leg!" Looking up after landing next to the injured unicorn, the young pegasus made eye contact with the three new arrivals. "Woah! A flying reindeer!"
The rest of the assembled ponies went dead silent. Even those in the back who'd decided to nibble on a few of the giant flowers stopped chewing. Sweetie went to elbow her friend, but found she needed her remaining foreleg to stay upright for now. She settled for poking Scootaloo with the detached hoof.
"What was that for?" Scootaloo said, before her brain took a really wrong turn. "Wait... You all can see it too, right? The big flying reindeer behind the princess?"
Twilight smiled nervously, getting ready to apologize, when the Caribou chieftain let out a huge guffaw.
"I like little one," he said, chuckling. "She say what is on mind. Not over think."
The massive cervid approached Scootaloo, landing as he did so. She looked up and saw that he stood almost as tall as Celestia at the shoulder, but the massive antlers on his head brought the full height and figure well above hers. He was covered in thick, heavy fur as well, quite a bit more dense than the coats of most ponies. "Yes, little one," he said, smiling. "I am, as you say, flying reindeer. We do not like name 'reindeer' though. Deer are tiny things, weak. To put reins on a deer, you make slave of deer. Griffons try that once. We fight them across two seas. They no try again, but still call us name, 'reindeer.' No, we are Caribou! You understand?"
"Yes sir," Scootaloo said. "Sorry sir."
The Caribou laughed again. "I am Gunnar. What is your name, little one?"
"Is okay, Scootaloo. Not knowing is not fault." The Caribou made to turn away, paused, then turned back to the filly. "You are not same Scootaloo who cracked sky and made embarrassment of Caribou ambassador, no?"
The little pegasus had lost track of the grammar halfway through the question, but got the gist of it. "Umm... Yes sir," she said. "That was me."
"You, little pony, are one who cracked Bifrost?"
"Yes sir... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare anypony—" She was cut off as the massive chieftain slapped her on the back in mirth, knocking the wind out of her.
"Excellent!" he bellowed with laughter. "Ambassador was brother-in-law. No like, always wimp. Came running home moons ago, crying about end of world. Sent him North, work on rock farm. Now find you are big, scary, world-ending 'Scootaloo'? Even better! Never let him forget, scared by little pony filly. Ha! We laugh around fire many years with that!"
After the Caribou had calmed down a bit, he continued. "So, mighty Scootaloo, tell me. Is tree your doing? Did you crack earth as well as sky?"
"No sir. I think my friend Apple Bloom did that." Scootaloo pointed out Apple Bloom, standing a few feet away.
Seeing that Scootaloo was pointing at another small filly, the chieftain turned to Celestia and Luna. "Remind me, never invade here. You crafty ponies teach even smallest filly how to split sky and ground. No end well for me, ja?"
Luna smiled. "Of course, Gunnar. Perhaps this will help you see the value in our trade proposals as well."
"Oh, crafty moon pony think she intimidate Gunnar with little fillies?"
"Gunnar!" Luna said, in mock affront. "Surely you don't think we'd try to intimidate you, do you?"
"Knowing you, only if it work."
"Is it working?"
Gunnar turned and stared up at the massive world tree before him before turning back to the princesses. "Hmm..." he said, holding a forehoof off the ground about a foot to indicate a small amount. "Maybe little bit."
Luna laughed, as did Celestia. The two had been back and forth with Gunnar for months, most recently spending nearly a week in his territory. In the process, they'd gotten to know the Caribou quite well. Like them, he shared a strong sense of duty, and also knew not to take most things too seriously.
"Okay, enough with chit chat," Gunnar declared, turning to Apple Bloom. "Tell us story of how you make first new world tree in ages."
"Well, umm..." Apple Bloom wasn't sure where to start.
"Wait," Gunnar interrupted, catching proper sight of Sweetie Belle for the first time. "Why is other small pony missing leg? And why leg have metal bones? Also, why she no screaming?"
Sweetie Belle could only laugh. "Don't worry about that," she told the Caribou. "Apple Bloom's going to help me fix it later."
"I am?" Apple Bloom said.
"Yeah, you know, like you always do?"
Apple Bloom had to smile at that and, glancing only now at the protruding metal, was already realizing how she could fit most of it back together.
"Okay," Gunnar said. "Back to story then. Little pony. Big tree. Begin!"
"Umm," Apple Bloom said. "It's kinda a long story, if ya want to get all the bits and pieces."
"Is good ending?"
"Yeah," Apple Bloom said, looking toward her sister, and getting a smile in return. "I reckon it's a mighty good ending."
"Is best kind of story then," Gunnar said, before gesturing to the other ponies who were still standing around. "Come. All ponies, come, hear big story. You, sun pony, you make fire, no?"
"Good," Gunnar continued. "We do this right then. Big fire, here in middle. Then we sit and hear big story of big tree from little pony."
Celestia stepped forward, and used her magic to carve a fire pit in the ground of the clearing. Luna and a couple of other ponies quickly gathered some branches and logs, and Celestia lit the bonfire. The ponies, caribou, and dragon all sat in a circle as Apple Bloom began the story.
It took quite a while to tell, with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle jumping in with their own perspectives, Twilight, Dash, and the other Elements occasionally clarifying their bits, and the princesses having to explain phrases that seemed to get lost in cultural translation. Gunnar himself didn't help either, interrupting regularly with questions, or laughs so loud that the storyteller had to pause and wait for him to finish. It was a good time for everypony though.
At last, Apple Bloom had caught up to the end, where she'd looked up in shock at the massive tree, unsure herself how it had come to be. After a moment of silent thought, Gunnar spoke up.
"So, pony mark is world tree. This obvious. But sun pony has told Gunnar that only pony with mark really understand mark. What is mark to you, little one?"
Apple Bloom had to think on that for a minute. She hadn't even meant to grow the world tree, but her cutie mark was very clearly the tree.
"I think... well, I think it's just a tree," Apple Bloom said. "I mean, a big one and all, but it still does what all trees do. And I'm an Apple, so trees are what we do. Now, I've always been good at fixin' things, but sometimes 'fixin'' don't just mean repairin' what's broke. Sometimes it means holdin' onto somethin' and not lettin' go. All the rest o' mah family got apples for marks. I got the tree itself though, and the tree is what holds onto all them apples, and the ground beneath too. My roots go down, down to the earth like that tree. All the past, all my family and friends, the farm, all my attachments. Roots go deep, even when the branches reach to the sky. A tree is strong too. I don't reckon anything could knock that tree down. You could try, but the tree would just say 'No.' Kinda like I did with Applejack, I think. Everypony told me to let her go, but she's my family, my roots."
Apple Bloom found she was starting to cry again as she remembered how close she'd come to losing her sister. "They said to let go, but I just had to say 'No!' I couldn't let her go anymore than that tree could let go of the hillside. Don't matter how strong the wind is, how fierce the rain or storms can get. They can try and rip it loose, but that tree ain't gonna let go of that hill for a long, long time, ya know?"
"Ja!" Gunnar cried, raising a hoof in the air. "Is great, this! Is epic! You stand with family, stand with love. You not give up. You turn, face Death himself, say 'No.' Death say, 'Yes.' But you not blink, not back down. You, little filly, stand tall, stand strong, with love for sister in heart. And when love say, 'No!' Oh ho ho..." Gunnar grinned wildly. "Even Death know, is best for him go run and hide! Ha! Is worthy of song, no?"
Applejack wrapped her sister in a hug, tears streaming from her own eyes. She knew her sister had saved her life, but the story and the imagery brought it home again. Gunnar was right, it truly was epic. Her little sister had faced down Death itself for her.
"Hmm, maybe brother-in-law not so crazy," Gunnar said after a moment of silence. "First, filly crack Bifrost and split sky. Then, massive wolf of evil take arm of other in group, before having jaws ripped apart. Then Yggdrassil grown by third, shaking earth, causing all to fear, saying no to Death himself. Is not all right order, but all paint picture of Ragnarok story."
"Oh," Scootaloo said, looking at Celestia. "That's the end of the world thing you told us about, right Princess?"
Celestia nodded. "Yes, though I don't think we really need to fear the end times just yet."
"Ha!" Gunnar said, his voice once again cheerful and hearty. "Nor I. Is tale for old wives and small foals." Then he leaned in toward the three crusaders, and in a more serious tone continued. "But just in case, promise no big snake near tree? You see, you stop. Okay?"
The three fillies were taking things a bit more seriously than the older mares, so they all responded with an actual Pinkie Promise, leaving the Caribou chieftain confused until Twilight explained.
"Silly ponies, real oath is blood, sword, not cupcake," Gunnar chided, before remembering the parts of the story involving baked goods. "On other hoof... pony cupcakes maybe much more powerful than Gunnar realize."
Pinkie Pie was right on cue, leaping into the discussion with a tray full of cupcakes, determined to prove them the most yumtastic creations ever. Gunnar, professing doubt, said a good, stiff drink was better than a sugary confection. Then the debate really started.
As the discussion over the best form of carbohydrate binge heated up, Twilight stepped away from the fire, tapping Celestia to follow her. Once the two alicorns were far enough from the fire to not be heard, Twilight looked to her elder.
"I'm worried," she said.
"Those three fillies... or golems, rather. So far, we've only seen two manifest their talents, and while Gunnar may exaggerate, it's only slightly. They really did shake the heavens and earth just getting their cutie marks. I can only imagine what realm is left for Sweetie Belle to crack, shake, or destroy when she finds her own mark."
"Do you not remember what happened when you found your own talent?"
Twilight thought back to that fateful day when she hatched Spike. "Yes," she said. "Okay, that was big, I know. But not like this. No pony felt it across the sea, and I certainly didn't leave a thousand foot tree behind."
Celestia smiled. "Twilight, you grew a dragon—a magical creature that normally takes hundreds of years to mature—from an egg to larger than most castles in seconds. By accident. You also—as mere side effects—turned your parents into plants, and suspended the entire examination board—some of the most powerful unicorns around—in a field they couldn't escape from. All that, in only the few seconds before I was able to arrive and calm you down. Who knows what you might've done if left unchecked. Do you have any idea how scared we all were of you after that?"
Twilight sighed. She knew she'd frightened quite a few ponies that day, but in her mind, it had been the kind of surprise fear a pony felt when startled by a noise in the dark, not the deep, logical, profound fear of a very real threat that Celestia was describing now. The Princess had been genuinely afraid of her!
"It's okay, Twilight," Celestia said, nuzzling her. "It all turned out for the best, didn't it?"
Twilight nodded. "Yeah, I just don't think I realized what you must've felt until I started thinking the same things about these fillies myself."
"Fear is good. In small doses. It lets us stay aware of danger. You can't let it overwhelm you though." Celestia took a deep breath and continued. "I would be lying if I said I had no worries concerning the three golems. There've been no such creatures alive in even my own lifetime—at least that I'm aware of—so this is new to me as well. That's always worrisome at my age. But I think we should be grateful for the... what is it you call it, 'narrative coincidence?'" Twilight nodded. "Yes, the narrative coincidence that they've manifested as these three sweet foals here in Ponyville. If there are to be new, unknown and massively powerful forces in the world, I can think of no better place for them to be raised than amongst the love of you and your friends."
Twilight smiled at that. "You're right, Celestia. It could be much, much worse. I guess we should also be thankful that they seem to be in good control of their abilities. The massive workings they've done were, at least for the most part, deliberate it seems."
"Certainly none of them have turned a pony into a plant yet," Celestia said, grinning at her protege.
"Heh, fair enough," Twilight said. "Still though—"
"Yes," Celestia said, cutting her off. "I will be keeping an eye on them, I assure you, and I expect you to do the same."
The two alicorns returned to the fireside, finding another debate in progress.
"It's a perfectly fine name!" Apple Bloom said, stamping her hoof.
"You can't be serious," Scootaloo said. "It's gotta have a cool name! Like the one in Gunnar's story!"
"But it is a cool name. Besides, it's my tree right?"
"Yellow one has good point," Gunnar said. "Her tree. She can give any name she want. Even if stupid."
"But really, Apple Bloom! It's a world tree. It could last like a thousand years, and be written about in books and stuff forever. You gotta give it a more awesome name than that!"
"Yes," Gunnar said. "Like mighty Modun!"
"Come on Sweetie," Apple Bloom said. "Help me out here."
"Hey, leave me out of this," Sweetie said, lazily examining the inner workings of her detached leg by the firelight.
"Fine! Forget all of ya'll! I named it already, and I'm stickin' with it"
Scootaloo facehooved. "You can't call a world tree 'Rupert.'"
"So now yer the boss?" Apple Bloom said. "Yer the Princess of Rupert?"
"Can't we just call it Yggdrasil?" Scootaloo said.
"No one said you have to visit Rupert."
"I am never calling it that."
"Rupert, the World Tree. Ha!" Gunnar laughed. "Stupid name. Now. In thousand years though, strong caribou and pony all named Rupert. You watch. You see."
"What are you going to do with Rupert, though?" Sweetie asked, now that the name had apparently been settled.
"Hmm..." All three of the fillies looked up at the branches high in the night sky, pondering. Then a huge grin spread across their faces and they locked eyes with each other.
"Are you girls thinking what I'm thinking?" Scootaloo asked.
The three fillies' then yelled out in unison, "Cutie Mark Crusaders: World Treehouse Headquarters!" as they performed a three-way hoofbump.
Princess Celestia leaned over and whispered to Twilight. "And you were worried they might abuse their power!"
You didn't really think I was going to let Applejack die, did you?
In all seriousness though, I'm just glad this is finally published and done. I've spent way, way too many hours in the sad headspace the start of this chapter demands, both as I wrote and as I edited it over and over. When I first conceived of this story, it was much, much shorter. Just Apple Bloom and AJ. A lonely pony, a golem, a timberwolf, and the love between sisters. A much larger story grew around it, but this scene, where Love says no to Death itself, has always been the center of it all. On a larger scale, that's also, at least to me, the center of what Pony is all about as well. I just hope I was able to capture and convey that in some small way with my feeble attempts at smashing the talking horse words out of my keyboard.
On a more upbeat note, I think this could be Apple Bloom's (or perhaps even the entire Apple family's) theme song: "My Roots Go Down"