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Exactly how this had all gone down, Inkbrand still wasn't entirely sure.

But really. What else could he expect from Ponyville?

To say he'd been surprised when all the other colts and fillies and reverted back to their adult ages sans Applejack would be a huge understatement. And given the one, glaringly obvious thing that had really separated the orange filly from the others, Inkbrand supposed - in hindsight - he should've seen it coming.

But he hadn't. He really, really hadn't.

Which, in turn, had meant a guilt trip the size of bucking Equestria, even though there had been no possible way he could've known a tattoo would interfere with the spell's ability to draw into the pony's natural cutie mark and revert them back to their proper ages. Like, seriously. Weren't cutie marks suppose to overpower any other magic on a pony's flank? They were magical and rot!

Apparently not magical enough. Thank buck he had morals and hadn't gone with a permanent tattoo.

The unpleasant revelation had still, however, left a lingering question of who. Unless a pony of immense Magic-Canceling Power - was that thing? That should be a thing - swooped down on them to effectively erase the tribal apple, Applejack was going to be stuck as a filly until the tattoo washed off on its own, in a couple of months. And considering the filly's real family was off doing buck all during Hearth's Warming, well...he'd been left with a choice.

Glowing horns and menacing glares had ensured a fairly quick decision.

"If I never have to buy a bundle of holly again," Inkbrand lamented to the orange filly as he fairly collapsed onto his modest couch, dropping bags upon bags of decorative material, "I can die happy." The tree had been hastily delivered - and he'd been bucking lucky there'd been a decently sized tree left to purchase - yesterday, but was still standing silent and empty in the corner. Spending the holidays with his family as he normally did, his Ponyville home was woefully unprepared to celebrate the Heart's Warming spirit, which had meant a rushed trip with Applejack to purchase decorations, food, supplies...

Anything and everything a filly was used to for Hearth's Warming.

It was already the Eve though, and while it was still light out, decorating took a buck load of time. With a groan, Inkbrand forced himself upwards from the couch, eyebrows dipped in concentration as he rummaged around the myriad of shopping bags. "See the candy canes anywhere, Apples?" the tattooed stallion questioned, nose stuck in a particularly large and seemingly fathomless bag. "For me, not for decorating. Need a sugar kick - oh buck! Don't tell me I left the - nope, got it!"

Seriously. How the buck did Mom do this every year? He was ready to strangle himself after just shopping for the stuff!




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There was no time of the year like the holidaying time of the year, when ponies looked to one another and snuggled affectionately and sang of days gone by. There was all sorts of pretty stuff you put on trees and all these weird plants you hung around the house to make everypony all awkward like. You drank warm cider and delicious apple juice flavored with some holly leaves fit for tea, you sang all sorts of nice carols and when all was said and done you got presents! Why wasn't the holiday year around? Sure you'd have to change some stuff for the seasons but adults were smart enough to figure out what to do. Hopefully, anyway. Sometimes adults could be a bit silly like and not focus on the important things, like playing and holidays and catching bugs and frogs and cats and then returning the cats you caught and then trying to find a lost puppy so you could keep it. And this was especially true lately!


Her ma and pa were being awfully strange, taking a long, long vacation. They weren't alien to the idea of taking them, but it had been forever! Hopefully they'd come back with all sorts of stories to tell. She'd been around Granny Smith a bit but she was speaking all weird like, and her brother had such a deep voice now! Well, that she could remember. She was mighty sleepy that one time she went to Sweet Apple Acres. Somethin' was goin' on though and she wasn't allowed to go back just yet. They all got ponypox and had to go to Manehattan to visit the Oranges or somesuch, and in the meantime she was gonna be with Mister Inky. He was a little strange too, but not as strange as all the other adlts of Ponyville were around her at times. Like they had some sort of big secret they were hiding from her. Well, she supposed it was the season of secret gift giving. Maybe the whole town was going to give her one big gift! She was always partial to gold statues of herself, of course. Hopefully they got her good side.


But that was neither here nor there or anywhere for that matter, because it was Hearth's Warming Eve! It was the second most magical day of the year after Hearth's Warming. She had been all prepped since the sun rose to go out and get ready for the big day. It had seemed like they had started awfully late, but who was she to tell Mister Inky otherwise? Well, she had. A lot. At least a few times a day since Nightmare Night. She'd get distracted by something else pretty easily- there was just so much to see!- but the topic would return. Then finally he had wrapped up whatever else he was doing and it was now time for them to prepare for Hearth's Warming Eve!


It was the best shopping day ever. She got to pick out ornaments, tinsel, the tree skirt, the stand, multiple strings of firefly lights that seemed sorta mean but adults were okay with it, poinsettias that she sorta ate, fresh garland for mantels and banisters, freshly scented pinecones and cranberries, , wide ribbon for tying garland or making bows around vases, stockings, stocking hooks, scented candles, festive linens, wreaths, lights for the house, a bow for the mailbox, and mistletoe. All in all it was a good start and with the tree arriving on time and it all came together like a real nice bull run in a rodeo.


And now here they were, returning to the home with all the excitement that could possibly be mustered by two ponies! Well, maybe she had all the energy. Mister Inky was pooped and fell on the couch like some adults did, especially when they got into the heavy cider and were all wibbly-wobbly. Then he up and said said something silly, which Applejack had to laugh at as she stood up on her two hind legs, front legs firmly placed on him for stability so she could look into his eyes. “Nahw, y'ahll need holly tah hahve jolly! Get up Mister Inky!” She said, gently rolling him in place. “We gotta start decoratin' this here tree or thah windigos eaht us at midnight like lil' pony nomnoms!” She said, going back down to all fours so she could inspectorate the bags of holiday cheer they had snout first.


Sooner rather than later she was followed in the snout hunting by Mister Inky, who was looking for the candy canes. Applejack's eyes lit up- she had forgotten that they had delicious little candy canes, the most best treat to have on Hearth's Warming Eve that could also double as a decoration! She hunted for them but it appeared she found them at the same time as Mister Inky did. Good! She decided she needed one too. Ya know, because she needed to get charged up for the tree decoration. She snatched one with her teeth and walked backwards so he could get a good view of her. Because she was cool and he needed to see this.


“Seeaahdon'tneedhooves!” she breathed out with the candy in her mouth, trying to use her teeth and tongue to unravel the wrapping pm it. No success. “Ah cahn- no-shtupid- dooont'look-” sh mumbled, sitting on her haunches and putting her hooves to work. In a second or two she had unraveled the start of the candy cane, enough to get her mouth on it. “Tahdah! Nohoovesh!” She said proudly, the candy cane bobbing in her mouth as she spoke so the cane portion was poking her in the nose every time.

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That skill though.

Honestly, Inkbrand could remember doing much more ridiculous things as a foal to get somepony's attention, things he would really rather not remember, but kind of had to because bucking memories. Almost immediately, a vision of himself sporting the largest pair of fake reading glasses and geekiest bowtie in the whole bucking world swam through his mind, and it was almost, almost enough to make a blush crawl over his face. The fact that now he, as an adult, could understand why his parents had to stifle laughter every time he left for school when he'd been filled with nothing but zealous determination as a foal only added to the mortification.

Spirit hadn't shown any mercy, either, the little nag.

But because he was a much better sport than stuck-up I'm-to-good-for-you fillies, Inknbrand obliged the orange Earth Pony, taking a sudden but totally genuine interest in the wreath hanging up outside the window before Applejack's triumphant voice called attention back to herself, candy cane "successfully" unwrapped and sticking in her mouth. "Hey, not too shabby Apples," he praised, before grabbing up his own pilfered candy cane with a conspiratorial grin, "but check this out!"

A flick of his hoof had the candy cane spiraling in the air as the crowd fell silent, audience enraptured by the perfect whorl of hardened sugar, before -

- nearly taking his eyes out with pointy plastic wrappers -

"Hold on hold on, didn't count," the grey stallion protested, rubbing his forehead with one hoof as he picked up the fallen candy cane with the other, "do over!" Another flick, another spiral, and this time, sweet sweet victory as Inkbrand caught the the candy cane in his mouth, perfectly perpendicular to his snout. "Ha cha cha cha!" A twiddling of jazz hooves struck Inkbrand's point home as he chuckled, not really caring that he was having way too much fun with a simple game of Look What I Can Do!

Because buck. What were the holidays for, if not for fun?

Sugary treat now gotten in the most thoroughly inconvenient manner conceivable, Inkbrand was able to take some time to survey their work area, absently sucking on the straightened end of the unwrapped cane as his golden eyes roved around the room. "Alright now, lessee," the tattoo clad stallion contemplated, moving around a bit to give a cursory inspection of the plethora of shopping bags waiting to be bust open. "We've got our sugar, and a whole lotta decorating to do. And cooking." Bu-hu-hu-uuck him, he should have stopped by the grocers for some store-bought cooking. As lame as it was to buy all the main holiday dishes from a store, it was lamer still to risk death eating one of his patented burnt pumpkin spice cookies.

Seriously. The instructions said golden brown...but they always went from pale yellow straight to black. The golden brown was a lie!

"Why don't you start laying out the cloths 'n stuff, Apples," he eventually suggested, pulling out the various Hearth's Warming themed throws, cushions, table cloths, and similar items from the shopping bags - things that needed to be put in place first, before any of the decorative items could be set on top of them. "And while you're doing that, I'll get started putting the lights for the tree in place. Then," he huffed out, dropping everything he'd pulled out onto the floor near the orange filly and slinging a foreleg around her small shoulders, "we can get this tree squared away, to ward off those pesky little Windigos!" It'd be easier to wind the lights around the tree himself without worrying about tripping over a mini pony wandering around his legs - plus, the fun was in haphazardly throwing on every single ornament possible, not meticulously threading light strings through branches to create a uniformed spiral.

And well...Hearth's Warming Eve was a really terrible day to get eaten like lil' pony nom noms.





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Applejack thought what she did was pretty, pretty impressive. After all, nopony had the hoof skills of an Apple! She meant the mouth skills of an Apple! Yeah! They could peel the skin off of an apple with their tongue and tie knots with the stems of those very same apples. Granny Smith said it was a skill all Apples were born with but Big Mac couldn't do it, so she just chalked it up random chance. Point was, Applejack knew she was pretty darn impressive and Inky appeared suitably impressed. Applejack beamed, sucking gently on the unwrapped portion of the candy cane in her mouth as she watched Mr. Inky prepare to unleash his special candy cane skill! It seemed like everypony had something they could do with a cane, right? That meant no cutie mark for her in candy cane manipulation, but that was probably for the best.

For now, she was simply watching Mr. Inky show off his skills. All four legs were planted firmly spaced and she looked on in wide wonder as the candy cane was sent flippity floppity flipping in the air. She watched with baited breath- and it smacked against him! She giggled heartily as he asked for a do over, to which she gave her approval with an excited nod. Okay, second time was bound to be better. Why, he had everything in hoof! Or mouth. It went flying and flying again and this time he caught it in his mouth, no hoof, and with all that jazz hoofy flair! “Hahahaha!” Applejack laughed, pulling the cane out of her mouth and pronking in place. “Why, that tahkes some mighty fine skill! Yer better aht this than them circus folk ahre, Ah bet. You should join tha circus!” Applejack chortled with delight, not caring that she had only ever seen a carnival, not a circus.

Was there a difference? “Hey, is there a difference between a circus and a carnival?”

Inquiring minds had to know.

Onto more actionable topics- and she was all about that actionable- and the like, which today meant tree decorating! And then cooking. And the cooking was even better than the decorating if she was being honest (and she was!), even though the holiday made the first seem a bit more important. That was silly talk. “Sounds like fun tah me! Ah cahn't wait ta show you mah family's holidahy recipes! Apple casserole! Mahshed Taters an' Apples! Apple pie and fritters and all sortsah goodies! Yer gonna eat so much yer gonna pop like a balloon 'round a unicorn,” Applejack said enthusiastically, preparing herself for the baking extravaganzica that was holiday baking. Nothing was better than Apple family baking except maybe Apple family decorating.

Applejack did go and do as she was told, laying out the various cloths and whathaveyous needed for all of it. She put the table cloths on the table, throw blankets on the places where throw blankets go (or where she thought they went in his place, which was really weird compared to whee the Apples lived), and tossed cushions where cushions go! Or where she thought they went, which was probably close enough for all involved. After she went about that line of work, giggling at Mr. Inky's appropriate theatrical worrywartin' over windigos included, she wondered what came next. There were certain methods of doing this, after all.

“So, whaht do you do for thah holidahys normahlly? Y'ahll don't seem tah hahve thaht, uhh what does pah sahy, holidahy stahminah,” She said, moving one of the cushions with her mouth in place. “Oh, also, would it mahtter much if Ah brought a pig or some such over? Or ah fowl? Or ah cow? Y'all need ahny help with'm lights?”  

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As amusing as it was to imagine himself running away to join a circus - he'd play the part of the Hot Stud to attract all female clientele, of course - Inkbrand had to extend his train of thought to other Very Important Apple-Based Questions.

"Well, aside from a couple of letters," the grey Earth Pony stated in all seriousness, bending down to shuffle the tree a bit further away from the corner, "a circus is all about a performance, right? The Big Top. Stuffing twenty ponies into a single cart and steering it round the center ring." And also hiring elephants to balance on rubber balls that were bucking way to small and nearly sending them crashing into innocent circus going foals. Inkbrand could still remember his mom's expression as she tore the circus manager a new one.

Which, funnily enough, had been just about as entertaining as the circus itself.

"But a carnival, s'all about the games and rides," the tattoo-clad stallion continued on after a moment, finally rearing back upwards with the string of lights in hoof. "Wandering around and exploring 'n all...and getting sick on the Twister." Oh yeah - it'd been almost like a mini game, seeing how much cotton candy he could sneak right out from under his mom's nose, and subsequently loosing it all on a Unicorn-powered ride. His dad had found it uproariously hilarious, while his mom had lost the will to live for the rest of the day.

And then repeated her circus act the day after, except at him.

Even with foalhood memories pleasantly circling back around his head however, Inkbrand didn't miss Applejack's next query, causing an amused smirk of his lips as he dove behind and in front of the tree, trailing to lights up towards its tip. "No farm animals," he stated in what he hoped was a firm enough voice, though he couldn't help the thoughtful frown that fell over his features. "my wallet's taken as much of a hit as it can take." Adding animal food and, potentially, clean-up services was definitely something Inkbrand did not want to have to do.

And, it also gave Inkbrand time to think of exactly how to answer her previous question.

"Well," he stated slowly, and with a bit of a strain in his voice as he reached up to place the lights way at the top, "I don't normally live in Ponyville, see? I celebrate the holidays with my - " Whoa-ho-ho-hooo, nelly. Bringing up parents was, probably not a smart thing to do in front of a filly who was undoubtedly wondering where her family had buggered off to for the holidays. "With, my...marefriend!" Inkbrand improvised, dropping back down to his hooves as he turned towards Applejack with a grin. "But uh, she's outta town, on...hmmm, ah - on a business trip! Working over the holidays." Inkbrand shook his sadly even as he trot up to Applejack to ruffle up her mane a bit. "Silly girl just doesn't know when to stop working, 'ya know?"

'Nice save.'

"What about you, Apples," the grey Earth Pony continued after a moment, rummaging through a bag in order to find the tree ornaments, "what do you usually - "

Whoa-ho-ho-hooo, nelly! Filly! Missing family! Ex-nay, on the holiday-ay!

"AH-GRAAH-UGH-HA," Inkbrand wheezed loudly, "COUGHING." A few stallion-y thumps on his chest drove to point home. "Anyways," he said casually, as if he hadn't interrupted himself with a sudden coughing fit, "how do you usually go about decorating the tree? I'm thinking candy canes first, else we might accidentally eat them all before we have a chance to hang them up."

'So smooth Ink, so, smooth.'





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Twilight Sparkle hurried down the streets of Ponyville, her mind so distraught that she forgot about the fact that flying or even teleporting could get her quicker to her destination. But what she heard though was unsettling even for the Princess who had seen her share of strange and dangerous things. It was something simple that started this whole thing off, Twilight's desire to meet Applejack during the Hearth's Warming season. Then she got a rather cryptic letter at her castle saying that something happened to the earth pony and gave an address in Ponyville. 


Her thoughts ran wild as she approached the home. Maybe Applejack was sick or hurt and couldn't tell Twilight on her own. But when she opened the door she wasn't prepared for what she saw. There in the living room was Applejack, though not the mare that she knew. Instead there stood a filly version on her friend, barely old enough to have her cutie mark. 


"A...Applejack?" she said looking at the filly then shifting her gaze at the stallion that was with her, wondering what his part in this incident was. 

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He was talking about how handled the holiday festivities when he became real and suddenly sick with the coughing, hacking up at least half a lung. Poor stallion, he probably was getting the Downtown Quiver Fever. One time when Applejack's pa was a little stallion he volunteered to go to Manehattan to deal with an outbreak of the virus. He got real sick, but he was a toughie. No sickness would ever fell his mighty self! And afterwards he returned with this real pretty tree topper which always came last. “Well, what we do is everypony gets one string o'lights and they get ta decorahte it however they wahnt in a certahin areah, as long as it can connect ta tha other parts. Then after we string the lights, we get tha ornaments and do the same, but this time we take turns. Then when it all done, I stand on pa's shoulders an' put tha tree topper on! Tadah! Tree done! And that's how we do it back home. Well, we usually just eat tha candy canes before we start so maybe we can put those up first,” she said excitedly before her mind caught something.
“Hehehe, you have a marefriend. What's her nahme? Does she hahve lots of tahttoos like you do? Whaht does she do? Do y'all kiss?! Kissin' gives y'all cooties an' that ain't no laughin' matter.”


He sure did know a lot about the differences between a circus and a carnival. Maybe that was the sort of knowledge all old ponies had, or maybe where he was from he had to join one or the other for a while before getting your cutie mark. Sounded like an awfully strange way to go about it, but that seemed right to her. Yep, he was a carnival or circus pony and that was why he knew all that. And why his eyes spoke of fond memories long ago, in the distant times, away from here. “Well, I wouldn't get sick on the Twister. Ahpples don't get sick like that! We're tough an' stuff. Ahnd we're good at gahmes. Why, lahst time one of them cahrnivals wahs in town Ah won mahself a teddy cow! 'Course Ma said Ah coulda spent 'but a third of whaht Ah did tah get one with some sorta mahgical whahtcha call it that could tahlk, but Ah won it!” Applejack beamed proudly before going back to what she was doing, “so, when did yah join the cahrnival? Or circus? Was it fun? Did you get yer cutie mahrk there? Was there a mahre with a beahrd? Did you love the mahre with the beahrd? is tha mahre with tha beahrd yer mahrefriend?” Applejack asked her barrage of questions earnestly, her fevered imagination growing.

But one hope was dashed. No animals? “Awww!” She answered with a bit of an impish groan of disappointment. Rewarding the farm animals was important! One cow, one chicken, one pig, the most well behaved and productive of the lot, were invited in. They'd share in the games and fun of Hearth's Warming! But she reckoned this wasn't home...it surely wasn't. But when in Roam, do as the Roamans do. And this was his place, not hers, and it was silly of her to ask a non-farmer to celebrate like a farmer. She sighed and pawed at the ground. “Alright, Ah guess yer right. Be right back in jus' a second, okay?” she said quickly, trotting to the back of the house. Out of sight, out of mind hopefully. She put a sturdy box in front of a window because she needed a stable platform to talk, darnit. She stood on it and opened the window.

Outside was a calf who was almost a cow, a pullet, and a piglet. They stood with little strings of tinsel in their mouth and strings holding little presents. They looked at her hopefully, and she shook her head.
“Ah'm sorry, he said no. He doesn't wahnt no fahrm ahnimals in his house!”
“That's whaht Ah said, but he don't wahnt it.”
“Arizonah, jus' don't cause a ruckus or nothin', Ah know how you get. Mahrebeline- no, don't lahy eggs here! Silly Marebeline. Sir Piggles, make sure that there egg don't get gobbled up, okahy? Ahlright. Ah'm sorry 'bout this, but Ah still got y'all presents!”
Applejack babbled with her animals a minute before reaching down and pulling out three presents, one for each of hr friends. They then took turns giving their presents to her, which she shook before Arizona gave her a look. Applejack blushed and pulled back.
“Right, right. No guessin'. See y'all later! Hahppy Hearthswahrming!”

One present on her back, two in her teeth, Applejack trotted back into the main room. “Look wh-” she began before the door opened and a new pony arrived! She was all purple with a funny looking cutie mark of stars and such, and she was an alicorn! She looked surprised. But Applejack looked amazed and excited, so much so that she ran up to the new pony and started inspecting her, putting her head and hooves everywhere!
“Wow, yer so tahll!”
“You have horns an' ah wing! Yer ahn alicorn*! Ah thought thah only alicorn wahs Celestiah. Are you some sortah secret Princess?”
“Your horn is so sturdy looking! Ever poke somepony with it?”
“Woooow your wings are reahlly big! Ah bet you fly reahl fahst, huh?”
“What's yer name?”
“Where do you live?”
“You're reahl regahl lookin'!”
“Mr. Inky here hahs ah mahrefriend!”
“Are there other alicorns hidin' out?”
“Are you Nightmahre Moon?”
“What's thah moon like?”
“Do you eaht ponies on Nightmahre Night?”
“Do you...uhh, eaht ponies NOT on Nightmahre Night?”

“Mah name's Applejack, nice to meetchah! Well, unless you're here tah eaht me. Please don't eaht me.”

* Pronounced Alleycorn.

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Twilight Sparkle just stood there as Applejack barraged her with a pile of questions and comments. Even if she could speak, there were no words coming from the pony's mouth as to what happened to her friend! What unsettled the Alicorn the most was the fact that on top of turning into a filly the earth pony had forgotten everything about Twilight and maybe even their friendship! She felt her stomach knot up as her nerves begin to fray, but there was no time to panic. She had to somehow restore Applejack to normal. But first she had to address the filly with all the questions. 


"Well... I'll try to answer all your questions that I can. Let's see, my name is Twilight Sparkle and yes I am an Alicorn and a Princess. There are actually four Princess here including me. You mentioned Princess Celestia and there is also Princess Luna and Princess Cadence. No, I'm not a secret Princess, as it's kind of hard being secretive when you have both wings and a horn! I can fly sort of well, but not as well as my Pegasus friends. As for my horn, I don't think I ever hurt a pony with it, well... maybe once Spike when he surprised me. You don't have to worry. I'm not Nightmare Moon, and I haven't been to the moon or eat ponies. Speaking of questions though, what's you name little filly? Are you from around here? Do you like Hearth's Warming Eve?" 


She knew the answer o course, but if there was some way to jog the filly's memory into remembering it would be a step in the right direction. 

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Well, that had worked out swell.

No really, it had, considering that Applejack hadn't suddenly broken down into tears wondering where her family was. So he considered it a win. What he hadn't counted on, however, was being veritably flooded with ten questions to every one answer, falling so quickly that he had to seriously stop and wonder how in Equestria the orange filly was drawing enough breath to even breathe.

Luckily for him however, any awkward explanations about stallions and mares who loved each other very was staved as Applejack suddenly veered off into an adjacent room - and none too soon, allowing Inkbrand to let out the breath he'd just inhaled for a long-winded explanation. "Holy rot," the tattoo-clad stallion muttered under his breath, "are all foals this active? Bucking buck me." Still, he couldn't help the grin on his face, even as he idly wondered how the buck parents managed to keep up with their foals for any part of the day.

Seriously. If the fevered shopping trip didn't catch up to him, Applejack's endless questions definitely would.

Still, the sudden stillness - or so he thought. Was Applejack whispering to something in the back room? - gave Inkbrand another moment to himself, quickly glancing in the direction the filly had taken off in, before abruptly reaching into one of the shopping bags and pulling out some brightly decorated tissues paper. With another quick glance, the Earth Pony pulled out a gift bag to stuff said paper in - plus, the actual gift he'd subtly purchased when Applejack's head had been turned the other way. "Little bit here, little bit there," Inkbrand murmured to himself, fluffing up the tissue paper to effectively hide the gift inside, before shoving the entire thing near the middle of the myriad of shopping bags. And all before the orange filly came trotting back into the room. Buck yeah, he was smooth -

...wait, where did she get -

"Where'd those - " the tattoo-clad stallion started to say, staring at the three gifts the filly was now sporting, before the front door suddenly swung open to reveal a startlingly familiar purple figure, effectively ending all coherent thought in Inkbrand's mind.

Right on Hearths Warming Eve, huh. Buck. Well, the obvious thing to do was to simply stand up straight, calmly explain the situation, and take it like a stallion, Princess of Friendship or no.

"I didn't do it," Inkbrand blurt out, only half-paying attention to Applejack as she immediately trot up to the other mare and started babbling excitedly at her. The three presents she had somehow purloined lay forgotten on the floor, prompting Inkbrand to slowly pick them up and scoot out of the way even as he kept a wary eye on Twilight Sparkle.

Because buck, that was bucking Princess Twilight Sparkle standing in his doorway, an Alicorn of such amazing rumored power that she could probably obliterate him with a flick of one eyelash. Knowing his luck, the purple Princess would take up Fire Walker's mantle, assume he'd kidnapped Applejack and turned her into a foal-frog for his own diabolical purposes, and proceed to tear him a new one in four different ways. In the back of his mind, Inkbrand supposed he should have been grateful that was he still standing, and not currently rolling on the floor in agony, and he was fairly certain his luck had to everything to do with the orange filly currently occupying all of the purple Alicorn's attention.

Speaking of...

Sparkle was clearly taking the apparition of a filly-bound Applejack all in stride, playing along with the orange filly's apparent lack of memory...so he didn't think he had to worry about any sudden mental trauma. But who knew? Inkbrand really didn't know much about the Elements of Harmony, other than the fact that they were all good friends with one another, so he had no way of knowing exactly how any of this would effect Applejack.

Which was the important thing to worry about, obviously. Because if something happened to Applejack, something much worse was going to happen to him, because bucking reasons.

"Oh yeah, we love Hearths Warming Eve, don't we?" the grey Earth Pony cut in, voice just a bit hoarse as he came to stand next to the orange filly. "We sure do. Love it. See, Apples, filly - Applejack, here, she's just staying with me over the holidays, 'cause her - you know. It." Buuuuuck, bucking buck him. "Name's...name's Inkbrand," he finished, and hoped to Equestria the Princess would at least wait until Applejack was off doing who knew what in another room before reaming him out for something that had been entirely out of his hooves in the first place!





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This Alicorn Princess sure did respond to everything Applejack asked! It was right as rain whenever an older pony started to acquiesce to her demanding questions and started to spill the beans. That was a funny phrase- ponies didn't have beans inside them. If they did Applejack didn't know what she would eat for lunch anymore! Next thing you'll say is that flowers are made out of ponies too, and that was just silly talk. Point was, there was a lot of things Applejack didn't know but she knew that it was rare for ponies to just sit there and answer all of her questions. This Princess must have been the Princess of Answering Questions because she did so pretty quickly and Applejack didn't hide any of the shock, awe, and confusion hide from her face as the answers rolled in.

Twilight Sparkle was a funny name, but she noticed that a lot of horned critters had fancy names. It was still a good name though.
“Thaht's a pretty nahme.”
Alicorn Princess though? So strange! How did such things happen?
“How'd ya become a Princess? Were you a pegahsi who got a horn or a unicorn who got a pair of wings? Or were you just born this wahy?”
But so many more! What the hay had happened? She had missed the announcement of all the extra Princesses flying around. She must have been REALLY into the spirit off the holidays to miss all that!
“Wow! Ah mustah knocked my head on a nice tree tah miss ahll thaht news. What's a Lunar? Or a Cahn dahnce for that matter? Are there any Eahrth Pony Princesses? Can I be a Princess? Can you make me a Princess? Can you make Mr. Inky a Princess?”
She continued on. Too bad she couldn't fly that well, but what's a spike?
“What the hahy is a spike? How'd you get surprised by a spike? Ain't they them pointy things in adventure stories?”
And some good news, everypony! She wasn't Nightmare Moon and she wasn't here to eat Applejack.
“Thaht's good. Mah ma says thaht everypony's gotta put treahts out aht thaht stahtue or Nightmahre Moon'll gobble us up. Well, this time I sahved mosta mine and just hid it away. I ahte it lahter, an' Ah felt jus' awful 'bout it! Ah reckoned it wahs becahuse Nightmahre Moon was gonnah eaht me ahll up. Ah cried an' told pa about it but he just lahughed it off and didn't want to get new cahndy tah plahce at the stahtue or nothin'! Well, Ah suppose Ah can rest eahsy knowing Ah'm not gonnah get eahten, right?”

Now it was her turn to answer the Princess of Answering's Questions!
“Mah nahme's Ahpplejack! Ma's is Golden Root, Pa's is Cortlahnd. We live out over at Sweet Ahpple Ahcres! Ma is pregnant, gonnah nahme mah lil' sis Ahpple Bloom- helpin' mahke thah crib and everythin'- and Ah hahve ah big brother nahmed Big Mahcintosh, an' Grahnny Smith rounds up thah squahd! An' gosh dahrn Ah love Hearthswarming Eve! It's thah best time of thah year right after the family reunion. Or maybe before. It's close. Mah fahmily's ahlmost ahs big as you are nice! Ah would be over there but there's a bahd cahse of the ponypox goin' round, so they heahded tah Manehattan for some sortha..err, core-antine? Was tha word? An' mah home is off limits too for a little bit. So Ah'm stayin' with Mr. Inky here an' showing him thah proper way tah sahy hi tah tha holidahys! Cahn you believe that he don't even allow no fahrm animahls inside to shahre gifts ahnd cuddle under thah fire? How nutty is that?” Applejack offered with a quizzical expression parked between shocked and offended, hooves up in the air ans shoulders shrugged. Speaking of Mr. Inky though, he shrugged.

“Yep! Ah love tha holidays. Oh! I know what Ah can do! Mister Inky, Missy- err, Yer Royalty Highness, Princess Sparkle, err- Twi, y'all want some hot cocoa!?” She asked and proceeded to no wait for the answer, leaping towards the kitchen.  

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As she waited for her now filly sized friend to reply, another pony made his appearance.He wasn't a pony that she met before, and his appearance gave her pause. His wild mane and tail and tattooed legs made Twilight wonder how much of a good idea it would be having this Inkbrand taking care of the earth pony. 


"I didn't do it," 


Twilight's face furrowed into a frown. It wasn't that she wanted him to admit that he did it if it wasn't his fault. Still, the way he said it made him seem guilty, like he had a knack of getting into trouble. Again, how would he influence such a filly, and if Twilight could turn Applejack back, would it alter her perception of the world? 


"Oh yeah, we love Hearths Warming Eve, don't we?" the grey Earth Pony cut in, voice just a bit hoarse as he came to stand next to the orange filly. "We sure do. Love it. See, Apples, filly - Applejack, here, she's just staying with me over the holidays, 'cause her - you know. It." Buuuuuck, bucking buck him. "Name's...name's Inkbrand," 


"Well Inkbrand," Twilight said careful not to let her frustrations get the best of her, "I have to say that I do know of the little filly that is with you, but I think this is the first time since I've met you. How did you come to meet her and have her stay at your home?" 


She emphasized the question with a little glare at Inkbrand explaining that she knew Applejack wasn't a filly last she saw her. But before she could get an answer Applejack was at it again with more questions. The filly spoke more than Pinkie Pie could ever muster on her most excited of days! 


"You certainly have lots of questions. That's good as it helps you to learn new things. I wasn't born a Princess but a unicorn, and then I became a Princess which gave me these wings."


What's a Lunar? Or a Cahn dahnce for that matter? Are there any Eahrth Pony Princesses? Can I be a Princess? Can you make me a Princess? Can you make Mr. Inky a Princess?”


"They are two Princesses, Luna is the sister of Princess Celestia whom you've probably hear about and Cadence is Celestia's niece. Princess Luna helps to raise the moon and protect ponies from creepy nightmares while Cadence is the Princess of Love who helps strengthen the bonds of love among friends and family. As for making you or Inkbrand a Princess, I'm afraid I can't do that little filly. You see, it requires lots of hard work to become one, and even I didn't know I'd be a Princess until it happened." 


After answering a few questions, a stream of information poured out of Applejack about how she came to at least in her mind to Inkbrand's house. Most of what she said were things Twilight knew talking to her friend during the years, but it helped to place the earth pony at where her mind and age was. Applejack's parents were still alive and Apple Bloom wasn't born yet. Twilight wondered though if the whole pony pox thing was an elaborate way for inkbrand to justify bringing a now filly Applejack to Sweet Apple Acres and being confused why Apple Bloom was her age and where her parents were. Perhaps she misjudged the earth stallion. 


"Cahn you believe that he don't even allow no fahrm animahls inside to shahre gifts ahnd cuddle under thah fire? How nutty is that?”


"Some animals though like to live outside, just like we like living indoors." 


“Yep! Ah love tha holidays. Oh! I know what Ah can do! Mister Inky, Missy- err, Yer Royalty Highness, Princess Sparkle, err- Twi, y'all want some hot cocoa!?” 


Twilight couldn't answer fast enough as Applejack dashed to the kitchen, but it was a blessing in disguise as it gave her time alone with Inkbrand. 


"Inkbrand, I thank you for trying to help my friend in her... state, especially keeping her away from her family to not arouse any questions. But in order to help her, I need to know as much as possible. What happened to Applejack that she's now a filly?" 

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Oh-ho-ho, buck. That bucking look. Oh yeah. Bucking purple rolayship was quite clearly and evenly raring up to place all the blame on him.

Bless Applejack and all her apples though - the orange filly did a bang up job distracting Sparkle, turning her Look of Doom from him onto the filly in question. Even if Inkbrand couldn't even hope to keep up with the string of questions and answers the two mares were throwing back and forth at each other, it at least gave him time to think.

And focus on not hyperventilating.

But mostly the thinking part.

Though speaking of thinking, Inkbrand couldn't help but marvel at how little of it the purple Alicorn was doing. In fact, Sparkle was handling the whole Applejack-turned-into-a-filly thing with marvelous aplomb, as if such transformations were a naturally occurring phenomena she was entirely used to. Maybe that ability to take things in stride came with the extra set of wings or horn, but it was still a little unnerving to see Sparkle answer every single question like nothing was out of the ordinary.

Especially considering the various mayhem and chaos said Alicorn had plunged Ponyville into on numerous occasions, Inkbrand thought with a little glare of his own.

And then Applejack was making a beeline into the kitchen for some hot cocoa, and oh buck, he'd wasted all his precious excuse-thinking time on thinking about thoughts that didn't need to be thought!

The grey Earth Pony was vaguely aware he had slowly, unconsciously, made his way backwards and away from the purple mare, ending up with his hind legs pressed against the back of his couch as his body apparently made itself ready to be torn a new one - but to his immense surprise, Sparkle suddenly turned to him with...a question. And more calm. And not a glowing horn pointed at his chest. Considering all the awful ways Inkbrand had been contemplating said horn could take him apart and put him back together again, the abrupt one-eighty from his imagination was almost just as off-putting.

But by no means unwelcome.

"Bucking Taurtarus, your guess is as good as mine," Inkbrand blurted, after a moment of stunned silence, brushing a hoof through his mane as he was wont to do. "Rot, I was just enjoying a quiet day before I found a whole gaggle of ponies turned youngins'. A gaggle that I took charge of, 'cause I'm responsible and rot," the tattoo-clad stallion was quick to add, just in case the Princess was thinking otherwise.

Clearly, a responsible adult that was no way at fault for Applejack's prolonged status as a filly.


"The others turned back into adults after a few hours," he began again, but more slowly, carefully picking his words, "but Apples in there, she. Uh. Didn't." Oh buck. "Because of the, uh. Tattoo, that I painted over her flank," he murmured, voice trailing off until it was hardly louder than a low mutter. "But I didn't know it'd interfere with her cutie mark!" Inkbrand felt compelled to explain, even if he still kept his voice low for the sake of the orange filly in the other room. "And it's temporary! Only a couple 'o months. Then it'll wash off on its own, and she'll normal again."

...Huh. Normal.

Would Applejack even remember all of this? Of the age-reduced adults he'd seen since that traumatic incident, all of them had remembered their time as a foal again, and Inkbrand could only assume the orange filly would as well. How bucking awkward was that going to be?

At least he'd have time to steal and hide as as many lassos as he could find.



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While Applejack was entertained with making hot chocolate, Twilight now needed to focus on the source of how her friend became a filly again. For some reason, Inkbrand acted strangely around her, like he was afraid? She wondered what exactly he thought he would do to him. She typically wasn't a blast first ask questions later pony, even if she had power. Where there was power there needed to be control and there was the responsibility of using it. 


"Rot, I was just enjoying a quiet day before I found a whole gaggle of ponies turned youngins'. A gaggle that took charge of, 'cause I'm responsible and rot. The others turned back into adults after a few hours, but Apples in there, she. Uh. Didn't." 


"So you found not just Applejack but other ponies as fillies?" Twilight said keeping a distance from the stallion who was now pinned to the couch. Whoever did this certainly had the power but maybe not the oversight of what they were doing. If they tried hurting her by doing this to her friends, it didn't work as the effect was temporary... sort of. So temporary that she didn't notice until now. But that begged the question: why was Applejack still a filly?


"Because of the, uh. Tattoo, that I painted over her flank," 


"You did what?" Twilight said more surprised than angry, "Why would you even consider giving a filly a tattoo?" 


"But I didn't know it'd interfere with her cutie mark! And it's temporary! Only a couple 'o months. Then it'll wash off on its own, and she'll normal again."


"Well, it did interfere. Cutie marks are not to be toyed with like they're simply a tattoo for your flanks! I've seen what happens when  cutie marks get switched or worse, removed, and it's not good. And only a couple of months? No, it can't be that long. Her family will be looking for her, not to mention her friends. Surely you have some type of solvent to erase the tattoo!"  

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Aaand, there it was, and right on cue, a scowl fell over Inkbrand's face.

Cutie marks are not to be of, bucking, course cutie marks were not to be toyed with! As a matter of fact, the one time he had tried to mess with a cutie mark, his ink had passed right underneath it! His client had been peeved, figuring a tattoo could permanently cover up his mark - but it hadn't worked. Either the magic on his tools hadn't been strong enough to override the magic on a cutie mark, or a cutie mark was just an inherently magical object that couldn't be interfered with.

He had thought a cutie mark couldn't be interfered with!

"Oi, I didn't 'toy with' her cutie mark," the grey stallion couldn't help snapping, ears falling back defensively on his head, "she didn't have a cutie mark! Little filly, remember?" Inkbrand leaned back slightly to glance into the kitchen, the tell-tale flashes of orange reassuring him Applejack was still occupied, before he turned back onto Sparkle.

Who was, honestly, now starting to look a little panicked at her friend's predicament, and Inkbrand was forced to suffer through a moment of feeling like the world's biggest tool.

Buuuuck, he hated that feeling.

"If I did, don't you think I would've used it by now?" the grey Earth Pony sighed, a tad wearily as he rubbed the back of his neck with one hoof. "Unless you can get Her Royalhsip," Inkbrand continued, with a little job of one hoof over his shoulder in Canterlot's general direction, "to come down here and lend a helping hoof, that tat's sticking to her flank for a few months. My work bucking lasts," he finished, puffing out his chest proudly -

- er wait, no. He wasn't suppose to be feeling proud about this, buck it.

One of the Princess' questions did catch him by surprise though, enough that his ears swiveled forward in incredibility. "I, gave her a tat because I promised," Inkbrand said slowly, genuine bewilderment in his voice, "and because she asked for one?" Honestly, he could admit to himself that he wasn't one of those, 'a promise is a promise no matter what!', colt scout types...but hay.

Applejack asked. He promised. Why wouldn't he give her a tattoo?

"Well look," the tattoo-clad stallion said after a moment, tone just a little aggrieved, "that tat was made with enchanted inks and brushes. Some sort of, preservation, slash seeping, slash dyeing spell. I wasn't paying too much attention." Too bucking right. Just the thought of listening to a Unicorn drone on and on about how amazing their stupid magic that messed everything up was made Inkbrand want to smash his head against the nearest wall. "Can't you just...I dunno. Cancel it out? It's bucking Unicorn magic."








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"Oi, I didn't 'toy with' her cutie mark," the grey stallion couldn't help snapping, ears falling back defensively on his head, "she didn't have a cutie mark! Little filly, remember?" 


Twilight was about to open her mouth in protest, but then something came to mind. What if the cutie mark that filly Applejack sported wasn't really her cutie mark but Inkbrand's tattoo? It certainly seemed convincing, but now wasn't time to admire his hoofwork. 


"If I did, don't you think I would've used it by now?" the grey Earth Pony sighed, a tad wearily as he rubbed the back of his neck with one hoof. "Unless you can get Her Royalhsip to come down here and lend a helping hoof, that tat's sticking to her flank for a few months. My work bucking lasts."


"I suppose you're right, and I believe that both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are away from Canterlot," Twilight said as she frowned at the predicament, but more at the way that inkbrand looked as proud as a peacock with what he did, "I know you don't think that you need a way to remove it as you seem capable of creating these tattoos, but shouldn't you have something to remove one just in case? And still I can't seem to figure out why you gave a tattoo to a filly..." 


"I, gave her a tat because I promised and because she asked for one?"


"But she's a filly!" Twilight said in desperation as she stared at the stallion while trying not to arouse the suspicions of Applejack in the other room, "You might be big on promises, but what if she asked you to do something like go hang gliding from a mountain would you do that too so as not to break a promise? Now she has a mark that isn't her mark which is preventing her from being a mare!"


"Well look," the tattoo-clad stallion said after a moment, tone just a little aggrieved, "that tat was made with enchanted inks and brushes. Some sort of, preservation, slash seeping, slash dyeing spell. I wasn't paying too much attention."


The Princess tried to think of all the ways Inkbrand could mess things up in one act! Not only did he give a filly a tattoo, but he had no solvent to erase it nor did he know specifically what was in his ink formula so she could research the ingredients! The Alicorn felt like she wanted to lock herself in a room and scream, but that would do nothing. One thing was for certain: a month was too long for her friend to remain this way. 


"Can't you just...I dunno. Cancel it out? It's bucking Unicorn magic."


"I can try..." Twilight said with a sigh realizing that she seemed to be the only pony to do so, "There are enchantment dispelling spells like removing a magical trap from an object. Still this on a pony, not a thing, and it's a spell mixed with... whatever was in your ink. Still I can try when Applejack returns." 


 The Equestrian Department of Homeland Security has raised the Twilight Freak Out level from Deep Purple to Burgundy, indicating an Elevated Risk. 


There are six levels in the Twilight Freak Out chart: Lavender, Violet, Deep Purple, Burgundy, Magenta, Red.


These correspond to the following emotions: Calm, Slightly Perturbed, Frustrated, Miffed, Fretting/ Fuming, Loss of Control/ Magical Megalomania. 


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...Was she being serious?

She was being serious.

"Uh," Inkbrand started, and then had to stop as he belatedly remembered the Alicorn standing in front of him could probably wipe his existence from the face of Equestria via stray sneeze, "I wouldn't have promised to go hoof gliding with a filly. And that tattoo is only temporary, she's not going to be stuck like that forever! I'm not that stupid."

...Oh wait, what was that old adage about having to say it out loud? Buck.

Oh well, too late for it now. It was clear, however, that they were simply going around in circles, the Princess claiming he should've never tattooed Applejack in the first place, and he himself assured of his completely and totally harmless decision. Seriously! He could've given her a permanent tattoo, because how bucking rad would it have been to have one of the Elements of Harmony sporting his ink as they fought of unimaginable horrors unleashed upon Equestria? Bucking save the world in style.

But no, he hadn't, because there were just some things even Inkbrand wouldn't do. And to think, someponies didn't consider him to be an upstanding citizen!

At least the purple Alicorn was no longer giving him the stink eye, allowing Inkbrand to release a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding as she began contemplating ways to break off the enchantment on his work. Though, the grey Earth Pony had to admit he was a bit surprised Sparkle couldn't just cast some sort of, negation magic that would dispel any Unicorn magic she focused on. This was supposedly the mare that had taken on a demon from Taurtarus single-hoofedly with hardly an hour to master a surplus of powers.

...Then again. This was also the mare who'd supposedly caused a town-wide panic via love spell, amongst other things.

Really, with those wings and that horn, it was hard for Inkbrand to picture the purple Alicorn in front of him as anything other than...well. Alicorn. Pompous and uppity royalty? Sure. But a normal pony who made normal mistakes and had normal insecurities?

Whole 'nother ballpark.

"Nope," Inkbrand stated, with a little popping sound on the last syllable, "wrong-o. The spell's in the ink. And oil." Hrngh...probably not best to explain the massage oils he'd used on the small filly right now. "Everything's enchanted to work together. I just don't exactly, know, what spells went into his little cocktail of an enchantment."

Not even a little. The fancy spells his friend had weaved into his tools might as well have been a particularly pleasant fireworks show, for all Inkbrand knew the mechanics behind them.





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Applejack knew a thing or two. Heck, she knew a three or four thing roster on some things, and the kitchen was one of those places where she knew at least three things. She knew just about all Apple based recipes, and she was darn good at baking just about anything in that most delicious and profitable of all family businesses. She could get all sorts of veggies together and create a mean casserole, and Granny Smith had show her how to turn your average hay into the tastiest thing this side of Canterlot. But hot cocoa? That was new to her! She'd made it before, but others had helped. But now that she was a big pony with a big pony tattoo, she didn't need all that help.

First she got out a pot and filled it with warm water, pumping the starter three times and pushing the faucet back for two seconds to get a nice stream going. As that started up, she went over and got the heater under the stovetop going, making sure she didn't turn it on too high- yikes, almost! It was a quick startin' fella, wasn't it? He had all sorts of gizmos here. She didn't like it. Anyway, the fire was started and it soon muted itself appropriately. She moved the pot of water, which sloshed and fizzed and sizzled as some of splashed into the stovefire. Welp, that was going on now! Yay! Part two: The cocoa, now that the hot was taken care of. Or being taken care of. One or the other.

Now she went and got two cups. No, three! She was going to have hot cocoa too, and a Princess that she didn't know, and Mr. Inky! Now, wasn't this just the weirdest thing ever? A Princess she hadn't heard of? Weird! She knew she was just some country bumpkin, but heck, she didn't think she was stupid enough to miss a Princess! Oh well. Three cups. Now for the cocoa! She hustled about the fridge- any cocoa? Hmm. What- none that she coul recognize- what was that name for- what was that- nothing was like it was at Sweet Apple Acres! All the names were different! Back home she had a nice bag just called cocoa. And then they poured it in the boiling water and then it was hot cocoa.

She looked around and tried to find the cocoa, but the water was boiling really fast! Gosh, his heater really was pretty nice. She trotted on over and turned it off, pouring the water slowly and evenly into the three cups. She was a good girl too and only got about a fourth cup on the floor in transit, less than normal! She finished the water off and dumped it all outside, as was custom. A nice splash on the walkway! Okay. Now back to the cocoa mystery. She looked high and low and in the midde and on the side, and sometimes here, there, and everywhere. But she couldn't find cocoa. Hmmm....

She needed to put something in there. Oh- maybe he had treats! Yeah, that! She opened the fridge- syrup! Chocolate syrup! That would work, right? It would have to work. He didn't have any cocoa! She dutifully plugged each cup of hot water with delicious chocolate syrup, and then made double sure. Yes, this was a good idea. She stirred it all up and after smelling it- yep, sure did smell like chocolate!- got read to go. She grabbed one on her tail and carried the other into the next room, ready to come back for her own.

“Ah'm bahck!” She said, looking mighty proud of herself. She hooved over one of her terrible creations to the Princess, with an exaggerated bow which left a little on the floor, and gave the other to Inky. She waited until they drank and when the first pony took a good sip she said, “Ah don't know where ya kept yer cocoa, so Ah just used syrup! Pretty smart, right?” She asked, her eyes bold and seeking approval.

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"Uh," Inkbrand started, and then had to stop as he belatedly remembered the Alicorn standing in front of him could probably wipe his existence from the face of Equestria via stray sneeze, "I wouldn't have promised to go hoof gliding with a filly. And that tattoo is only temporary, she's not going to be stuck like that forever! I'm not that stupid."


There was no use trying to convince the stallion to not try something like that again in the future. But this wasn't the most important thing to tackle. What was important was getting Applejack back to her old self! 


"wrong-o. The spell's in the ink. And oil." Hrngh...probably not best to explain the massage oils he'd used on the small filly right now. "Everything's enchanted to work together. I just don't exactly, know, what spells went into his little cocktail of an enchantment."


"Right, that's what I meant. Enchantments and spells become part of an object, and in the case of the ink you added, the enchantment in the ink is now in the pony. How do you not know what was in the ink? Did you buy it from somepony else?" 


She didn't get her answer right away as Applejack returned with her hot cocoa. 


“Ah'm bahck! Ah don't know where ya kept yer cocoa, so Ah just used syrup! Pretty smart, right?”


"Well, you certainly a very resourceful filly," Twilight said trying to mask her anxiety, "Actually, I was speaking to your friend Inkbrand about your interesting mark you have. It was very nice of him to do so, making it to look like a cutie mark. But how would feel Applejack about getting your actual cutie mark?"  

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Well, at least the Alicorn had calmed down a bit. Imminent danger of being blasted into a thousand pieces, steadily dropping into single digits.

Though she continued questioning - accusing? - him about his tools, causing a gusty sight to escape past Inkbrand's lips before he could contain it. "I dunno," the tattoo-clad stallion mumbled, with just a hint of peevishness mixed with contriteness in his voice, "I just let 'I'm do it. Friend of mine enchanted everything for me, and it works." Inkbrand hadn't questioned how to undo the enchantments, why would he have? He was in the business of permanently inking his mark onto ponies for the rest of their lives, not nursing their indecisiveness by removing tattoo they later came to regret.

"And I already sent him a letter," Inkbrand added, before the Princess could comment, "right after we figured out the 'problem'. Doubt he'll be getting it anytime soon, though," he finished, words taking a slightly aggrieved tone as if it was his friend's fault he was visiting family in Maretonia for the holidays.

Yeah, totally his fault.

The grey Earth Pony didn't have a chance to do more than mentally shake a hoof at the nerve of his friend before Applejack was suddenly trotting back into view, causing Inkbrand to uncross his forelegs and set them back onto the flooring. The orange filly looked mightily pleased with herself, proudly presenting the steaming hot mugs towards the two of them, and Inkbrand didn't bother hiding the equally wide grin on his own face. "Hey thanks, sweetie," he praised, giving Applejack a quick wink, idly raising his mug upwards for a sip as Princess Twilight Sparkle began talking again. Buck, she was a one-tracked mind. Not that Inkbrand could really blame her, considering the -

- hrk.

The tattoo-clad stallion might have made a sudden choking noise, but it was mostly veiled by the sudden spritzing of the most horrible hot cocoa he'd ever tasted spraying from his mouth to scatter all over the carpeting. Inkbrand didn't even care that cocoa was a nag to get out of carpets, because said cocoa being on the carpet meant it was no longer in his mouth where it was trying its best to suck out his soul and feed it to the pits of Taurtarus.

The sudden vacated space in his mouth didn't mean immediate relief however, as Inkbrand desperately coughed in an attempt to get his breath back. "S-sorry!" he wheezed, and choked some more on his own spit, "it was - it's really hot! I tried - hack - drank too fast - "

Oh, buck, Applejack was looking at him. And that sparkle in her eyes meant she was clearly seeking some praise for her efforts.


BUUUUUCK, he was never having any foals of his own. This was, just. Too.




With a toothy grin that was probably more reminiscent of a foal visiting the dentist than a grown stallion relaxing in his own home, Inkbrand slowly turned back towards his mug, and took a much, much smaller sip of the concoction. His gag reflex immediately kicked in, but the grey Earth Pony beat it down like a bucking champ as he desperately hoped Applejack was sufficiently distracted by the questions the purple Alicorn was directing at her. Bucking of course though, his luck had the orange filly explaining what exactly was in the hot cocoa and said explanation was probably not all that needed as the carpet started swimming in front of him a bit and sweet Celestia I'm going blind.

Once Inkbrand trusted himself not to keel over where his stood - and once the black creeping on the edges of his vision started to recede - he realized that the Princess had yet to taste the truly awful concoction herself. Which was great, because if a Princess bucking died in his home, Inkbrand would be spending the rest of his life in jail, and probably his next couple of lives, too. The tattoo-clad stallion frantically shook his head and hooves as soon as Applejack's back was turned towards him, limbs gyrating so wildly that it was a miracle his mug didn't upend, and immediately settled himself back down when the orange filly turned back around, raising his mug slightly in a toast. "It's really - hrk - really good," he claimed in what he hoped was a reassuring voice and not one filled with agony and death, golden eyes desperately scanning the room.

The nearest potted plant was only two meters away...he'd take it just one step at a time.

One, step, at a, time...





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  • 3 weeks later...




Applejack waited with baited breath for the Princess and her caretaker Mr. Inky to taste test her new cocoa, and it honestly couldn't have gone better. Well maybe it could have gone better. In fact it really could have. Mr. Inky spit up his first sip all over! Applejack shielded herself from the delicious beverage he was spitting up, worried that she had made some critical error. And she had, but it was one that gave her oodles of relief at the very least. She had just given him the cup when the cider was too hot! Haha, what a little thing. But couldn't he stand some hot things in his mouth? Applejack liked cooking with hot peppers, but she guessed that recipe was out the window if he couldn't handle the hotness. “Aww Mister Inky, Ah think y'ahll just hahve a bit of thah soft mouth,” Applejack said with a giggle as she looked back to the Princess.

She didn't drink her cocoa fast enough for Applejack's taste, but they started talking about cutie marks. Those things that came on your flank when the time was right, everypony was always in a tizzy about them. Many of her friends had them already and there was a time when she was wrapped up in getting her very own. And it'd be nice to get, but she was pretty content to just have a cool tattoo until then. “That would be mighty cool but mah mah ahn' pah sahid Ah hahve tah wahit so Ah know whaht mah special tahlent is! If I get it ahny other wahy, then Ah'll hahve ah weird ol' cutie mahrk that don't tell me noffin!” She shook her flank, “Nah, Ah got mahself this here neahto tattoo fer now and when thah time is right, Ah'll get mah cutie mahrk. Besides, y'ahll cahn't mahke ah cutie mahrk appeahr!” Applejack half dared and half exclaimed, challenging the notions that Princesses could do just about anything their royal heads cold conjure up.

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"I dunno I just let 'I'm do it. Friend of mine enchanted everything for me, and it works."


This was getting no closer to finding a cure. How could a tattoo artist not make his own ink but instead relied on some concoction that his friend made that Inkbrand had no idea about? 


"And I already sent him a letter," Inkbrand added, before the Princess could comment, "right after we figured out the 'problem'. Doubt he'll be getting it anytime soon, though,"


While having his friend help, Inkbrand made it out like it was the creator of the ink's problem. Twilight knew it was both their faults for turning Applejack into a filly. But now was not the time to make anymore accusations as Applejack was present in the room. As Twilight waited for an answer, Inkbrand took a sip of the hot chocolate, only to spit it out! While the Princess wasn't in the direct line of attack, she did catch the splash damage from the drink mixed with his spit, spotting her coat with brown dots. She cringed slightly knowing what was on her, seeing an extra long bath in her immediate future. But as Inkbrand recovered, Twilight knew that she had to also take a sip so as not to hurt the filly's feeling.


That would be mighty cool but mah mah ahn' pah sahid Ah hahve tah wahit so Ah know whaht mah special tahlent is! If I get it ahny other wahy, then Ah'll hahve ah weird ol' cutie mahrk that don't tell me noffin!” She shook her flank, “Nah, Ah got mahself this here neahto tattoo fer now and when thah time is right, Ah'll get mah cutie mahrk. Besides, y'ahll cahn't mahke ah cutie mahrk appeahr!”


Princess Twilight forgot who she was talking to. Applejack was certainly a smart pony even as a filly. 


"You're a very smart filly, and your...parents are right. No, unfortunately I can't give you an actual mark, but I can try to make the tattoo that Inkbrand gave you be... more realistic. Why I bet I can make those apples look like the ones you see on your farm!"


While engrossed on convincing Applejack, and ignoring the gyrating stallion she took a sip of her cocoa.


"See Inkbrand, it's not really that..." 


She stopped short as she felt her stomach tighten like somepony was sitting on her. Cold sweat poured down her body as her legs felt weak. And why was the room spinning. 


"Wow, that was really... interesting hot cocoa. Err... Applejack, can you tell me where the restroom is?" she asked while trying to steady herself. 

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Alright, he was fine.

No wait, his vision was going again -

Okay okay, no, okay. He was good.


Blessedly for him, Applejack was beginning to engage in some rather philosophical debates with the purple Princess about her cutie mark or lack thereof, allowing Inkbrand enough time to take two steps backwards and one to the side. A quick glance at the conversing pair was all the grey stallion needed, before he started to carefully pour the dark concoction into the base of the bottom plant, mindful not to spill any on the carpet.

It almost worked, but a sudden movement from the orange filly made Inkbrand hiss and abort his mission halfway through, the mug swiftly raising back towards his face. Buck. Well. Halfway done was a lot better than no way done, causing the tattoo-clad stallion to settle on scowling downward at his innocent looking drink.

Seriously. And dads didn't even get paid to pretend to like this rot. How the buck did anyone manage to be a good enough parent?

Inkbrand barely had the time to consider wagon-towing mothers on their way to hoofball practice before Princess Twilight caught his attention again - by ignoring his advice and taking a sip of her hot chocolate. The grey Earth Pony could only mentally shake his head and hope to high Equestria that the purple Alicorn didn't keel over right on his carpet. The very last thing he needed was the REA pounding down his door to find a royal princess KOed inside his home.

Rot. Inkbrand was good, but there was only so much he could talk himself out of!

"Second door on your left," Inkbrand called out as he jerked one hoof over his shoulder, amused at the purple Alicorn's delicate description of her chocolatey confection but unable to help the sympathy he felt at her plight. It was hard not to after experiencing the same thing for himself.

Still, the grey Earth Pony couldn't help the sudden burst of pride in his chest once he realized exactly what had just transpired - aside from an Alicorn narrowly avoiding a gut-wrenching death, that was. Applejack didn't really understand what was going on, true, but she had still denied having her tattoo removed. She'd chosen to keep it on, rather than attempt to get a quick fix for her lack of an actual cutie mark. Pride flowed through Inkbrand as he struggled to hide a smug grin from the Princess. Pride and...

Something else. Something warm.

Eh. He was probably just feeling validated, especially after all the Princess' high and mighty talk about tattoos and what he should and shouldn't do with them, never mind the fact that a currently unknown Unicorn had cast the magic that had turned all those adults into foals in the first place.

So validated, in fact, that as soon as the purple Alicorn seemed distracted, Inkbrand spun around to ruffle up Applejack's mane. "You're pretty wily, eh Apples," the grey stallion half-whispered, half-chuckled, plucking off his Hearth's Warming hat that chimed with each swing and plopping it down on the orange filly's head instead. "'Atta filly - patience is a virtue, ain't it right!"





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The door to Inkbrand's home creaked open, revealing the head of a rather inquisitive fashionista. It was Rarity of course, having caught wind on the gossip mill that her dear friend Applejack had been, well, turned into a filly. Why? That she hadn't been informed, but she intended to find out, and more importantly, she was here to see if her friend was okay. After all, she'd also heard plans that the filly had decided to spend hearths warming with... some stallion, who she had heard from her inquiries was far from a gentleman. 


Suffice to say, this had concerned her a tad. Just a tad? Well, to quantify, a tad to Rarity was... well, A LOT. Just what was her filly friend thinking? Didn't she want to spend the holiday with her family? Why this random stallion of all ponies? 


So yes, suffice to say, Rarity felt she was due an explanation. Or rather, posterity was due one. The usual gossip channels had failed her, thus, she was forced to investigate the source herself. Weirder, she had thought she'd just seen Twilight inside too. How was it she was last to know? Rarity, of all ponies? Her hobby was gossip. 


"Applejack," she greeted her filly friend with a bright smile, trotting eagerly into the room with what seemed to be a somewhat heavy saddlebag and glancing up at Inkbrand somewhat dismissively at first before turning back to the filly. "I was just in Canterlot doing some light shopping and I heard you were in the area. I have been awfully worried about you, the girls and I haven't seen you in days. What in Equestria happened? One minute you were heading off on a small excursion and the next... you're a filly?" she questioned her with a chuckle, looking once more at Inkbrand. "Oh, I'm sorry. I don't believe we have met. Rarity, a pleasure," she said quickly, turning back to her friend.

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Now that was a better offer! She wasn't so concerned that she was going to have to become the family's main Apple seller any time soon so her bargaining days were well ahead of her, but this seemed like a good negotiation. What was at first a no tattoo, impossible promise scenario was now a bigger, cooler tattoo proposition! Well now, that was just the best thing since sliced apples. Well best since she first got the tattoo, which came the same day she had captured all sorts of froggies and she still liked them so much that when she let them go she put a little pink marking on some of them so she could recapture them. She was going to get them again for Hearthswarming Eve! Anyway...wait, what was she thinking about? Oh, the Princess' offer.

She liked it!

“Why thaht sounds like it could be fun, Princess! Ah didn't know that y'ahll were tha Princess of tahttoo enhahncement!” Applejack said excitedly, her desire to say more cut off by the weirdness that the Princess started to go through. She looked like she was about to break into small pieces and asked for the bathroom, only after complimenting Applejack's drink making skills. Well, she did suppose that a pony would have to pee after taking one sip because they knew how good it was and would want many cups of it. Yep, that is what it was. And this only became a more certain fact when Inkbrand was so happy with Applejack that he gave her a spiffy little hat. Yay! “Well thahnks! This here haht sure looks ahll spiffy like. Ah think when she is good ahn reahdy she could try tah mahk mah tattoo-” she began before a new pony introduced entered. It was becoming a party.

This new pony seemed familiar. She was this radiant white unicorn with a diamond cutie mark! Awfully pretty with deep, blue eyes. Just like this one pony at her school that AJ thought was outrageously cute and was a little intimidated by. But this unicorn was much bigger and wasn't cute one bit. She was beautiful! Applejack looked down and away, the blush not at all trying to be hidden. What could she say to this pretty mare? Umm. Okay. Try by saying hi? No? Okay. She knew Applejack somehow. Then Applejack got confused. She'd always been a filly, duh. What else could she be- a colt? Applejack couldn't hide the flustered coloring of her face, but she did have an honest to goodness look of confusion about her when she did muscle up the courage to speak.

“Umm...o-of course Ah'm ah filly, w-whaht else wouldah be- a colt? Hehe. Uhh. Err, no offense, mah'ahm. W-what's yer name, m-m-mah'ahm?” Applejack asked, keeping the hat down tight around her ears. It was the only way to try and hide the red that started to spread all about her face, a mix of embarrassment, crush, and other playing her like a three string banjo.

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“Why thaht sounds like it could be fun, Princess! Ah didn't know that y'ahll were tha Princess of tahttoo enhahncement!”


Twilight smiled, trying not to talk much as she tried to prevent her stomach from rebelling saying, "Maybe in a few minutes. I need to use the filly's room."


"Second door on your left,"


"Thanks," Twilight said frantically as she turned to head to the destination only to see Rarity enter, "Oh, hi Rarity. I'll be right back."


She then galloped up the stairs, her mind not thinking about the fact she could simply fly or teleport. No, what mattered was that her sheer momentum of her running was keeping the raging storm in her stomach at bay, and nothing else. She darted into the room, a loud slam echoing behind her.


This will be my first break from the events to allow some interaction between Rarity and others. Please let me know when it's convenient for Twi to return to the fray.

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