Heart of Silver
"Alright class," Cheerilee called out as she clapped her hooves, "please quiet down so we can begin." The hubbub in the classroom soon quieted down as the foals turned their attention back to the front of the room. "Today is going to be an extra special day. We're going on a field trip to Sweet Apple Acres to learn about where some of our favorite foods come from. As you already know, the Apple family provides nearly all of the apples and apple products we enjoy everyday in Ponyville. Now, can anypony tell us what the best part of this trip is going to be?"
A voice from the back of the room called out, "Yeah, no homework!"
She waited patiently for the ensuing round of giggling to die down before replying "Careful, Archer. You just might give me inspiration for some." The room became silent abruptly and the blue filly's cheeks went red at the possibility that little joke had just cost them. Looking around the room, she asked "Anypony else?"
"Oh, oh!" said a filly with curly red hair as she waved her forehoof high.
"We're gonna be having a picnic in the orchard!"
"Exactly! There's nothing like getting out and having a little fresh air in your lungs! Did everypony remember to pack a picnic lunch?" Waves of nods answered, with the exception of Sun Glimmer, who was looking embarrassed.
Perhaps noticing this, Apple Bloom excitedly added "And mah big sister Applejack said that there'll be free samples and baked treats for everypony too!" Most of the class cheered at that; after all, the Apple family's baking was pretty famous in Ponyville. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon however exchanged a quick glance and rolled their eyes.
"Well then," Cheerilee began, "the sooner we leave, the sooner we can have fun under the trees! Let's get going!"
* * *
A hail of apples fell as Applejack stood back from her work. Turning to the foals, she continued with their tour of the farm. "And that's how we harvest 'em here at Sweet Apple Acres. One good buck and down they come." Gesturing to the fallen apples, she continued "Come on! Try a few!"
The class descended on the fallen apples excitedly, rushing to get the choicest ones before somepony else beat them to it.
Seeing that two fillies hadn't approached the tree, Applejack motioned for them to come over. "Come on girls, don't be shy. There's plenty of apples for everypony."
"You want us to eat something that's been like, on the ground?" Diamond Tiara winced.
"Like, GAH-ROHSS." Silver Spoon agreed, hanging her tongue out in disgust. "It should, you know, be washed first or something."
Insulted, Applejack was about to give the pair a quick lecture on hospitality when Cheerilee came over and drew her attention away. "Miss Applejack, is there more to the tour of your farm?"
Applejack paused and scratched her head. "Ah, let's see here. Ah've shown y'all the barns, the cellar and now the orchard." Shrugging she added, "Ah reckon that's about it actually."
"Well then," Cheerilee began, turning to face her class, "Okay everypony! I hope those apples got your appetites warmed up. It's time for the class picnic!"
The foals cheered, and then hurried about setting up their things. Friends formed little rings around blankets, food was set out from saddlebags, and the sound of talking soon filled the area.
As everypony was finding a flat spot for their meal, Diamond Tiara nudged her gray friend. "Come on. Let's, like, go somewhere away from these losers." Nodding, Silver Spoon followed her friend behind a nearby bush and out of sight of the rest of the class. As she set down a brand-new pink and purple picnic blanket, she continued, "Mom, like, got me this. It totally matches my coat and mane don't you think?"
Getting out her own lunch, Silver Spoon agreed. "Like totally! So, what did you pack for your lunch?"
The pink earth pony pulled out two containers from her saddlebags and held them open for her friend to see. "Chestnut and wild mushroom risotto, and some chocolate truffle with raspberry sauce for desert."
"Like, that's so much better than those stupid apples."
Their conversation soon drifted into gossip about their classmates, plans for later, and other things of interest only to them.
* * *
As the day wore on, the foals had moved from lunch to playing games amid the apple trees. Applejack had brought out a cart loaded with various apple-themed treats for everypony, and now that it had been picked clean, she had joined Cheerilee in a comfortable spot in the shade. They were quietly enjoying the last of some apple fritters when the orange mare spotted a dozen streaks in the sky overhead.
One of them suddenly turned and headed for the duo, leaving a familiar multicolored trail behind it. As her colorful friend landed, Applejack noticed she seemed unusually concerned. "Afternoon Rainbow; what's up?"
Lightly brushing some dust off her neon-yellow weather patrol vest, she replied, "I don't have time for much of a chat. There's some rogue weather coming this way from the Everfree Forest, and you're going to have to take everypony inside somewhere while we deal with this."
"Oh dear." Cheerilee said with a frown, "How bad do you think it'll be?"
"It doesn't look like it'll be more than a big thunderstorm, but there's still a chance of flash floods or the river swelling. No worries though, after all, I'm on it. Just keep everypony safe and indoors kay?"
"Alright Rainbow." Applejack nodded, "We'll take this party inside ASAP."
"Stay safe yourself miss Dash."
With a quick salute, Rainbow was airborne again and quickly catching up to the rest of the weather team as they headed for the edge of Everfree.
Turning to Applejack, Cheerilee sighed. "We'll need to come up with a way to explain this without alarming the children. Any ideas?"
The farmer rubbed her chin for a minute, thinking over possible options before speaking. They'd pretty much covered the farm already, so anything new would have to be improvised. "How about having y'all come down to the farm house and learn how to make some caramel apples? Just treat it like part of the tour."
"That's a great idea! It will keep them busy with something indoors while the storm passes over. You go and start setting up, and I'll go round the class up."
* * *
"Are you, like, sure this is the way back to the rest of the class?"
"I thought it was."
Diamond Tiara slumped against a nearby tree. While their picnic had been fun, they weren't having much at the moment. She had tried to retrace her steps to return to the clearing they had left their classmates in, but nopony was there. Now the sky was growing dark, and neither of them had much of an idea of where they were.
"This is so not fun." remarked Silver Spoon as she kicked a pebble. "I wanna go back home."
* * *
In the Apple family kitchen, the children had taken to the idea of making their own caramel apples with gusto. Some were being very competitive about it, trying to put more nuts or a thicker layer of caramel on theirs than their peers were using. Others were just having fun experimenting with different combinations of toppings or making silly designs. As usual, Apple Bloom had overdone herself in an attempt to earn a caramel apple making cutie mark. She'd managed to spill a fair amount of caramel and was busily trying to detach herself from the counter.
Applejack merely stood back with a smile. "Would ya look at 'em all? Not a care in the world."
"They certainly are enjoying themselves," Cheerilee agreed, "and none of them seem to have any idea that outside the weather is turning ugly."
"Yeah, now that ya mention it, even those two rich fillies didn't raise a fuss."
As Cheerilee heard that, something clicked. "What do you mean, they didn't raise a fuss? Those two are always complaining about something, even when they are getting their way."
"Well, they didn't this time."
Cheerilee walked around the room, quickly looking over everypony before returning to her friend with a worried look on her face. "Applejack, they aren't in here."
"What do ya mean they aren't in here? 'course they are! Ah saw everypony in that clearing follow you in." Taking a moment to look around, Applejack swore under her breath. "Great. Ah don't see 'em either. We can't risk leaving 'em out there when the storm hits."
As she started to head for the door Cheerilee called back to Applejack over her shoulder, "Come on, we have to go looking for them."
"No we won't." Shocked, the purple mare stopped in her tracks and looked back at the farmer. "You stay here and keep an eye on your class. Ah'll go get Big Macintosh and the two of us'll find yer missing students."
Without another word, Cheerilee stood aside and Applejack hurried off to the barn where her brother was working.
* * *
Wandering about Sweet Apple Acres in silence, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon had run out of ideas and things to complain about. They had decided to continue walking and hoped they would run across either a landmark or somepony. While they had both spent many weekends in the Filly Scouts, neither had really paid much attention to the scout leader; they had only really attended at their parent's insistence. After all, why in Equestria would civilized and special ponies like themselves ever need wilderness survival skills?
Presently, Diamond Tiara spotted something in the distance and quickened her pace. Noticing this, Silver Spoon hurried to keep up. A few moments later, they were standing in front of a small building, seemingly left alone in the orchard.
Looking over the pink walls and heart shape decorations, Diamond Tiara started thinking aloud. "Does somepony, like, live here?"
Walking up the short ramp to the building's only door, Silver Spoon shook her head. "I don't think so. I mean, it's like, too quiet." She started to knock on the door and both of them let out a gasp as it swung open slightly. "It's not even like, locked?"
"Whatever. Let's get inside. The sky looks totally mean."
What the two fillies saw inside the small building surprised them. The only furniture in the single room was a nondescript chest next to the far wall. Save for the curtains, the only other decor in the room was a map of Ponyville, drawn using crayon, taped to the wall opposite the window.
Walking over to the map, Diamond Tiara chuckled. "Who drew this? It's like, seriously obvious that drawing wasn't their special talent." After taking a moment to look the map over, she added "and why is like, just about everything crossed out? Were they using this as a checklist or something?"
"Check this out." Silver Spoon called over. She'd opened the chest to discover it was full of random toys, board games and crafting supplies. "There's a lot of things in here."
"So this is like, somepony's play house? Who in Ponyville could afford a place like this? I mean, since when could working-class ponies like the Apple family have a spare house for their foals?"
A loud crack of thunder interrupted Silver Spoon's reply, startling and panicking both fillies.
* * *
Flying fast above the storm, Rainbow Dash was getting worried. This storm cloud was larger than expected, and was threatening to turn more violent. One of the weather team's members had already been grounded by an unexpected burst of lightning, and her replacement was taking too long to arrive.
Looking down at the clouds below, she spotted a solitary orange mare running randomly in the trees despite the weather. Concerned for her friend, she changed course and flew down to intercept her. "Applejack! What are you doing out here?"
Shouting over the wind, Applejack called back "We've got a major problem here Rainbow!"
The multicolored pegasus swooped down and landed in front of her friend. "I'll say! You shouldn't be out in this!"
"Rainbow, two of the foals are missing. We need to find 'em 'fore this gets much worse!"
"Great. Just great. You go back where it's safe AJ. I'll have the rest of the weather patrol watch for them while we deal with this from up there."
"It's my farm Dash. Ah'll handle this."
"No can do Applejack. It's too dangerous, besides we can cover more ground faster than you can. Go back inside."
Applejack started to speak again, but then had second thoughts and held her tongue. Turning to head back to the farmhouse, she called back "We're countin' on ya Dash. Don't let us down okay?"
"What's that?" Rainbow smirked as she started to take off again, "You doubt the best flyer in Equestria can save the day? I'll have 'em safe and sound before you know it."
* * *
Diamond Tiara pressed her nose against the windowpane. "Wow, look at it come down! It's like, a waterfall or something!"
"More importantly," Silver Spoon pointed, "look at that!"
The two fillies looked closer at the ground. They quickly noticed with horror that what were mere puddles moments ago had swelled into a solid layer of muddy water. Perhaps more disturbing was the fact that it was starting to flow on its own.
Shying back from the window, the gray filly tried to find some courage. "We - we should be safe in here." After swallowing quickly, she continued, "I mean, this house is built on like, stilts or something. The water shouldn't reach us."
Shaken, Diamond Tiara backed away from the window. "I hope you're right."
"Maybe," Silver Spoon began as she walked back to the toy chest, "maybe we'd feel better if we could like, get our minds off the storm outside."
"How do you expect us to do that?" As if intending to drive her point home, the storm released another loud thunder crack.
"Let's see if there's something worth our time in this chest." As she rummaged through the contents, she pulled out various pieces of sports equipment, several hoof puppets, a ball of string, the remains of a kite and a cube covered in stickers of various colors. "Hey look, it's one of those stupid cubes that everypony was passing around a while ago."
"Ugh, how boring. I mean, who even cared about them?"
"Agreed." she replied as she continued to root about. "Here's something." Holding up a box, they read its cover together. "It's some kind of board game called chess."
"You mean 'bored' game. I remember seeing that egghead Twilight play that. She took forever between turns."
Silver Spoon set the box aside. "Pass on that. I've never understood what she sees in this stuff." A few moments later she resurfaced with another, larger box.
Diamond Tiara sighed. "Another board game? Seriously, how much fun can those be?"
"Actually this one sounds like, interesting." she said as set the box closer to her friend and began reading from the cover. "Graduate, raise a family and retire with the most money in Ponyville's Game of Life."
"Wait, the goal is to like, make more money than anypony else? That's it? Oh I'll win that game easily."
Silver Spoon grinned. "I don't think so. I mean, after all my special talent is being born rich."
"Alright, you're on."
Opening the box, they went about setting up the game. After a brief argument over who got to use the pink carriage and who would be the banker, they quickly lost themselves in the game.
* * *
From a hill safely out of the range of the rogue storm, the weather team surveyed their situation. Every member of Ponyville's weather team had been called in to deal with this storm now, but things weren't going very well for them. Since several members of the team had been grounded already as a result of either being blown into something or shocked by errant lighting, the entire team had retreated to a safe distance.
"We're not going to be able to handle this on our own." Cloud Kicker said as she helped patch up one of the unlucky weather patrol members. "This thing is huge."
Honeysuckle winced as Cloud Kicker continued to bandage her injured wing. "We need a new strategy." Wincing again, she turned to her friend and whispered "Careful! That stings!"
"It's bad enough that we can't seem to make a big enough hole to dent this thing," Firefly began as she fluttered her wings to knock damaged feathers loose, "but we're getting grazed by lightning too often."
Not being one to admit when she was defeated, Rainbow Dash paced constantly. "We can't just give up. Those foals could be in some real danger. And what if this storm starts moving into Ponyville?"
Plucking a few burnt feathers from her wings, Firefly disagreed. "The storm seems to be fairly content to stay where it is actually. We probably don't have to worry about that just yet."
Looking up from her work on Honeysuckle's wings, Cloud Kicker asked, "So, any ideas girls?"
Rainbow nodded. "I've got one. Firefly, you go to Cloudsdale and have their weather team come back us up. Cloud Kicker, you keep tending to our wounded. I'll scout the farm for the missing fillies."
Firefly started to take off, but then turned around. "Wait, that means nopony is dealing with the storm cloud itself."
"I know. Since three of us aren't doing any good, one of us will fare even worse. We'll have to ignore it for now."
* * *
Hearing the door to the farmhouse click open, Cheerilee looked up from her conversation with Sun Glimmer. Shouting, "Applejack! You're back!", she quickly bounded over to her muddy friend. "Did you find them?"
"No;" she replied, "Turns out this here storm is getting right nasty. The weather patrol is looking for them now, but they wanted me to head back inside somewhere."
"Oh dear; this isn't going well." Taking her hoof off her chin, she looked at the floor solemnly. "How bad is it out there?"
"Well, some areas have started flooding. It's not terribly deep yet, but that will change if the rain keeps up." Seeing Cheerilee's countenance fall further, Applejack walked over and put a reassuring forehoof on her shoulder. "Don't go makin' yerself sick with worry now. Rainbow and the others will find them. I promise."