Within Tenpony Tower, the crowning jewel of beauty in what remained of Equestria, there were a hundred locales an intrepid mare or stallion could go to find peace or calm. There were the top floors, shrouded in their silent archives and dusty libraries, despite being so close to the Upper Market. There was Canterlot Row, an atrium of false trees amongst an open cluster of quiet café's and trickling recycled water located in the east wing. If a pony wished so, there were even the easing graces of Tendertail's Sauna and Spa on floor sixteen of the primary tower itself.
For Flintlock, Tenpony's medical clinic was as far from any of those paradises as could possibly be found.
Nestled into the lower floors, the clinic was a conversion of what used to be a collection of management offices. As a result, for all its sprawling labyrinth of private wards, no-where within it escaped feeling cramped in the thin corridors that visitors were permitted to meekly line. All the larger spaces had been, rightfully, dedicated to operating tables, pharmacy storage and patient accommodation. Busied staff hustled and squeezed past the waiting ponies, each trying their best to line the walls and not look as though they were staring at anyone else's eyes directly. Essentially, the 'elevator effect', only for twenty minutes straight.
Within this hustle of awkwardly turned heads to try and identify every last scrap of unoccupied wall to stare at, Flintlock sighed and tapped his hooves upon the arms of a blue cushioned chair. Always blue cushions. Four other minor clinics in the tower, he'd visited them all, and it was always blue. Ponies had even started saying they were departing early for visiting hours in order to 'get a blue', with not a single denizen of the tower failing to know what that meant.
Truly, Tenpony Tower had the most bleeding edge heights of social creativity.
He settled his forehead into a hoof again and sighed. This place always made him feel testy and cynical. Something about being surrounded by a location whose sole purpose was to fix things that had gone wrong with someone's health just never sat right in his gut. The smells of antiseptic, the musty heat and the hushed voices everyone took and the dull, murmuring of the sick was an atmosphere that he had long since decided was impossible to relax in.
“Flintlock, pull your head up this instant.”
The voice hissed from beside him, drawing him from his internal monologue of complaints. Firm, but whispered, his sister was not one for beating around the bush when something was out of order. Sat in her flowing sunflower dress made by their mother, with her extravagantly tied mane tucked neatly behind her head, she gave him a disapproving stare that only a frustrated elder sibling could. Behind her, his parents, two aunts and cousin all turned their heads, the horns that signified their family's species all angling down a little. Gavel Swing, his father, half shrugged. He remained bolt upright in a suit sharp enough to slice cheese. His mother, Dress Sense only looked hesitant, as though she'd been about to say something, before remaining quiet. She instead went back to seemingly perpetually smoothing her pearly white satin dress.
Shaking out his head, Flintlock pulled himself upright and smoothed out his waistcoat once again. Clearing his throat, a subtle courtesy of apology to the room at large for his slouching, before turning back to the front, angled only slightly toward his sibling.
“My apologies. I'm just concerned for Grandmother's health. She's been in here so long this time.”
“Mm...yes, quite. Best of hopes.”
Flintlock's emotion bubbled to the surface, and he had to take a long and slow breath to force it back down. He knew very well that his sister, Radiance, had anything but the hopes that he himself possessed for a healthy recovery. It made the bile in his stomach raise to even contemplate the attitude some of his family had toward her.
A young doctor, one that Flintlock knew as Helpinghoof from educational classes, wandered out of the staff room and cleared his throat.
“Mrs Venture's family?”
Flintlock dropped his hooves to the ground, standing up and fixing up his mane with his magic. Getting up an hour early to carry out his archive's duties in time to be here first would pay off.
“Three family members at a time.”
Before Flintlock could even bring himself to move, he felt the hoof on his shoulder.
He grimaced, Radiance always seemed to turn his name into a stinging barb of a snappy reprimand; somehow managing to condense it into two syllables over the years.
“Yes, sister?” He patiently breathed and replied as he was expected.
“I do hope you are not rushing in? The young should always offer for the older, a gentlecolt should always offer for a mare and a brother should always offer for his sister. Little brother, there are others present in front of your family.”
Flintlock turned around, biting down every bit of his mounting frustration to step sideways.
“Radiance, it's Gran-”
She had already swept on past him. 'Swept' was the appropriate descriptive. That dress of hers filled the corridor to either side, with its fragile patterned white hems dragging lightly along the smooth floors. Ponies cleared the way for her, recognising her immediately. Head held high, she accepted the attendant nurse's kiss to her hoof before turning to head into their Grandmother's room.
Frustrated, Flintlock allowed himself one brief, internally rude moment of pleasure at the fact that wearing such a dress, she had to make a three point turn to get through the doorway in these thin hallways.
His mother's hoof wrapped around his neck from behind.
“She only tries the best for you, Flintlock. I do believe she's aiming to invite you to the Grand Ball this year.”
“So that our family will be fully on the invite list and a member of the inclusive list, of course. I am thankful.”
His mother jostled him. “It's for you. She believes it may help you to integrate more. I think you should listen to your sister more. Look where she's gotten herself.”
“...yes, mother. Of course.”
Flintlock shifted to the side, bowing politely to allow his mother past and then sat back down on the chair. His mother's words were little reassurance. This wasn't Radiance helping him. It was her ending his punishment. Speak publicly about your intentions to try and help the education system teach more about the world outside the tower and your own sister will socially expel you from the circles of interest to avoid association to the 'family name'.
And when your sister was first in line to become master of the archives, that was a lot of circles. He hadn't had a social gathering in months, and goodness help a pony who might want to try to start thinking about meeting a close associate or even partner some day under those conditions.
Flintlock sat bolt upright in the chair again, his parents passing into the ward before the doors closed again. The attendant stood on duty beside it, the letter he'd been so eager to try and give to Radiance still nervously tucked into his front pocket.
While for others...
Flintlock sighed, and went back to resting his hoof on his forehead.
Visiting times were one hour for all attendees.
The theory was to have time slots for parties too large for one visit. He could hope for a solid thirty minutes in there, if he was lucky.
Twenty five minutes into his parents and Radiance's turn, Flintlock began to get restless, reading all of the chipper posters for a fourth time, or scanning over the pre-balefire magazines that some unimaginative type had still left out to read.
Thirty minutes came and went. Feeling his hope crash inside, he looked back into the magazine, trying to tune out the gossip of his aunts. His cousin was wandering around in awe, trying to watch what doctors did, his bushy blonde mane bobbing as he kept asking nurses if there were any free job openings yet. A good colt, but Flintlock filtered it all out.
The sights within the magazines always caught him by surprise. Of streets in the open air, just as extravagant as Tenpony itself that stretched from here to the Manehattan Gardens. Friendship City in its gleaming stone and metal above a crisp river. The colourful adverts for various locales of the city, and even some for civil grade firearms for defence. They looked clunky and cheap. Such devices were in stark contrast to the artistic and fluid designs of pony life elsewhere in those pages.
Looking up, he sighed as the clock seemed to throw its arms around at high speed. Thirty five minutes in. Only twenty five left. Still that door refused to open again. Slowly breathing, trying his best to never appear flustered around others, he returned to reading the articles, before rather suddenly realising something.
If he knew anything, this magazine must have been from the early years of the tensions prior to war, before the Ministry of Image began printing. Briefly, it occurred to him that it may perhaps be quite rare for that very fact.
Standing up, he approached the nurses to inquire about perhaps trading for it to include in his little stash within the archives. They hadn't a clue about what they actually possessed, and all it took was a polite smile and an offer of a couple caps, strategically enough for them both to get a snack from the vending machine across the hall. Being the market-colt for the archives' supplies while you grew up left you with certain inherent skills you could pick up, if you were observant enough.
It was at this moment, that the door to the ward finally opened.
Farthest away from it, Flintlock immediately realised that his aunts and cousin were now 'in line' through social acceptance of immediate proximity.
Radiance exited, the attendant who had kissed her hoof now making a half hearted move to hold out a letter for her, but leaving it far too late to catch her attention. Flintlock saw his father take it instead, smiling to the thankful buck.
With his sister advancing to leave immediately, Flintlock stepped aside for her.
“I shall see you back at the archives tomorrow?” Her smile was anything but genuine.
Flintlock nodded, and didn't dare open his mouth to reply, or he feared the passively aggressive complaint he'd been working on for the last half hour might have slipped out. Yet now as he stared to the side and saw the ward door close again.
Aggravated with himself, feeling his mind race in frustration and worry that all the time would be used up, he sank into the chair yet again.
At the very sound of a handle turning, Flintlock was out of the chair. At a speed that was 'too fast to be considered polite' but just shy of 'someone might say something about it', he hurried to the ward. There were only ten minutes left before the end of visiting hours. Hustling past his aunts, he hastily thanked the attendant and trotted immediately inside, pulling the door shut behind him with his horn's magic.
“Ah, ah! There you are, what kept you? Did you let them push you around until you were last again?”
The first jovial voice he had heard that day.
Alone in the room, cast by the hazy sunlight of an arched window on the outer walls of Tenpony onto the hospital bed, his grandmother, Skye Venture, was waiting. Her thin body was bound by small tubes and with a nebuliser mask for oxygen hung close to her head. The tired smile as she saw him was enough to lift Flintlock's spirit from all the waiting.
“My apologies, Grandma.” Flintlock trotted over toward the far side of her bed, flitting the curtains open, as he knew she preferred. “Social circumstance and-”
“Oh hush, and give your old granny a hug before you waste these prison hours apologising.”
She wearily raised her horribly emancipated foreleg. Taking the strain for her, Flintlock gratefully leaned in to embrace his grandmother.
This was his only time to ease off the social exhaustion that was Tenpony Tower's life. Venture was unlike anyone else in his family, and in many ways considered a black mark. His sister he knew harboured some resentment about it, and Flint was certain she had pondered on whether she would be happier for Skye Venture to finally pass away and remove that stain.
The thought of ever wishing such a thing struck him deeply inside, that anyone could wish that upon her. After all, Skye Venture had done something no other member of his family had ever dared to do. She had left the tower.
It wasn't entirely unusual amongst the ponies that lived there to occasionally go outside under heavy guard, but there was a difference. Venture hadn't just left for a trade mission or some outreach program, she had been an explorer. An adventurer. A rogue to the ponies of the tower, who had once left on her own for over six months and was presumed dead, before returning with stories aplenty and a number of scars to prove it. She had travelled to the frontiers of Equestria, and according to her, looked out upon the frozen north and the dusty hills of Appleloosa. She'd even been one to discover the lost manufacturing plant of Sparkle-Cola near the crater.
Flintlock had always seen her as a hero to the family name and the source that had spurred his interest in learning more about what was out there and what had happened to the place he only ever saw through a window. Her whimsical tales told of far more than just the horrors that most believed of. But mostly, he was close to her because she actually respected his own interest in its history. Few did.
“Those stuffy so and so's,” she sharply declared, “they come visit me, and all I hear from them is document this, letter that, sign this, confirm everything...you know not one of them so much as wanted a hug. That's where you're different, little Flint.”
Flintlock flushed at the cheeks, “Grandma, I'm twenty eight...”
“Oh? Oooh? That old? Then where is a beautiful mare for me to meet and embarrass you in front of?” She cackled, before roughly coughing. A hacking, sickly cough that barely shook the bed, as her frail body lay back down to draw the nebuliser over her muzzle again to try to breathe.
Flintlock sat down to wait on her recovering, before his eyes caught notice of a letter that had been left at the foot of the bed. Opening it in telekinesis, he slid it out to read.
Before he'd even got a few lines in, his eyes widened.
“Hah, you saw that, huh? That's what I'm talking about, Flint.” Venture dropped the mask back down and leaned over the covers. “A will! A! Will! They want me to write one of these crummy things because I've been in here so often now. Your mother, I say...I never raised her to give such a child of her own that would shove a will in my face and tell me its for the family's good!”
The sight of that form to fill in; with all of Venture's inventory pre-labelled on it and simply needing assigned to those left behind, set his blood boiling.
“I cannot believe that they-”
“Would want me to croak? Give me that, Flint. Come on. I'll show you what we do with that.”
She took the letter, before simply tossing it over the other side of the bed and missing the bin by a good three feet. The sight, if anything, made Flint snort with laughter. The dismissive look on her face sold it, before she waved him in with a trembling hoof.
“Now, little Flint, come on. Enough about my silly worries, I'm not disappearing any day soon. I might not be a spry and youthful adventurer any more, but the humour that the wasteland taught me never left. I mean, look outside this door when you leave. Some idiot on the sports gym rowing team put up a sign advertising them supporting the clinic outside. They put their slogan underneath, 'Every stroke counts'. Yeah, good choice for a clinic, you dumb ninnies.”
Flint found himself chuckling, settling down in the chair beside her to pour her a glass of water. His family hadn't even done that.
“Ah, thank you. Did they accept your idea, Flint? The one to tell all the little foals about how the kids outside live?”
He shook his head.
“I'm afraid not. They said that learning about the wasteland outside would scare the children too much and that the positives you told me about to put in the report were cherry picking...”
Venture scrunched up her mouth. As an eighty five year old mare, that was some degree of disgruntled wrinkling.
“What has become of the tower, little Flint? Frightening the children? Cherry picking? Riff raff and rubbish! I tell you, Flint, the ponies I met out there? The times I had? I saw more about life, love and emotion in one week out there, than I had in a year inside this cage. Here, here...”
She pulled across a journal that Flintlock knew very well. He'd leafed through it enough times in his studies, mostly looking at the pictures of how iconic streets looked like now-a-days. It was only as he'd grown up, that he began to realise what his retired grandmother had truly done and seen, and that the ponies in it weren't like the life he had. As she flipped through the pages, her eyes filled with nostalgia, he could see her in her twenties to her fifties, beside all sorts of unusual characters. In scrappy towns, atop blasted mountains or standing atop the body of some giant lion-like beast.
“Grandma, I've seen this a dozen times.”
“Don't care. Look, look! This is not cherry picking!”
Her hoof weakly pointed out a photograph of what seemed to be a shanty-town of old train cars and rusted walls. Various ponies surrounded her, mostly rough but all smiling. Notably, one winged one was what he knew was called a 'ghoul' outside the walls. Flintlock had never seen one for himself, and the thought made him queasy, but here the ghoul had one of the most heartfelt and joyful smiles he had ever seen.
“New Appleloosa, Flint. I made sure to pass by there every time and they never changed. How's that for cherry picking? A wonderful group, passionate and eager, welcoming and practical. I'd give up a dozen no-life-skeletons in here for just one of them! And see? There?”
Her hoof pointed to one mare. Mature, she held herself with surprising grace. Beside her legs there was a little filly with a green mane.
“Old friend. Must have been twenty something years ago, during my last tour. I had to go after I heard. She was the town doctor, had that kid right there in that town. Even sent a letter to me at the tower about it, talking about raising a little filly out there where warm water doesn't come on command and the food schedule is whatever you can scrounge up. Damned if I know how you do it out there, but that's love, Flintlock. That's family. For all your sister talks about it, she doesn't know the meaning of the word. Ah, how I miss them sometimes...the foals always liked the fancy hats I wore for each trip, just for the sake of it.”
Venture's face tightened as she looked over the photograph. Flint wondered if she might weep out of memories, and took her hoof in his to comfort her. That warm smile turned to him instead.
“Thank you, little Flint.”
Flintlock nodded, helping her to lift the glass of water to her cracked lips.
“It's all right though, Grandma. I'm still in the archives, aren't I? I get to read a lot more about the world in there. I can finish a lot faster than Radiance thinks I can. And...and life is comfortable. She got me a new apartment on the upper floors so we'd all be up there. Three bedrooms now, all to myself. With a balcony overlooking the great market atrium. It was just some silly school wish I had...I'll...I'll manage. Maybe next year's curriculum?”
“And you are happy?” Grandma Venture's eyes were piercing.
Flintlock hesitated, and then sighed. “I'm disappointed, yes. But I could want for nothing now, she sorted everyth-”
“Are. You. Happy? Flint, when was the last time you attended a social event?”
“The winter ball?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Which one?”
Flintlock's heart dropped. “The one before last...”
Venture raised a hoof and patted his shoulder.
“Flint...little Flint...why won't you talk to your grandma? You wouldn't look like you do if something wasn't troubling you. Things usually are these days. You used to tell me about all the ponies you met and talked to. Now you come here every day and every time I see you looking at the floor like some lost puppy. Come on, now, out with it.”
Doubt began to cloud Flintlock's mind. What could he even say? That his sister had ushered in a new era of prosperity for their family at the cost of having her micromanage things? That every day was just another short and comfortable trip from archive to markets and back again, before attending whatever family event had clogged that night up? That the one little burst of inspiration he'd had to maybe try something different had landed him in the doghouse and socially outcast him from much of anyone wanting to be involved with him, lest it invoke the displeasure of his sister for them to be seen with the 'black sheep' of the family?
How to even word that without sounding enormously selfish, to complain from luxury.
“I-” he began, “I don't really even know how to approach it, Grandma. It's just, I've not been very happy lately. I love my family. My parents, my cousin. My new home is incredible. I want for nothing material any more. Yet during the days, I just...well, it's hard to pin down to anything specific and it sounds particularly ungrateful to think out loud and-”
“It's because your sister has such an overbearing influence on your entire life, isn't it? That every day just feels short and comfortable doing the same little things with little change, before family and social events clog up your whole evening and every thought of inspiration to maybe try something different gets you made an outcast and makes others not want to come near you because they don't want to risk offending a powerful family?”
Flintlock stopped right where he was, his mouth hanging open. Skye Venture just make a wrinkled grin at him with one side of her mouth. She pointed a hoof at Flintlock.
“They are wrapped up in their pointless games, Flintlock. But you, you've got good thinking. You wouldn't think all that if you-” She stopped, hacking roughly off the side of the bed, before sucking oxygen in from the mask. “If you didn't have some real problem with it. And I know it's not stupid, cos I wouldn't call me stupid. So stop thinking stupid, stupid.”
Flintlock bit his tongue lightly, flabbergasted, as he tried to catch up with all that.
“I mean, it's what I felt way back. You're lonely, my dear.”
Flintlock knew she was right. The way his heart clenched at the hated word struck far too deeply to not be exactly what it was.
“I just...” He began, before biting his tongue, barely knowing how to continue. For a pony who was proud of his own diction, this was difficult. “Her fortune pays for us all, I have access to that even if I don't own any of that. I love the food, I love my home, I love most of my family. I love the markets and the music. But every night, it's more than just coming home to an empty apartment on my own.”
He leaned in, his forelegs resting on the bed.
“I feel unfulfilled, Grandma...my interests are in a world already gone, and few want to hear of them. I am lonely, but I'm afraid it's my own choices and interests that made it that way, as much as my sister's.”
Skye Venture was quiet for some time, her hoof patting her Grandson's gently.
“Oh Flintlock...if only I were twenty years younger and able to take you out there with me just once.”
His eyes shot open, as much fear as astonishment. “You would have?!”
“I would...you love your history, you ought to have seen it while I could still have protected you. You've never yet been able to see that Ironshod Mark Nine Rifle you love so much, have you? New Appleloosa's store has got one...”
She winked with a smirk.
“I'm only sorry that I can't give you that now. Don't be held down by your family, Flint. It's better to accept less if it means you really get to live.”
Across the room, there was a sharp rap on the door, the signal of visiting hour being over. Flintlock's face fell, but he felt Venture's hoof around his shoulders and rubbing his back.
“I'll try to talk to your sister tomorrow when she comes to see if I've signed that useless thing. I want to know that you're happy, Flint. So you go out there and don't let them get to you. If you have to strike out on your own and open a shop on floor five, just to be your own pony, you do it. Become a teacher and do it yourself. Be a gunsmith for the guards. Whatever you do, I'll be proud of you, my boy.”
She pulled his head in to gently kiss his forehead.
“Thank you, Grandma.”
“Here, take this.” She hoofed him her journal, ensuring he held it tightly first. “Have a good look through it again. Those ponies out there can teach us more than we think. Maybe you'll find something in there that gives you some drive to do something in here.”
“And you find yourself a lovely mare to bring me soon. You'll get around those blacklists. You're not the only pony in here tired of the pomp and gossip. I want to see you with company.”
“I will, Grandma.” He smiled, laughing under his breath. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
“Just take a chance if you have to, never be afraid to buck the rules a little. Now go on.”
Flintlock stood up and tucked in her blankets for her before leaving. She gave him a goodwill gesture, before he left the one room in the tower where he could speak his mind to return home.
The concourse of Tenpony was dimly lit at this time of the evening. Stopping briefly to collect a late supper of pastry and soft-stewed barley soup at the Gilded Gate café, Flintlock made his way home, carrying the warm mango tea in his telekinesis along with him. The elevator pony stepped aside for him, before wordlessly setting it to the upper floors. The young buck knew every pony here well enough by now to guess their destination if not told otherwise.
“Home for the evening, sir?”
Flintlock didn't much feel like conversation. “Yes, quite. Thank you.”
Unperturbed, the smiling pony continued as he set it moving. “It must be nice, working in the archives. I've heard about the pay they get, and all the invites. No standing up all day either...”
The youngster blushed at his accidental blurt about his role, but Flintlock didn't turn his head to see.
“It's nice. Yes.”
The elevator thudded to a stop, two floors above where they had left on the high rent and market district, the one that looked back down through long drops in the centre of the building to the market quarter. Anypony who was anypony in the tower would live here, just a few floors down from the broadcasting studio or the restricted sections held by the council. The large atrium it was all built from had used to be an open space for Ministry of Arcane Science political events and presentations, embossed with logos of Twilight Sparkle's cutie mark, or the general Ministry symbols on the walls. Now though, it served as the high living and markets. Flintlock hoofed the buck five caps, and trotted immediately out as the door slid open.
“Good evening, Mister Flintlock.”
Walking the boards, Flintlock headed for his home. He smiled as he was expected to all those he passed. Exchanging 'good evenings' with just the required amount of pause to not be considered rude, the journey took longer than a simple trot would suggest.
Eventually, however, he got to the stairs that led into his own home. Trotting up, unlatching the strong oaken door, he gratefully fell back into his own world.
Flintlock's home was larger than most, his sister had pulled her strings well to acquire it for him. Newly laid floors over the concrete base permitted wood and carpet. The crackling fire to greet him in his main room told that the cleaners had come and gone, leaving him warmth to come home to. Through the back, the golden lights of the market were visible through the fence of the balcony. Mahogany furniture crowded the area, mostly centred around a soft chair before the fireplace, a bookshelf filled with things that should probably be in the archives and, of course, his study-desk.
Dropping his saddlebag on the fireside chair, Flintlock closed off the balcony to drown out the noise, before sinking into the study-desk's cushioned chair with a sigh, his head in his hooves.
The entire journey since leaving this place in the morning until now returning had been just like yesterday.
And the day before that.
And before that.
But, he reminded himself as he gazed at the bathroom door, there were certain advantages.
Twenty minutes for a hot shower and a change into soft cotton for the evening, Flintlock sat at his desk to finish his supper and read a book before bedtime, accompanied by the soothing tones of whatever the DJ was playing at this hour. It was all repeats with no news at this time of night, but the idea of a silent home felt too crushing to not withstand the same songs for the thousandth time.
Briefly, he glanced across at his saddlebag, remembering what he'd been given to look over, but the effort to even collect it and start thinking about that again just felt too much for now.
Instead, he pulled a copy of 'Manehattan District History' from his bookcase with his magic, settling in with his pastry and tea to eek out whatever he could from the night before the early morning would force him to sleep.
A harsh knock rattled into Flintlock's skull.
Lifting his sore head from the desk, the early morning increase of the lighting making the sudden realisation of how long he'd passed out for abundantly clear, Flint groaned and sat back in his chair, back popping and stiff.
Another series of thuds invaded his peaceful, wonderful home.
“Hello! Urgent message!”
Dragging himself from the chair, Flintlock rubbed his eyes and checked the clock. Thirty minutes to get ready before the shift at the archives began and everything started anew. Another shift, another too short chance to talk, another slow evening and awaiting word to be invited again to events if he 'behaved' with his ideas.
Already, the motivation to do anything collapsed out of him. The urge to simply ignore everything was strong, but without that, there was nothing sustaining him. He had some money, but his sister controlled the funds, and Tenpony was not cheap.
“Hello? Hello in there!”
Flintlock reluctantly opened the door, praying it wouldn't be someone who would care about his unwashed and bedraggled state.
Instead, a young colt stood excitedly there, probably from the lower floors, given his mane style. He wore the message runner's uniform, an armband, a saddlebag with a logo and a small hat.
“Are you Mister Flintlock?” He chirped, holding up a letter in shaky looking telekinesis, along with a spare hoof.
Nodding, Flintlock dropped five caps to his hoof and took the letter.
“Wow! You're welcome, mister!”
The colt ran off, as Flint closed the door and moved back to his study-desk. Being up and about was stirring his mind a little. Yesterday had been a bad day with the news about his learning program being denied, perhaps today wouldn't be so bad. Radiance seemed to be more open to him accompanying the family again, maybe doing an overtime shift at the archives might be enough to get her to not see him so badly any more. Things could go back to the slow, but comfortable ways of before in Tenpony tower.
His magic tore open the letter.
And then his world collapsed.
From Tenpony Infirmary, it is with the heaviest of hearts we inform you that as of half past three this morning, due to complications with respiration and immune system deficiency-
He couldn't finish the letter. He just stared at rapidly blurring words held in shaky hooves. An empty, hollowed out gut feeling grew and grew. In bile, anger, frustration and denial, he threw the letter down to the floor.
Collapsing into his chair, Flintlock put his head down and simply cried in a way he hadn't ever before in his sheltered life, wishing every minute that what that letter said could change.
It never did.
It always felt like most of Tenpony attended a funeral in some way. Ponies who likely didn't even know her shuffled through in groups to offer polite condolences before making their way out to the halls for a small meal, hoping their assigned table number was lowest.
Beside the gilded coffin, Skye Venture's family stood in black. Flintlock's father held his wife with one hoof as she softly wept at the death of her mother. Radiance was stoic and upright, meeting everypony who came by and shaking their hooves, softly accepting their kind words with a strong smile. It was ever on her to not react, to show strength, to be the anchor.
Flintlock, however, paid them no heed. While they met and mingled their way to accepting grief, he couldn't take his eyes from the source.
Through the entire ceremony, he stood with one hoof against the smooth surface of the coffin, his eyes stinging and puffed red. Even when what felt like half the tower had come by and now shared their thoughts of Venture's earlier days before she started leaving the tower, Flintlock remained in the room with his grandmother.
Only when a kindly undertaker spoke gentle words and guided him away did he finally leave, to allow Skye Venture her rest.
The next week passed with aching slowness, with every indication that the next week would be the same.
In the archives, Flintlock continued his work, sorting, organising and collecting the requests for books and documents. They came from anywhere, but mostly old Ministry scrolls for those who ran the top floors or long frayed magazines for fashion creators downstairs. Be it Crescent Loop, Beauty Cream or even the tower famous Splendid Succour, they would ask him to look out some long past year's catalogues for their research. He rarely got to see them directly, just working off of their tickets they left with the organiser at the front desk.
Dark, quiet and musty, the archives left a lot of time to think, precisely the last thing that he wanted to do right now. Normally, he played the DJ's station on a radio while he worked alone, but the constant reminders of the places Venture had gone only served to gutpunch him again and again.
Instead, he had taken to increasingly inane games to occupy his mind in the few hours it took him to finish his daily jobs, and then spending the rest of the time resting in the old sofa he'd found near the back. Long ago, some Ministry workers had to have dragged it in here for themselves, now it served the same purpose for a new master.
Flintlock slumped on it, sipping his tea and flicking aimlessly through at the Ironshod catalogues that he'd seen a hundred times before.
Quite without his notice, Radiance had entered and stood beside the sofa, until her voice shattered what element of peace he had managed to garner for himself.
Spluttering, trying not to spray any tea, Flintlock coughed and struggled up to his hooves.
“Rad-ah!” He set down the mug and nursed his stung hoof from the hot liquid dripping over the edge. “Radiance? I didn't hear you.”
Her face was cautious, not smiling or seeming angry, as she trotted past him, eyes glaring at the catalogue he had been reading. Flintlock sighed.
“Sorry, I've just finished everything for today. It was a quiet time so I-”
“I know, Flintlock.” She cut in, smiling briefly. “You think I would give my brother a job that involved him having to do more work than was necessary? I'm quite aware, indeed it's why I offered it. You always were the sort to have alternative pursuits to want time to study or read...even if they weren't always the subjects I agree with...”
That was so like his sister. Compliment, gift and yet leave a trace of authority in the same speech. All the same, the knowledge she had ensured to give him a job that paid well and didn't offer too much hardship was surprising.
“Well, thank you.” He composed himself. “What brings you back here?”
Her eyebrow raised. “I need a reason to visit my dearest brother? Aside from you being my only brother, hah. You've been awfully thin on the ground as of late. Either here or locked away in your home.”
Flintlock bit down the remark he wanted to make, about whether her withhold invitations from him until his education submission passed away from current events might be more the reason.
“I've just been seeking some quiet solace since Grandmother's death,” he muttered instead.
'Like hell you do', Flintlock thought to himself, looking down to his tea again to cover the grimace on his face.
“In fact it's because of her I came to collect you.”
Flint looked up sharply, almost spilling more tea as he did so. “What?”
Radiance smiled and nodded. “We have a meeting with her lawyer to determine where her possessions will go. The family has to decide what we do with it all given she did not sign a will, on account of how sudden the moment was. A shock to us all...”
Her false faced gestures were beginning to infuriate Flint. The little, acted motions of her hoof to her heart as she said that made him want to storm out, but anything to do with Skye Venture had his attention at the moment.
“Okay, I'll be there. She had the same lawyer as the rest of us, yes?”
“Indeed. I shall see you there within the hour, Flintlock. As far as I know she didn't own much, but it has to be done. And please...before you go out to meet with us, get yourself looking proper. Your mane looks like it hasn't been done in days and you're covered from dust in here. We must be presentable, this concerns her memories and you must be respectful of that.”
His hoof actually shook as he forced himself to instead canter directly past her before he said or did something he would really regret.
“I'll be there.” He grimaced through clenched teeth.
The lawyer's offices were situated just off Canterlot Row. A trip down the elevators and then a trot through the peaceful atrium would bring to a cramped little back-row of offices. The old administration wing of the Ministry had served well to be Tenpony's own outreach into returning legality to their lifestyle. Boring, humdrum and ruthless, it nonetheless was vital for the highly structured and often immaterial realities of life in Tenpony Tower.
Those who worked there were likely the most stressed and rushed ponies in the tower, as indicated by the twitching, sleep deprived mess of a pony in front of Flintlock right now in the office on Basic Logic, a skeletal little stallion.
Ironically, despite being surrounded by his family, Flintlock felt those very qualities made him the pony he most related to at the moment.
“So uh...let's uh...let's begin.” He remarked, his nasally, thin voice thoroughly hiding how furiously intelligent he could be. He was the best lawyer in Tenpony, one that had helped Flintlock many times with his family's funding supporting it.
“Please, lets.” Radiance sat directly in front of his desk. To her right sat Flintlock himself, while behind them were their parents, aunts and uncles. His cousins were lurking near the back too, even if they didn't expect much relevance. This was a family thing. They all attend, but foremost was Radiance, and because she was, so too was Flintlock on account of their 'in theory' being equal siblings.
Even to Flintlock, who had been born here, the precision of Tenpony social requirements often left him quite bewildered.
Basic Logic huffed and nodded, before moving around to his own chair and sitting down, turning on a recorder with his magic and sorting some papers.
“On the last moon of this month, I, uh...hereby initiate the official log for the handing over of Skye Venture's belongings and possessions, both material and uh...in record, to her most immediate family.”
What followed was ten minutes of legal wordings, assurances, statement of all their names out loud and agreement of terms before anything was to even begin. Basic Logic was furiously effective in ensuring every little detail was covered for, even before finally coming to his point.
“Now that we uh...have that all settled. I shall begin the last will and testament of Skye Vent-”
Flintlock's ears shot up as he hear that line.
“Her will?!” Radiance stood up. “She signed a will? But she passed away without signing one!”
Basic calmly gave her time to speak, before shuffling across a familiar looking crumbled piece of documentation. “This was dated, and filled in with her signature, Ma'am. It is an official will.”
He read out the date, and after a brief mental calculation, Flintlock realised.
It was an hour after he'd left her side for the very last time.
Radiance stood in shock, and Flintlock pressed his hooves together on the floor tightly enough to hurt as he tried to keep himself controlled.
“So...” Radiance began. “She did make one then. My apologies, Mister Logic, this was a surprise. Please, continue.”
Flintlock didn't know what to think. What would she have possibly signed?
“Ahem...uh, yes. Now, I will dictate her wishes, in quotation from here on after this sentence. Ahem! Uh...I do hereby present to the family what possessions I retain, of which I have left. To my darling daughter, Dress Sense, I bequeath my homestead itself; in knowing that she loved it dearly in her youth. Live well, my dear. While we had our shouting matches, I love you, and I am proud of you and the foals you raised. You made me a very lucky grandmother.”
Behind him, his mother gripped hold of her husband, before resting a hoof on both his own and Radiance's shoulders. He felt the subtle compliment through that line, and choked back a tear to hear what were in effect Venture's own words to him.
“Radiance, you were the pony that as you were born, made me a grandmother. To a lot of ponies in this short lived world that is a rare gift, even if those in here don't realise it. You clearly have your love of finery, and so you are welcome to the décor and storage possessions I have in the lower level facilities, whatever is still usable. I have a dress from my youth that I know shall fit you well, better than it ever did for me.”
Radiance crossed her hooves over her chest. “I shall wear it well in respect.”
“And to Flintlock...”
Basic Logic hesitated, then looked further down, then back up. He stopped and glanced upwards a couple of times.
Radiance tilted her head, “Mister Logic? For Flintlock...?”
“Well?” Radiance snapped.
Basic glanced at Flint once more and continued.
“To you, I leave the collected worth of my accounts. Fifty...fifty thousand, six hundred and seventy eight caps in total...”
The shock and gasps ran around the room before his sentence even got past the first 'thousand'. Radiance's chair scraped backwards as she launched up and leaned over to see.
“Are you sure you read that right? She had how much in her accounts?”
“I...I am right, Ma'am! It says right here, and I verified it with the treasury. She indeed had a reserve account that had been building interest her entire life, occasionally topped up in hard metal whenever she returned to the Tower from her excursions...other than one large deposit forty years ago...”
Flintlock just sat in shock as they bickered and argued. As his parents moved past and joined the discussion. As the others chatted relentlessly. He just sat alone and in his own mind as those numbers played over and over. It eventually hit him, the reason why.
She'd found the Sparkle-Cola manufacturing facility.
He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it, of how she'd hid it all away. His respect for her mounted. She'd never dove into it, and kept her life just the way she wanted and never bothered with the rest of her fortune to flaunt it.
Now she had given it to him.
Flintlock simply didn't know how to process this.
Then his foreleg was grabbed, as Radiance pulled him from his chair.
“We need to talk.”
Basic Logic's door slapped shut behind Radiance.
“Flintlock, what on earth did she say to you after I left?”
“Nothing about this! This is as big a surprise to me as anyone!”
She trotted to the far wall, as the voices from within the office picked up in volume.
“This was not expected, I had no idea she had such a reserve. Do you know what this means for us?”
She was grinning, holding on to his shoulders.
“With this sort of funding, the family will move up several places in the Tenpony fiscal fifty! We'll be able to move into our own hosting position! Flintlock, this is something we can use to solidify ourselves as a legacy family!”
He really didn't know what to think of that either. Such a number kept repeating endlessly in his mind. Fifty thousand caps. You could do almost anything in Tenpony with that sort of money.
“Flintlock, will you stop staring into space and listen to me?”
Blinking, he shook his head and found his sister's intense eyes staring directly at him.
“We have to get this into the family fund. We'll be invited to everything! The news bump alone, we'll be all anyone can talk about. A hidden fortune propelling this family. For us all.”
“But...” Flintlock began, “What actually will we use it for?”
“We could take over majority funding for the winter ball, perhaps...”
Flintlock looked away, “But what would that actually do?”
“It would be us to be seen doing it. Come on, let's get back in and sign that acceptance over, then we'll get to the bank when they open after the weekend.”
“I...” Flintlock wasn't really looking at her, as she pushed him back inside.
“This will be good for us all, brother. With this boost to the family, we'll all go up a few notches. You'll never want for an invite again! You'll have all of Tenpony at your hooves to choose from. We might even be able to move into the premier suites!”
“But we're already in the upper-”
She stopped and held him half way through the door. Flintlock could see Basic Logic behind her, trying to go through the signatures with the rest of his bewildered family.
“Trust me. I got us to be this important. It's all about appearances.”
Flintlock bit his lip, before drawing up. “Radiance, we're already in the top twenty families in terms of reserves, we don't even use ten percent of what we earn. The interest alone-”
She turned stern. “I shouldn't have to explain this to you again, it's not about what we use. It's about social standing. It puts us closer to the top. You think you're living in luxury now? Just wait till you see what I can do with the interest gotten from this to put us over some trigger points.”
“But why? Radiance, this is Grandma's money...”
“Because that's what is important. She knew it. It's about family and respect. That's what life is. Now, get in there and sign that document to get them into your personal account. I'll come by on Monday to have it signed over to the family funds at the bank. Flintlock, you will give this money over to the family, it's what is expected of you. We've all done it before. It's what we do. Go on, quickly!”
She gave him a small shove. Flintlock stared at her for a few seconds, causing her to nod her head in the direction of the waiting document on the desk.
Feeling strangely hesitant, Flintlock stood over the crumpled sheet of paper and held a quill in his magic. In slow, overly hard gestures that ruined his normally florid signature, he put his name below that of his family's own markings.
And in one signing, became the owner of fifty thousand caps.
“Um...ahem, Mister Flintlock.” Basic Logic leaned over the desk, floating a cuboid package with him. “Madam Venture also requested this in her will for yourself. The large sum rather distracted us before I could read it.”
Flintlock took the box, feeling not a lot of weight in it. Basic Logic, however, was already busy dealing with the document, not available to now answer questions on what it was.
Leaving the office quietly, hugging his mother and father as they told him all the niceties of how she had loved him deeply to have left all that money, he left for home. Definitely home.
He needed to think.
And seeing his sister's watchful gaze on the way out told him without any further words about what that thinking was supposed to conclude.
Now a very rich pony indeed, Flintlock sat beside his fireplace, unable to really decide how he should be feeling.
The loss of his beloved grandmother still ate at his heart with cold grievance. Yet the comfort of his home and the fireplace warmed his body. The elation at knowing his personal accounts were fifty times larger than they'd ever been amongst a family that pooled its resources for influence was exciting, but tempered by the ho-hum thought that it actually made very little difference in his life living in comfort and ease of work.
Except that he could choose what to do with it.
But then his family had an expectation of him. Radiance had all but threatened what she would do if he were to choose anything else.
And that was what tore at him. Here was his opportunity and yet here he was unable to use it. Setting up a business was expensive, and Radiance would likely crash any attempt he made. Not to mention whatever she might do to his social standing. It made him afraid, remembering everything Venture had said that he seemed lonely, to be cast out from his family, his only real access to Tenpony's social circle in any meaningful way.
Making a loud groan of discontent, he slumped in the chair, pushing his hind legs out on the floor, covering his face with his forehooves.
It wasn't worth losing her for this inevitable fall back to normal.
His hoof knocked into something in front of the chair.
Grimacing, he pulled himself upward and looked down, to just see that same small box Basic Logic had given him. The one that Venture had left him. He'd placed it down and forgotten about it, the one other gift from her will had been tearing enough at what to do.
“Well...might as well see...” Flintlock muttered to himself, floating it up onto his lap and pulling at the strings to free the lid. Carefully, he opened the box.
There were two things inside. One a note.
And a camera.
Flintlock's eye caught her journal still sitting on his fireside table for a second, before reading the note.
Whatever you do, I'll be proud of you, little Flint. Life's an adventure, go live it.
His hooves trembled, as he felt his eyes welter up and tears run down his cheeks. He simply hugged the box and its note to his chest, sobbing and smiling.
When he opened his eyes again, he spent the next three hours looking through her whole journal, glancing back and forth from the camera that had created it. He saw his notes for the failed educational program on his desk. He saw his bookshelf and its contents.
She hadn't given him a fortune.
She'd given him an opportunity. A chance to decide something for himself.
Looking at the things he possessed, and seeing how his life had struck out before on his own interests, a new idea began to form.
Grabbing his coat, Flintlock got to his hooves and pulled it on hastily.
For now he knew that he had to do.
Four hours later, Flintlock emerged from the Office of Housing Management in Tenpony Tower, feeling afraid and yet strangely liberated at having just spent thirty five thousand caps. Empty space was extraordinarily expensive to come by in Tenpony Tower, even moreso to buy it outright and deposit enough for services.
Yet even as spending the majority of a fortune in one go burned at him, he looked at what it had purchased.
It was a little out of the way, it was never not going to be, but it was close enough to the main thoroughfares that ponies could easily find it. It had used to be a store of some kind, some form of outlet at least. Bare on the bottom floor, and with a cramped staircase at the back up into a single small room. A few tiny rooms offset it, one a bathroom. All told, about a quarter of the size of his current home.
But this one belonged to him.
Every cracked bit on the floor. Every broken wooden ceiling section. Every stain from days of old. It would need work, a lot of work to make this come true.
Yet, for the first time since last meeting her, as he stood in the centre of his new venture; feeling the excitable shiver of potential and the unknown in his heart; Flintlock smiled.
“You did WHAT?”
Radiance raised her hoof as though intending to slap him, before controlling herself and bringing it down to instead toss her enormous mane away from her face. As if anyone would believe that was her intent all along to bring it up.
Within her office on the high levels of the old Ministry grounds, near the Council's own chambers, Radiance was anything but her name in demeanour now.
“I had a change in opinion, as I saw what she intended for me to do, to make a choice for myself. I bought an outlet.” Flintlock tried to keep his voice steady, his passionate idea struggling to sound logical.
“She left that money to the family! YOU are a part of that family! Flintlock this is beyond ridiculous! Listen...”
She marched around his chair, coming face to face. Her voice dropped, as she forced a smile to her face.
“You are going to return to the Office of Housing, and you are going to explain to them that this was a horrible mistake. I can still pull a few strings, get a change in contract to return most of the money to us. I don't know what you thought you were doing, Flintlock...”
Taking a deep breath, fighting to quell the fears inside, Flintlock stood up sharply.
“I know exactly what I was doing, Radiance. I'm opening a...a museum.”
Radiance's eye twitched. Her smile never wavered.
“The education board won't accept my ideas to help inform people about what's out there. About what it once was. About the things that made it this way. About what it is now. The war, the tools of that war, the history of what surrounded them and what brought us all to this place! Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, don't you see? This is important, Radiance, it's important to me! Grandma saw that, she experienced it first hand! We're the exception in here, dear sister, we're the unusual ones amongst it all and yet so few of us even realise it! I want to bring the truth to them, because we're the only ones in a position to do it!”
He fought for breath, sucking it in to finish what he'd mentally been preparing to say all day.
“Equestria's at risk of forgetting its own downfall, and I intend to prevent that from happening. I'm going to follow in Grandma's steps, Radiance. I'm going to see for myself, so that I can show others too.”
Radiance trotted to her desk, before putting a hoof on the bridge of her nose.
“I never knew your foolishness had driven you to suicide, little brother...” She glared sideways at him. “You don't have a damned clue what it's like out there, do you?”
“Then that's what I'll find out. It's just taken me this long to finally see it, Radiance. I got my cutie mark when I did a speech back in class, telling all my classmates a story that Grandma had told me. Since then...I've been ignoring the very thing I'm supposed to do. The very thing I want to do. Educate people, by bringing the truth to them. To preserve and to remember.”
Radiance surged across the room and grabbed him around his neck, pushing her face to his. “You're going to get yourself killed, Flintlock! I've spoken to those who've been out there too. Raiding gangs! Mutants! Feral ghouls! Ponies who would shoot you down just to take that fancy coat off your back! Slavers who'd throw you in chains and sell you to some meathead rock farmer who wants a gentle little stallion for his tastes! You'd never survive alone out there!”
Baulking, breathing faster, trying to control the fears of the outside he'd been trying to deal with, Flintlock shook his head.
“There's good ponies out there too, sister. I'll find them. I won't be alone...”
“There's no-one worth it out there, 'brother'. This is lunacy, you've let that mad old mare get into your head!”
“She was a better pony than you will ever-”
Radiance stomped a hoof on the wood loud enough to drown him out. “You've thrown away the biggest gift to our family in years for a chance to get yourself dying in the rain by some curb somewhere in a pool of your own blood! If you're refusing to undo this, then there's a lot you've got to lose, Flintlock...I'll see to that. So...”
Her voice was shaky, as she stepped back and drew herself up.
“Stop this madness now, or there will be consequences.”
Flintlock felt the sweat rolling down his neck, as he put the chair between her and himself. This was it, he knew what those consequences might be. This was the moment when he had to back down or take the plunge into the utter unknown. The harsh reality awaited beyond this door. One word could change his life in a way that could never get back.
She didn't say anything, before wordlessly turning and walking back to her desk-chair. Sitting down, surrounded by her extravagance, she pulled a file out from a folder and began to write a note on it.
“Then, Flintlock...” Her voice was terse, unwilling, but seething with disgust. “...I'm cutting you off from the family funds. What you have now, that's all you have left...and you just spent most of it on a dingy outlet. Your current accommodations will be reclaimed to the family. Along with whatever's in it, unless you can prove it was purchased with your own account. You will receive no further invites via us to any events and don't even think about coming back to your job any more. Good luck finding income. I'm sure mother and father will convince me to keep you part of the family in a strictly legal sense because, well, they are our parents...but believe me, I would change that if I could.”
Flintlock stood silently, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and isolated inside, but that last line struck a chord. Unexpectedly, he felt empowered by it, as though everything he'd thought had been confirmed.
“If that...is truly how you feel, Radiance, then I can begin to see what Grandma meant by many of the things she said to me.”
She didn't show a single reaction, only to instead lean back in her red velvet chair.
“You don't realise what that land is going to do to you, Flintlock.”
“And you don't realise what it has to offer, Radiance.”
She stayed silent, before twisting her face. “You're no longer part of the archives, I just signed you to be made redundant from this job. You shouldn't be in here any more. You're on your own now. You've made your own mess, I'm cutting you off to lie in it.”
Trembling, Flintlock fought to keep his courage up, as he turned and trotted to the door. Even as he laid his magic on the doorknob, he heard Radiance again behind him. She was always one to try to keep it going on her terms.
“You'll come to realise how much you valued the help I gave you once you wonder where the money went. You've not even thanked me for doing it.”
The implication, the subtle insult about his sense of self worth cut deeply to him.
Filled with a controlled anger, he turned back to her as he held the door open.
“There's a lot of young colts and fillies in this tower do odd jobs for tips, Radiance. They provide me help that, for a time I value, and thank them for it by providing a tip.”
As Flintlock left the room, he dropped five caps on the floor for her, before shutting the door on her stunned face.
There was so much to do, and it would take him weeks.
Flintlock spent the first night sleeping rough in the outlet. By the time he'd collected anything from his old home, there were no open shops to purchase furniture or even a rug from. Almost everything he owned had been bought with the family's banked caps.
Come the next few weeks, however, he began his work proper. With the fifteen thousand remaining, he set about renovations and rebuilding his own life from the ground up.
Hiring work teams from the lower levels, he joined them in their tasks. Rolling up his sleeves on newly bought shirts to rid himself of the old, Flintlock nailed, painted and plastered with those he paid to do the duty. Straining his long neglected muscles, he helped lift crates of pre-packaged furniture from the workshops on the basement level to the upstairs room. Walking his hooves sore, he visited various market stands to barter for materials and stands for the museum front end.
Each night, as he retreated upstairs amongst the spare wood and rows of tools to sketch and plan in endless sheets of paper that had been tacked to the wall. Lists of potential exhibits. New maps of the Manehattan area. Survival tips. Rumours and caravan timings. Marketing techniques for the museum. Legal papers to recognise its status within the tower for protection when he wasn't there. He signed his name more times in forty eight hours than in the previous twenty eight years.
On the weekends, when the workers were resting and outlets were shut, he went about self education. Paying the guards to teach him to fire a gun, he found that his patient and precise magic was quite applicable to magical energy weapons. Spending caps to gain bribed access to their firing ranges, he practised with the very weapon that he had purchased. He visited the camping stalls to acquire a warmer cloak and tougher saddlebags. Whenever he found the time, he bought drinks for wasteland settlers visiting the tower, simply to hear their stories and cautionary tales on how to survive.
With money dwindling, he set about a marketing campaign, paying for signs to point to the museum. They promised an opening in the near future, to which he began filling out some temporary exhibits by buying some old, defunct and broken weapon frames from the guards, along with hanging some copies of Venture's photographs on the walls.
As work began to finalise on the museum, however, he finally commissioned the brass worker in the tower to craft for him a small plaque. One to commemorate the very pony who had made this possible, to thank her by presenting her forever within it. Bearing her cutie mark, he set it on the very front of the museum itself.
With its final décor set, and his new home established, finally, at that point, Flintlock stood back and witnessed it all to take stock of what he had left.
There was only a few thousand caps left in his accounts, but he'd done it.
The museum existed. His own place. His own venture.
Days more would pass, and then days again as he delayed out of nerves. Not knowing where to start, he waited near the entrance to speak to ponies again and again about what they were up to as they came into the tower. He listed various places and immediately crossed them off. Friendship City wasn't really accessible at the moment from gang activity. New Appleloosa was too far and involved leaving the city. Bronco was considered too rough, the caravans had stopped going.
Yet, in a few weeks, there was one place said to be starting up.
Just down the road, less than a day away, somewhere Tenpony was said to be linking to for trade. Safe, quiet. A little town called Cornerstone. Something about it touched him, a town just setting out for itself.
It felt fitting.
And so he asked about it, and found when caravans aimed to depart for it some point soon.
Alone in his museum. resting his hoof on the plaque, Flintlock picked up his camera and hung it around his neck. He wore a thick weather cloak over his clothing. His laser pistol awaited him at the entrance gate. He had food and drink enough for three days out there before turning back. Just enough to experience it, to dip his hoof into the wild ocean.
Just enough to try and prove Radiance wrong. Her warnings had filled him with dread. His grandmother's stories rung with their dangers in his mind. She'd been a vicious shot and an athlete, but Flint had only taken to the gym seriously in the last month since planning all this.
Yet his eyes fell on the plaque, bearing her name and cutie mark, and it gave him hope. There'd be ponies out there who could help carry him until he could walk on his own.
“Thank you, Grandma, for everything. You gave me the life I never had.”
With that, he left behind his new home for the time being.
Every step down the corridors was a step toward danger. He thought of the ruined and filthy buildings. The rough and fearful gangs. The unknown. A place where none of his experience mattered.
Descending through the market, he tried to remember the other side of that world. The one he'd been told about. Honest types, full of love and friendship at its core. It had to be out there, through all the horror.
As he passed by the last store, a hat store, something made him stop. Something his grandmother had said.
'The foals always liked the fancy hats I wore for each trip, just for the sake of it.'
Momentarily smiling through his fear, he went into the shop.
The main doors of Tenpony were open, and the cold blew through them.
That cold reached Flintlock's coat and cut to the bone. Shivering, he glanced at the guard as he hoofed over a purple tinted laser pistol. Holding it reverently, Flintlock tucked it into the holster he'd purchased.
“Nice hat.” The guard scoffed as the fez on his head. It was hard to tell if he was respectfully amused or just making fun.
“Just...just something to mark a tradition.” Flintlock muttered, before stepping back.
“You sure you're gonna do this, buddy?” The guard shrugged, watching him with only half interest.
Flintlock delayed answering, as he stared into the open doorway and the muddy light stemming through it, promising the harsh world beyond.
Within the tower, he had lost much, even since losing Grandma Venture.
But in her last days, she had helped him find something greater. His purpose, and his courage to make a choice.
“Yes, I'm sure.”
Raising his hoof, Flintlock held it upright for a few seconds, before letting it down and taking the first step of his own journey, the same one she had decades before.
Tucked into his shirt, he bore her note.
Life is an adventure.
Go live it.