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Does everything in the world stand to be fixed? Come to think of it, is everypony so imperfect that they necessitate “guardian angels” such as myself to fly to their rescue? I know that I am here in this town for a reason—curse or no curse. But is every facet of this reason up to me to decide? Am I a pawn or a master of this bizarre fate I've been forced to live through?
Assuming that my destiny is designed by reason or fate suggests a perfect world. What, then, needs to be fixed in a world that is perfect? Would blemished things go out of their way and ask to be attended to?
In attempting to find structure and order in my life, I've struggled to map out the rationality of everything that I observe. There is something noble to such a quest. But... is such a quest also divine?
There is nothing good about trying to force a pony or a thing to fly a certain way. I didn't always realize this. Such lessons have come close to burning me in the end. Luckily, I've come out of such endeavors with my limbs and mane intact. I could only wish the same about my sanity.
Sometimes the most beautiful, most serene, most perfect things in life perform their dance in a drunken fashion. It may look funny from the outside, but then you realize the entire world is like a ship rocking in some tempestuous seas. You can only get an even hoofing by floundering all over the place. Chaos and unpredictability are the most difficult dance moves of all. But once I've tasted of those charmingly unique steps, it's difficult to waltz in any other fashion.
And why would I try to? It's like the sound of one hoof clopping, or what your face looked like before your parents were foaled, or like... like...
You know what? Let’s just get to the part where stuff happens.
Five days after my curse began, I was a smelly, sweaty mess. At least, that’s what I imagined. I didn’t want to hang around ponies long enough to see their disgusted expressions, or else I would have run the risk of finding out just how far I had fallen. Besides, every time I witnessed those citizens drawing blanks—and felt the cold of the curse kicking in—a little part of me died inside. It was the same little part of me that I was attempting salvage ever since the day a kindly stallion talked me down from the edge of Ponyville’s town hall building.
With great courage, I explored my new life of imprisonment. All I had to my name was my golden lyre and a threadbare saddlebag full of pointless things. I carried several bits with me, of course, but almost all of them had disappeared in my first floundering attempts to buy food at restaurants or rent rooms at hotels, only to have amnesiac waiters and bellhops kick me out of such establishments in confused anger.
So it was that I resorted to walking the streets of Ponyville alone, wandering aimlessly, lacking sleep and food and sanity. I tried to meditate on the stallion’s words. I tried to construct a beacon of hope for me to follow in my mind. I was marching after the trailing fumes of a mad pony’s lunatic dream, and yet it was hardly enough to fill my stomach. That’s how I found myself rummaging through a trash can in the middle of the park just northeast of Ponyville. I bit my lip as I fumbled through the shameful task, wondering how I had come to such a point of ugly desperation. Regardless, I had to press on, I had to find something to nourish me. I had to live for another day in that cold and forgetful world.
And after that... then what? What was I aiming for? What was my goal in this nightmarish void of a town where I couldn't afford food, a home, a friend, or a future? I couldn't think. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't smile. I couldn't—
“Nope!” she said, her pink hooves digging through her side of the trash can. “I'm not seeing it either!”
“Mmmf...” I muttered at the thought. Then I realized that the voice didn't belong to my thoughts; it was way too... chirpy. Blinking, I glanced up, only to have a pair of blue eyes brightly engulfing my emaciated reflection.
“Why would you toss it into the trash to begin with, silly?”
My eyes twitched. I felt part of my face convulsing as I ran a hoof through my frazzled mane. “I... uh... uhm...” I gulped. I looked at the trash can, at my hooves, then back at the pink stranger who was leaning up against the container out of nowhere. “Uhhh...”
“Heeheehee!” She giggled with a snort. “You look like a pony who needs help finding your voice.”
“How could you lose your voice in the trash can anyways?” She took a deep breath and shoved her fuzzy head neck-deep into the recepticle. Her voice echoed, “I usually keep mine in my throat, unless I'm singing, in which case I like it way better in other ponies' ears. Hey, you didn't lose an ear, did you? I hear some ponies like to carry ears around. Ears of corn, that is. Say!” She stuck her head back up. A banana peel and a soiled diaper formed a tiara atop her cranium. “Is that why you don't talk? You're always yellin' at the crows so you can shoo them away from the cornrows on your farm?”
“Who... said I couldn't talk?”
“Well now I'm confused.” Her face scrunched up as she tilted her head up in thought. The garbage collected on her cranium fell sloppily to the park's path as she scratched her chin. “What pony in her good mind would want crows to eat up all her corn? Oh!” She smiled wide. “You're looking for your scarecrow! Of course! But...” She squinted down at the garbage can. “How could you fit a scarecrow in there?”
“Maybe you cut him up into tiny pieces? Turned him into scareflies?”
“I think I need to be going...” I winced and started to backtrot away.
“Hey!” She reached a hoof out and held me in place. “Heehee! Don't be ashamed! You're not the only pony who likes to hide stuff all around the place in case of an emergency!” She dashed towards the nearby tree and reached into a crook of branches. “Take me, for example!” She dashed back my way. “Here, have a ball.”
I gasped as I found myself grasping a rubber sphere in my starving hooves. “What... What's this—?”
“Ponies used to think I was weird for leaving balls all around town. When I first met Rainbow Dash, I told her that before I got smart about it, I'd just carry them around in my mouth. Then she started laughing for some reason.”
“Considering how many that athletic pony's bounced off her face, you think Dashie could relate...”
“Hey... I know you.”
I shuddered. Memories of arranging a surprise party for Twilight flashed through my head. Even colder memories of being the only pony to remember that arrangement practically killed me. I had seen these blue eyes before. The look of joy on this pony's face was like a cold iceberg, dragging me down into the horrific depths of yesterday. “Never mind. I really need to get going. You can have this trash can—”
“Me and a trash can? Bleachk!” Pinkie Pie made a face. “What kind of fun party is that?”
I gave her a double-take. I had been cold, hungry, and delirious. Suddenly, I was curious. “Party? Do you... Do you remember?”
“Of course I remember how to party! The day I got my cutie mark, I told myself 'Pinkie, from here on out, you're going to do two things every morning. You're gonna use the outhouse and then throw parties.' Well, needless to say, my family and I had to shampoo the carpet for a few years. So guess what my career choice was!”
“No, I mean, do you remember me?” I asked. “From the other day? Just before the Summer Sun Celebration?”
Pinkie Pie giggled and rolled her eyes. “Ohhhhh girl, don't be so silly! It's a celebration! I talk to alllll sorts of ponies before and after! It's ‘cuz I'm setting up so much stuff, you see? So please forgive me if I forgot your name.”
“No no no, wait! Lemme guess!” Pinkie Pie scrunched her face up dramatically in thought “Nnnnnnghhh-Nnnnngh—'Minty?' No. How about 'Sudsy?' On account of how shiny your mane is. No? Hmmmm... 'Gato?' Nah, doesn't sound like you've ever been to Maredrid.”
“Ahem.” I cleared my throat and muttered, “It's Lyra.”
“Heartstrings?” She added.
My breath left me. I gazed at her with quivering eyes. “Why yes.” I felt tears forming along the edges. “Yes it is. How...?”
“Well, if you were named 'Cheesetrings,' then why would you look like you haven't had anything to eat in a while?” She grasped me in a sisterly embrace. “Hop along, Lyra! Let's get to baking!”
“Mmmhmm!” She tugged me along towards the center of town. “That's one way to fill you up, don't you think?”
“You... You work at a bakery?”
“Oh, you didn't know?” Pinkie Pie howled to the air, “Your flank better callllll someponyyyy! Heehee. Ahem. No, really, trot this way! Delicious morsels await, my merry mare of mint!”
“There was this filly I grew up with. She was younger than me,” Pinkie said. “Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the rock fields. Things were good. We made the most of it. During Hearth's Warming, we ran gingerbread into Torontrot... made a fortune. As much as anypony, I loved her and trusted her. Later on she had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for guard ponies on the way to Canterlot. That kid's name was Mare Green, and the city she invented was Las Pegasus. This was a great pony, a pony of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque or a signpost or a statue of her in that town! Someone put a cupcake through her eye. Nopony knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn't angry. I knew Mare. I knew she was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when she turned up all covered in frosting, I let it go. And I said to myself, 'This is the baking we've chosen.' I didn't ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with baking!”
“Uhm...” I fidgeted, wearing an apron, my forelimbs elbow-deep in bread and cupcake mix. I stood in the center of the kitchen to Sugarcube Corner, delighted to be around so many warm ovens but vexxed to be at the awkward end of Pinkie's monologue. “Why are you telling me all this?”
“Come to think of it, I'm not so sure. But suddenly I want a banana daiquiri.”
One of the nearby ovens produced a melodic ding!
“Oooh! First batch is done!” Pinkie Pie clamped her teeth over an earth pony mitten and slid the tray of warm cupcakes out. “Mmmm... You smell that? I love the smell of angel cake mix in the morning.”
“But it's the afternoon.”
“There you go getting all technical again!” Pinkie Pie stifled a giggle. “Baking should be about fun and sharing your happiness! The best part of making these treats is thinking about who you're making them for! For instance, I'm always thinking about my friends when I bake frosted delights. That's what makes them all the better! In a way, you could say I bake a little bit of my friends into each of these cupcakes.” She hoofed a golden-brown morsel to me. “Here. Have a bite. It's always best to sample a taste. That way you’ll know whether or not to give your patrons helmets for their one-way-trip to the land of exploding taste buds!”
“I... I...” I gazed at the delicious, piping hot bread. My mouth watered, and my vision turned hazy as my eyes glazed over. “Only... a s-sample?” I whimpered, until my mouth was suddenly full of toasted deliciousness. “Mmmmmf!”
“Heehee. Silly filly!” Pinkie Pie smiled from the opposite end of the forced feeding. “This is your stuff!”
“Mmmmf!” I gulped a warm bite down and cradled the remaining bit in trembling hooves. “M-my stuff?”
“We're baking this all for you! You and me!” She grinned wide. “Cuz you're my friend too!”
Something inside me clicked off... or clicked on. I'm not exactly sure anymore. My senses were suddenly melting with sugary delight as I filled my empty stomach in a flash. Pinkie was lucky she didn't get her hoof bitten off.
“Whoahhhhh! Holy smokes with a chimney on top! Heehee! You enjoying your own hoofwork there, mintcheeks? Heehee!”
“I...” I panted, gathering my breath after devouring the meal. “Mmm... Yes...” I deliriously reeled from the happy sensation of having something edible inside my stomach. “Most definitely hoof-worked over...”
“Well, saddle up for more, filly! Cuz we've got plenty more where that came from!” She slid over several frosting dispensers and confectionery items. “You work on the frosting and I'll make these things Triple X.”
I gave her a double-take. “Excuse me?”
She snorted back a giggle and rattled a jar of rainbow-colored candies. “Extra, Extra, Extra sprinkles!”
“Oh...” I gave a hollow laugh and worked diligently on what was bound to be a horribly self-indulgent meal. “But of course.”
“You're supposed to smile, greenhooves! Heehee. After all, that's what really matters.”
“Ohhhhh...” I sat, hunched-over on a bench along the far side of Sugarcube Corner.
“Got a tummy-ache?” Pinkie Pie asked.
I smiled drunkenly into the spinning corners of the room. “In the best way.” I felt a frosting-flavored belch rising up my throat and covered my mouth at the last second. Through thin eyes, I gazed across the table at Pinkie. “I never thought I could down six cupcakes.”
“Hee hee. You dainty thing you.”
“How...” My brow furrowed with the severity of the inquisition. “How in Celestia's green earth could you possibly have swallowed fourteen?”
“My grandma always told me that I had a stomach of a hydra, cuz it was big enough to support four mouths' worth of meals.”
“You don't say?” I smiled thinly. “Your grandmother sounds like a witty mare.”
“Yes. Sadly, dear ‘ol Granny Pie kicked the bucket.”
“Awww...” I gave her a look of pity. “I'm so sorry to hear that, Pinkie Pie. Was it old age?”
“Nah. A wall fell on her.”
“Oh.” I blinked, fidgeted, and gazed around the place. “Uhm... That's...”
“Hey!” Pinkie Pie bounced up from her end of the table and grinned at me. “Wanna see a stallion go limp?”
I blinked at her. “I beg your pardon?”
“And then I slapped him with my bare wings!” Thunderlane said proudly.
Cloudchaser and Flitter stood next to him, giggling and cheering. The sunset bathed them in a bright crimson as the afternoon came to a glittering end.
“Wow, that's spectacular!” Flitter said, cooing.
“He had it coming too,” Cloudchaser added with a sultry wink.
“Yeah, well.” Thunderlane scratched a hoof across his muscular chest and smirked. “He shouldn't have been shoving his beak into our flying team's business. Y'know, some ponies say that griffons are just naturally rare. Truth is, they don't breed enough to contribute to a proper gene pool. I mean, how can they? The only thing tinier than their brains is the size of their—”
“Quick!” I dashed up to him, wide-eyed. I shivered partially from the cold, partially from what I knew I was about to do. “We need your heroics, Thunderlane!”
“And you are...?” Flitter gave me a scathing look.
“Shhh!” Thunderlane marched in between me and the fillies. “You heard her! Looks like somepony needs me to kick some flank again!” He cleared his throat and stood in such a way to show off his wing muscles before the two girls. “What seems to be the trouble, miss?”
“Somepony spotted a squadron of changelings flying in from the west!”
“Changelings?!” Thunderlane made a face while Cloudchaser and Flitter murmured in surprise. “Why, they're almost as bad as griffons!” He blinked. “Almost—”
“Come quick!” I gestured with my hoof and trotted towards the sidewalk. “We need your expert, hawkeye, pegasus vision!”
“Absolutely! We can't have changelings invading Ponyville and... and...” He squinted over his shoulder. “Just what do changelings do again?” Cloudchaser and Flitter shrugged.
“Hurry! There's no time!”
“Alright!” Thunderlane marched after me. I led him to a conspicuously empty spot in the center of the town courtyard. “Where are they? I don't see anything—”
“Scan the horizon, quick!” I pointed. “We have to know how many we're dealing with!”
“But...” Thunderlane winced and squinted his eyes. “The sun's setting over there! It's hard to see anything...”
“Just stand right here.” I pointed towards a dark spot on the concrete. “But keep your eyes on the sky!”
“Uhhh...” Cloudchaser gulped, her eyes locked on the spot where I was directing him. “Thunderlane?” Her sister stifled a snicker.
“Hush, girls!” He grunted. “I must concentrate if I want to spot where they are coming from!” Gazing up, he walked blindly onto a wet circle of liquid adhesive. His hooves came to a squishy stop. “Hmmm...” His eyes narrowed bravely towards the burning west horizon. “All I see is a flock of birds. Ma'am, are you sure this is—?”
Biting my lip, I gave a hoof-sign to the air. Pinkie Pie jumped out of a nearby bush and shrieked directly into Thunderlane's ears.
“Run! It's the Lunar Inquisition!”
“Gaaaah!” Thunderlane went wide-eyed. His wings flapped like a frightened chicken's. As soon as he lifted up, the adhesive sticking to his hooves bounced like rubber bands and yanked him harshly back onto the ground. “Oooof!” He grunted, his entire side plastered to the courtyard. “Unnnngh...”
Cloudchaser and Flitter had transformed into a collapsing pile of giggles and shrieks. Pinkie Pie snorted and fell back, kicking at the air as hysterics took over. As for myself: I sat there—slumped on my haunches—with a hoof planted over my gasping mouth. After a while, the horrors of my past few days faded away, and I was thrown deliciously into a sea of hyperventilation and laughter.
Thunderlane, naturally, was hardly amused. “Nnnngh! Pinkie Pie!” He thrashed and fought and struggled to peel himself off of the layer of translucent glue. “Wait till I get my hooves on you!”
“Oh cheer up, mohawk!” Pinkie Pie wiped the tears from her smiling face. “Heehee! Like we really interrupted anything with you three! One way or another, you were gonna end up sticky tonight!”
“That's it! C'mere!” Thunderlane lunged with a growling pair of teeth. Feathers flew from his wings as he managed to get within biting distance of us.
“Daah!” I fell back... into Pinkie Pie's forelimbs.
“Time to split like a diamond dog's behind, mintsicle!” Pinkie Pie yanked me along with her as we collectively scampered to the edge of town, baptized in Thunderlane's curses and the giggles of a pair of rosy-cheeked mares.
“Hahahahaha!” I laughed, almost tripping over a random tree-root jutting across the forested path.
“That wasn't the half of it!” Pinkie Pie bounced happily alongside me in the settling twilight of the day. “Then he tried to make her feel bad by saying 'I bet the reason you never condition your mane is cuz no stallion wants to get close enough to smell it.' And then Rainbow Dash said 'The real reason they called you Thunderlane is cuz of what happens after you eat too many chimichangas!'”
“'Cuz that isn't the weather team making all that noise on a Wednesday afternoon after dinner! Real thunder would have lightning to it!' Heehee. Then of course he got mad, but what could he say? Dashie may not be the best at punchlines, but she's pretty good at delivery. I've known her way longer than the other mares, and it makes me happy whenever I can make her laugh. Cuz it's like a challenging little game, you know? For instance, why was the rainbow factory full of blood?”
“Heheheh—Ahem. I give. Why was the rainbow factory full of blood?”
“Because it was really happy to see the snowflake factory
“Hehehehe—Yeah, pegasus humor. It's an acquired taste. But I like hot sauce in just about everything. Did you hear the one about the dead sea serpent who visited Cloudsdale?”
“Heeheehee... Mmm. No. What about him?”
“Snkt—Hah hah hah!” I almost collapsed. I was surviving on sugar, endorphins, and lack of sleep. Somehow, Pinkie Pie was the glue that held it all together. As freezing as I was, there was nowhere in all of Equestria that I wanted to be but with her. “Wow, Pinkie Pie. Do you ever run out of fumes?”
“I'm pretty sure Thunderlane doesn't!”
“Just think. If all a pegasus needed to do was graduate 'fart camp,' no wonder Thunderlane passed with flying colors! Heehee! Get it? 'Passed?'”
“And come to think of it, Fluttershy would have failed that camp too.” Pinkie Pie scratched her chin in thought. “Makes you wonder if there's an alternate world out there. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of methane.”
“Whew... uhm...” I gazed up, my cheeks sore from smiling. “Say, it's getting pretty dark, isn't it?”
“Ew! I hate dark! Dark never writes home to Momma!” She grinned mischievously and grabbed me by the saddlebag. “Let's do something about dark, shall we?”
“Like what?—Whoah!” I gasped as I was yanked off towards the park where we met several hours earlier.
The next firework flew high into the air, scraped the starry sky, and then exploded overhead in a dazzling array of bright, sparkling colors.
I gasped in delight from where I sat in the center of the field. Pinkie Pie, meanwhile, was jumping for joy and pumping a forelimb into the air.
“Boo-yaa! Take that, dark, you gigantic expanse of philosophical ennui and loathing!” She grinned at me like a wild horse while her teeth lit up in strobing reds, yellows, and blues. “I don't care what Twilight says about Neightzsche. The old stallion was full of it. As far as I'm concerned, the longer you stare into the abyss, the abyss giggles into you.”
I smiled and hoofed her another firework. “I imagine you're a lot deeper than ponies give you credit for, Pinkie.”
“Mmmm! I love deep dish pies! Especially pumpkin! I wish it was fall already so I could add candy corn as sprinkles! What do you think?”
“I think you're high.”
“You know what else is high?” Pinkie Pie gave a pyromaniacal smirk and lit the firework's fuse. “Explosions!”
The rocket twirled skyward, banked a little to the north, and died in a flowery burst of bright golds and yellows.
“Heeheehee...” I let myself fall back into the grass and basked in the darting streams of light and flame above me.
The world was suddenly warm and delightful again. This was because all of my fears had melted away. I hugged myself and squirmed back into the grass, delighting in the touch and texture of everything. Why had I let despair consume me so swiftly over the last couple of days? I should have known better. If only I had been patient, calm, and serene, then this situation would have passed by a lot more smoothly. Of course this curse was only a passing thing. What else would it have been? The only permanent thing in this world was death, and Pinkie Pie taught me that I was anything but dead.
“It's funny,” I said.
Pinkie Pie giggled. “You're gonna have to be a little more specific, mint-mare.”
“Hehe...” I rolled over and smiled at her in the glow of another bursting firework. “I was so certain that nopony would remember me. Everything that happened after I met Nightmare Moon was so bleak and frightening. It's kind of scary to think how easily I would have given into hopelessness. But today, Pinkie Pie? Today is one of the best days I've ever had. I owe it to you for showing me that all is not lost—”
“Really?” Pinkie Pie grinned as she lit another firework. “You owe it all to me?”
“Mmm... Yes. Thank you so very much for bringing me back to my senses.” I hugged myself tighter and closed my eyes with a contented smile. “I can already see my mom and dad now. They must be worried sick about me. I should buy a ticket for the first train to Canterlot in the morning...”
“Well, I'm glad you had a really good day today!” Pinkie Pie's voice said over the hissing of a lit fuse. “I really wish I had spent it with you!”
“Heeheehee,” I giggled. “But you did! And I couldn’t be happier. I swear: it’s like I can’t stop smiling.”
“Well, cool! I like making ponies smile! Especially ones I’ve only just met!”
I felt my heart sinking. Something wasn’t wright. My eyes fluttered open while my brow furrowed in horrid suspicion. Slowly, I sat up, utterly ignoring the bright burst of color above us. “Wait a second... What... What exactly do you mean by ‘only just met?’”
“You seem like a swell pony to hang out with, mint-stain!”
I lips hung open. I blinked several times, and lisped forth, “Lyra.” I gulped, then repeated, “My name is Lyra.”
I slowly nodded, squinting. “Yeah...”
“Well, if you were named 'Cheesetrings,' then why would you look like you haven't had anything to eat in a while?”
“But... But I did... We did.” I gulped, the shivers doubling, tripling with each bursting second like the fireworks above us. “We baked cupcakes together, remember?”
“Mmmm... Cupcakes.” Pinkie Pie practically drooled. “I could sooooo go for some of those right now, with extra, extra, extra sprinkles.” Her blue eyes lit up as yet another passing thought bulleted through her brain. “Hey, did you ever hear the story about Mare Green?”
“Wait... You...” I shook my head and stood up. My breath was coming out in fervent little pants. “You... You mean to tell me that you don't remember?”
“Remember who? Mare Green? Hey, what happens in Las Pegasus stays in Las Pegasus, but I'd never forget an old friend! Where else did I get 'stick a cupcake in my eye?'”
“No! I meant us! You and me! Don't you remember the cupcakes? Or pranking Thunderlane?! Or our walk through the forest?! Or... Or our coming here?”
“Hey! Fireworks is always meant to be enjoyed in company!” Pinkie Pie beamed as she fired another one off. “I'm sure as sugar happy you came along, or else I'd feel awfully silly blowing up the night's sky on my lonesome!” She cooed at a burst of rainbow colors high above. “Ooooooh... so flowery!”
“I... You... This...” I seethed and ran a hoof over my head before practically pulling my mane out by the roots. My body quivered upon the breaking point. Finally, I squeaked, “I gotta go...”
“Huh?” Pinkie Pie flashed me a surprised glance. “Awww... But you just got here!”
“Don't you wanna hang out and look at the pretty fireworks—?”
“No!” I shouted, hissed, and fought a wave of sobs rising up my throat. “I'm sorry. But I have to go!”
“Don't be such a spoil-sporty-pants, Minty!”
“It's Lyra!” I retorted, practically whimpering.
“Heartstrings?” She remarked, and I realized that she was merely looking at my cutie mark. She smiled as timelessly as ever. “Cuz if you were named 'Cheestrings,' then why would it look like you haven't had anything to eat in—Hey! Where are you going?”
I was running away. Galloping away. I flew straight into the forest, blind and numb. The world was a labyrinth of shadows and invisible frost all around me. In every blink, I saw the dark gaze of Nightmare Moon. I saw bright pony faces looking through me. I saw Mom and Dad's faces fading away, and my sobbing voice was flailing in a desperate attempt to pull them back.
I couldn't believe how stupid I had been. Of all the ponies of Ponyville that could have befriended me that day, it was the village's narrow-minded jester. I wanted to scream. I wanted to break something. I wanted to roll over in the dirt and die.
It so happens that I did none of those things. My panicked sprint through the forest had exhausted me. I found what I felt was an inconspicuous place and collapsed there, warmed by my tears. When morning came, I discovered I was inside an abandoned barn. My loneliness would have consumed me, hadn't a local farm filly happened to trot by and discover the sound of my voice... and changed my life forever.
Several weeks passed since that first meeting with Pinkie Pie, and I earned more than just a saddlebag attached to my name. Desperate afternoons of playing my lyre in the middle of town had proven fruitful. In spite of my curse, I had been able to earn many bits. Many bits meant plentiful food, good hygiene, decent shelter; though it was a flimsy thing. I was thankful nonetheless for the tent I had pitched beside the abandon barn on the north edge of town. I had plans for something far more permanent, of course, but I needed to take things one hoofstep at a time.
I had just recently discovered the meaning behind the music that was stuck in my head every morning. It turns out that Princess Luna—the same soul that Nightmare Moon had been anchored to—was the composer of ancient music, and somehow my mind had stumbled upon a nearly forgotten instrumental called “Prelude to Shadows.” When I had finally written the notes down and performed the piece in full, there was an unexpected psychological effect. The lights all around me had become magnified, and my spirit was assailed with a great feeling of paranoia and anxiety. I almost wished I had a way to log all of the sensations I was feeling, but I was too busy being confronted with something else just as startling. It would seem that just after “Prelude to Shadows” had been performed, a new tune had taken its place. I was as frightened as I was mystified, and suddenly my imprisonment in that town took on a new meaning.
It had been over a month since I became trapped in Ponyville, and I was just starting to get used to my situation. This wasn't a time to let myself become frightened. I had to keep my cool. I still had hopes of seeing my family again someday. And for all I knew, these mysterious instrumentals could have been the key to unlocking something.
“One thing at a time,” I murmured. It was a relatively mundane phrase, but a helpful one nonetheless. Adjusting the collar of my hoodie, I got up from my sleeping bag, slipped my saddlebag on, turned around, and zipped open the doorflap to my tent.
A baby alligator flew straight into my face.
“Mmmmfff!” I collapsed into the dirt outside, wrestling furiously with the puny reptile. As I rolled several times over in the soil, I heard a pitter-patter of galloping hooves rushing towards me.
“No! No! Bad Gummy! Get off the mare! Get off the mare! Nnnnngh!” I felt a pair of forelimbs tugging at the alligator's scaly hide. With an obnoxious popping sound, the thing was removed from my cranium.
“Ptooie!” I spat from where I sat on the ground. With a sigh, I pulled my mane out from my eyes and glared up at the bright shape before me. “Seriously, Pinkie! Will you put a leash on that thing already?!”
“Hey, it's not his fault! I thought I could teach him hang gliding! But as soon as I tossed him to the winds, I realized I forgot the glider... as well as the hangers!”
“Did you search the gallows?” I asked.
I sighed. “Never mind. I still think he could use a leash.”
“Silly filly! How can a reptile hang glide with a leash?” She smiled and cuddled the wall-eyed gator to her bright cheeks. “Heehee! Good morning, by the way! Sorry about the whole alligator-in-the-face thing!”
I sighed and slowly stood up, dusting myself off. I didn't know what I was angry about more: the fact that this was the tenth time such a thing had happened or the fact that I still wasn't prepared for it. In a lot of ways, this curse had forced me to take the repetition of maniacal ponies like Pinkie for granted.
“Don't mention it. Just try to be more careful, Pinkie,” I grumbled. “There are more ponies around town than you think, and tossing an alligator around randomly is likely to get more than just Gummy in trouble.”
“Yeah, well, I figured that once he grows his teeth out, I'll try tossing ponies at him for a change.” She paused, blinked, then glanced at me. “Hey! How come you know my name anyhow? I've never met you before.”
I sighed and tried explaining. “It's because—”
Pinkie Pie then reminded me that there was no need to explain things with her. “Cuz you seem like a pony who's worth knowing! I look at you and instantly wanna have mint sherbet!”
“Yes. Yes, that's nice—”
“I have to go, Pinkie,” I groaned. I zipped my tent shut from the outside and tightened the saddlebag around me. “There's this new song I'm composing, and I need to visit the town library for some help with—”
“How come you live in a tent?”
“Cuz if the tent lived inside of me, I'd need a zipper for my mouth, don't you think?”
I knew that would make her giggle. I hoped it was enough to keep her occupied as I made a hasty retreat. This morning, however, she paused halfway through rolling in the dirt with her laughter.
“Hey! The library! That reminds me! I'm baking muffins for Twilight! I could use a helping hoof!”
I shuddered. I tried each and every day to forget about the first time I took her up on her offer to bake anything. It had been several weeks since our “day together,” and already I was trying to become a stronger pony, a better pony. Pinkie's presence only served to remind me just how far I had yet to go.
“Sorry. But I'm a little busy...”
“Too busy for blueberry muffins? Why, we can't have that, Miss—”
“Lyra,” I muttered. I immediately wished I hadn't.
“Lemme guess: Heartstrings? Cuz if your name was—”
“And I hate cheese!” I added with a frown. “Almost as much as I hate—” I blinked, then squinted. “Now what are you doing?”
She was balanced on one hoof, her head utterly inverted. “Has anypony ever told you that if they look at your cutie mark upside down, it looks like a tiny cartoon ghost from an arcade game?”
“It does not!” I barked. I blinked. I gazed curiously back at my flank.
“Anywhoo...” Pinkie Pie was suddenly bouncing past me with a small green reptile biting down on her flailing tail. “If you don't want to bake, then I can't force ya! Non-consensual muffin-making is the worst kind of muffin-making! I should know! Mrs. Cake forces me to listen to Tori Haymos all the time!”
“Uhmm...” I was blinking, reeling from her exuberant randomness echoing in both of my ears.
“Next time I toss Gummy around, I'll make sure he grows wings first! Or at least webbed toes!”
“Pinkie, wait.” I reached a hoof towards her. I winced from what I was about to do. The day that lay before me was dissolving with each successive blink of contemplation, threatening to lose whatever musical progress I had long planned on making. The fact was that I had become intensely curious about Pinkie all of the sudden. I’m not entirely sure what had impacted me. Maybe it was the delicious lengths to which her smiling cheeks stretched. Maybe it was the twinkle in her eyes that never went away, no matter how gloomy those days could stand being so many times in a row. Whatever was the case, the music in my head seemed a great deal less obtainable. And there Pinkie Pie was. She was very real, standing within hoof’s length, grinning at me, smelling of balloons and cake batter. My life had become a strange prison, framed by accidents, abridged by happenstance. There, bouncing in front of me, I had what could only be an opportunity to seize every bitter inch of my predicament and sum it all up with a smile, even if I had to steal that smile. “I've changed my mind,” my vocal cords eventually forced through. “I would... nnngh... love to do some baking with you.”
“Really?!” Somehow, in the span of two seconds, she had blurred back to smile point blank in my face. “You mean it?”
“Yeah...” I gulped. “Why not? Let's get to it before I change my mind again.”
“What's the hurry?! I haven't begun my morning rounds through town!”
“Oh come on!” She giggled and motioned me to follow her down the path. “Who doesn't enjoy a walk in the sun? Hop along, Spyra!”
“Whatever. Move your flank, green-spleen!”
“Then after insulting the way I bake lemon cakes, he asked me if I wanted to go visit Nuzzler's Lane atop the hill overlooking Ponyville!” Pinkie Pie made a face as she led me through the busy heart of Ponyville. “I mean, really! Could you imagine the mendacity of a stallion like that?!”
“I think the word you're looking for is 'audacity,'” I said. “And so what if he didn't like one thing that you baked? Perhaps you should have given him a second chance, Pinkie. Believe it or not, food isn't always the way to a stallion's stomach.”
“Whatever.” Pinkie smiled at me in mid-trot. “That's the last time I ever let Rarity try to match-make for me. 'Oh darling, you and Pokey Pierce would make the most exquisite pair!' Pfft! Yeah right! I swear, if somepony put the two of us onto a ship, an iceberg had better hit us!”
I smiled momentarily. “Well, I'm glad you respect yourself enough to at least admit such. Unlike what popular culture wants us to think, we mares are not all bound to be hopeless romantics.” I nearly ran into a tulip being held right in front of me.
“Good morning to you, angel,” said a charming voice, attached to a charming face, framed with soft blue eyes, a sapphiric mane, and a handsome smile.
“Uhhh...” I blinked. I plucked the tulip from his grasp and stirred where I stood. “Uhhh... Uhmm...”
The stranger smiled, gave a bow, and trotted off towards a gardening wagon.
“What's his deal?” Pinkie said with a blank expression.
“I... I...” I glanced at him, at the tulip, then cleared my throat. I felt my cheeks burning as I tossed the flower away while nopony was looking. “I have no idea.” We both marched ahead, during which I rediscovered the strength to speak to her evenly. “Tell me, Pinkie...”
“Does it bother you that I'm a stranger?”
“No more than it would bother me if you were a manticore!”
“Isn't that... kind of a dangerous philosophy to live by?”
“Who lives by philosophies, really?” She hummed pleasantly as her bouncing trot led us towards the heart of Ponyville. “At least with baking you know you can feed somepony!” She turned and waved at a bearded stallion. “Hey Ace! How's the tennis elbow?”
I continued. “Because you can never know if a stranger might mean you ill-will or—”
“Just remember, you have three more elbows where that came from!” Pinkie Pie shouted towards the stallion with a giggle. “So don't give up the dream!” His voice chuckled in the distance.
“Pinkie?” I frowned. “Are you listening to a word I'm—?”
“Hey Cheerilee! How're the students blooming? Like an onion?”
“Heehee!” A passing mare smiled at us. “Just as delightfully as ever, Miss Pie!”
“Good! Lemme know when you're enrolling for kindergarten again! I could sure use some nap time right about now!” Pinkie Pie smiled my way. “Cheerilee is best pony. Don’t you agree?”
“Do you ever juggle less than three conversations at a given time?” I asked her.
“Whoops!” She smiled nervously. “Sorry, Guyra.”
“Lyra. And what are you sorry about?”
“I see a pony who's not smiling and I just dive right in, y'know?” She waved once more towards the random crowd. “Hey Sethistoats! Did that showmare from Whinniepeg ever write you back?”
A passing, yellow stallion glanced over and blushed. “Who? What?” He crashed smack-dab into an apple cart. “Ouch! Dang it!”
“Heehee.” Pinkie winked at me and whispered. “That one gets distracted too easily.”
“He's not the only one.” I stared firmly into her eyes. “Don't you think that life is too fragile and important to take everything in levity? What if something bad happens, and the last thing ponies around you want to do is smile? What do you do then? Are you even prepared for that, Pinkie?”
“Ugh. Is this a lecture?” Pinkie Pie snickered. “Mr. Cake is giving me those all the time. Or at least I think he is. It's hard to tell when he's serious or not. You ever seen that neck of his? I swear, he's one-third giraffe.”
“I just think that—at your age and with the part you play in Ponyville's social structure—you could stand to be a little more—”
“Because giraffes used to live all over Equestria before Chancellor Puddinghat's pilgrimage to the Central Valley. Disease is a sad thing, isn't it? Whatever, so long as they're happy with their casinos today—”
“Pinkie, would it kill you to pay some attention?”
“Not half as much as it'd... uh give birth to you to stop being so serious!” She snorted, then grinned at me. “Seriously, Leela, you're starting to sound like a robot butterfly.” She hoofed me a golden tulip. “Here, you dropped this.”
“I...” I did a double-take, being awkwardly reacquainted with the gentlecoltish gesture. “Uhm...” I felt my cheeks burning once again as I stopped dead in my tracks. “How... Where...?”
“Don't get too far behind!” Pinkie Pie shouted from where she was bouncing towards the entrance to Sugarcube Corner. “I know this isn't the running of Lyra, but we've got some muffins to get to! Hurry up!” She bumped into a winged figure. “Whoops! Teehee! Sorry about that! Muffin emergency!”
“Hmph...” A copper pegasus grunted as she trotted past us. “Friggin' earth ponies, I swear to Entropa.”
I placed the tulip behind my ear and trotted for the bakery. Suddenly, I skidded to a stop. On a jolting heartbeat, I spun and glanced behind me. The pegasus had done the same, her amber eyes squinting at me from beneath a jet-black mane. For a few seconds we were absorbed into each other's gazes. With a mutual shrug, we parted ways.
“Whelp...” I adjusted my hoodie and marched into Sugarcube Corner under a wave of cold. “Can't get any more awkward than that.”
“And that's how I learned what 'pu pu platter' really means!” Pinkie Pie said, giggling over bowls of muffin mix in the middle of Sugarcube Corner's kitchen. “Whew! I tell you what: after that banquet, Princess Celestia almost decided to host the Summer Sun Celebration in Manehattan instead! I still don't know how her Majesty managed to brush her teeth so well since.”
I sighed long and hard, trying to hold my lunch in as I prepared the blueberries. “Well, you learn something new everyday.” I gulped and fought the urge to retch. “Most ponies, at least.”
“Hey, not everything's black and white.”
“What's that supposed to mean, Miss Pie?”
“I dunno. Something about Petrot Molyneigh, I’m willing to bet.”
“Every time I think you've almost made sense, you've only lost me more and more.”
“That's just what makes you the perfect straight mare!”
“The perfect straight—what?”
“You know, like Stallion and Ollie? Lewis and Maretin? Abbot and Coltstello?” She winked at me while she stirred the bowl of mix. “One of us is goofy and the other one is straight-faced! It'll make tons of ponies laugh when we hoof out these muffins! We'll be the next big hit! Sooner than you know it, they'll call us Harpflank and Sweets!”
“Somehow I think that's already taken,” I muttered.
“Heehee! Cheer up! As much as I want other ponies to giggle, I just hope I find a way to make you smile too, Miss... Miss...” For once, her speech trailed off, and her mouth hung open upon the precipice of confusion.
I glanced up at her. I stood up straight. “What? What is it?”
“Uhm... Eheh...” She bit her lip, blushing. “I'm told that I draw a blank a lot, I'm just not used to feeling it when it happens...”
“You don't know my name, do you?” I asked, leaning forward eagerly. “You've... forgotten me? Just now?”
“Well... eheheheh... I came here... to bake muffins... and you... you...”
“Freeze!” I shouted. Several dozen blueberries fell to the tile floor as I leaned forward through the cold and grasped her shoulders. “Stop right there! Think hard, Miss Pie.”
“I... I'm trying to remember your—”
“Don't! Don't try!” I exclaimed. I gulped and asked in a gentle voice, “I just need you to describe it.”
I bit my lip and murmured, “What are you feeling right now? What is this curse doing to you?”
“Doesn't it strike you weird that you're standing in the presence of a pony you don't recall ever having met before?” I asked her, searching her eyes for the meaning to something that had been troubling me for several restless nights in a row. “Do you get the feeling that though my face and voice is utterly new to your mind, I'm somehow familiar? I've somehow spoken to you before? Or is it all a total blur?”
“I feel... I feel...”
“Please...” I whispered, my voice wavering painfully. I gazed at her even harder. “This is very important to me. I need to know what's happening to you. I need to know why things are the way they are...”
“I...” Pinkie Pie's eyes thinned as she breathlessly searched the lengths of the ceiling like a introspective pony might search the cavernous lengths of her anxious soul. “I feel like...”
“Yes?” I breathed.
Pinkie Pie blinked, then smiled wide. “I feel like adding pistachios!”
My ears drooped immediately. “Pistachios?” I droned.
“Yupperooni!” She bounced past me and grabbed a jar of nuts from a high shelf. “Blueberries! Hah! Only bored caterers use fruits and fruits alone in a recipe! Ponyville is a gritty farming town! I need to toss something crunchy into the mix! Besides, what are the odds of anypony really being allergic to—”
“Miss Pie!” I almost snarled at her. I blocked her return path to the baking counter. “Who am I?”
“Really pretty!” She winked. “I like your mane, mintilicious!” She brushed past me while opening the jar with her teeth. “Mmmf—Naugh hoov meh duh bloopberrees, pweddy pleeb!”
“I'm trying to be serious!” I plucked the jar from her jaws. “Something extraordinary has happened here—Ewww.” I grimaced while shaking the accumulated drool off my hoof. I placed the wet jar of nuts down and stared at Pinkie again. “I've been here for the past hour and a half, and yet suddenly it's like I haven't been here at all. What would you say if I told you that I could describe everything that's happened since we met at my tent just north of town?”
“We met at a tent?”
“Yes! You tossed Gummy into my face!”
“Huh, well I was probably trying to teach him how to hang glide.” She smirked at me. “Say, do you know where I might find a glider around here... or some hangers?”
“Pinkie!” I grasped her shoulders and almost yelled. “This is not about you, me, and Gummy!”
“Pfft! Duh! Two's company, three's a crowd!”
“Doesn't it bother you that you don't even know my name?!”
“So? What's in a name?”
“Everything! I'm Lyra Heartstrings.”
“You don't say?” Pinkie grinned wide. “Cuz if your name was—”
“I swear, if you so much as mention cheese again, I'm going to—”
“You're a pony who looks like she could learn a thing or two about baking muffins!” Pinkie giggled. “Isn't that enough?”
“No!” I barked. “It's not enough! We are defined as much by who we are as by the things we do!”
“What do you call this, your Big Lyra Theory?”
“Stop playing my words off like an ordinary showtune!” I followed her around as she wandered aimlessly about the kitchen, grabbing even more ingredients. “How would you like it if everypony around you suddenly forgot your name?!”
“I'd have a hard time getting into dance clubs.”
“For real!” I folded my forearms and frowned at her. “Wouldn't it bother you? Wouldn't it make you feel as if a huge piece of you was missing? Wouldn't it make you wonder what had happened to have stripped you of so much?”
“Silly Lyra. This isn't Canterlot Court! Not every pony wears clothes.”
“Ugh...” I facehoofed. “Pinkie...”
“Nice hoodie, by the way.” She returned to the counter and resumed stirring. “Who woulda guessed you were a total flankster?”
“You would have guessed nothing!” I said. “You don't know a thing about me!”
“You're smart, well read, have a thing for music, and like to lecture a lot.”
I paused, blinking. “Uhm...”
Pinkie Pie giggled. “Oh please. Mother Nature doesn't give us cutie marks at random! That's like playing dice with the universe! Didn't Einstallion say something about that?”
“You think that's all you need to get to know a pony?” I asked in a monotone voice. I gestured towards my flank. “You see a cutie mark and guess that I'm a musician and somehow that's enough to go by?”
“Well.” She motioned towards my flank. “The golden harp certainly doesn't mean you study anthropology, now does it?”
“I guess so long as you update on a regular basis, nopony can tell the difference?”
“At least humor me with this,” I said, gesturing for emphasis. “Say your name out loud and tell me it doesn't do something to your spirit to just hear it!”
“What, my full name?”
“Hmmm...” Pinkie Pie gazed up at the ceiling, tonguing the inside of her mouth. “Pinkamena Diane Pie.” She paused, her eyes narrowing. Then she shook her head. “Nah. Just as boring as ever.”
I blinked crookedly at her. “Uhm...”
“Yes? Something wrong?”
“N-no. It's just that...” I pointed, lingered, then sighed. “Forget it.” I slumped lethargically against the counter. “I don't know why I bother.”
“Cheer up, girl! I don't understand what all the stress is about! So what's in a name? My parents almost named me 'Surprise.' That probably would have been cool. Cuz then, every time I threw a pony a surprise party, I'd always be celebrating myself just a teensy bit as well! But then I realized—heehee—I do that anyways! So, what's it matter what a pony is called in the long run?”
“At least a 'pu pu platter' has an important name, right?”
“Well, not as much as the smell. Hey, let's finish this up! Why be wastin' when you can be bakin', huh?”
“Pistachios?” Fluttershy smiled and gazed over the counter at us. “Why, Pinkie, this is absolutely delicious. I'm tempted to bring some home so that my little squirrelies could have a bite. Would you terribly mind if I did that?”
“Hey! These muffins didn't become 'free' by following Whinnie Wallace's charge across Haystings Bridge!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed. “Take as many as you like, girl! Go forth and spread the good word of blueberries and pistachios in every forest! And if a squirrel turns you away, dust off your horseshoes and go to the next cluster of trees!”
“I swear...” I muttered into my hoof as I sat slumped against our side of the front counter. “Do you even hear yourself sometimes?”
“Ew. The last time I put my mouth up to a microphone, the only good thing that came out of it was saliva.” She waved at Fluttershy as she marched off, becoming one with the colorful cloud of munching ponies across the heart of Sugarcube Corner. “Singing is only pretty when it's natural. So I never plan to do it.”
“You never plan to do a lot of things, I'm thinking.”
“Fluttershy's different. That pegasus who was here just now?” Pinkie Pie pointed at the yellow blur in my peripheral vision. “I swear, she should totally lead a chorus. It's funny, cuz a lot of my friends say we've got the same voice. I don't hear it myself. Do you hear it? Ahem. Do Ra Me Fa—”
I planted a hoof over her mouth, silencing her as I sat up with a glare. “I've heard enough, Pinkie Pie. You're a sweet, amusing, delightful mare. But I can't help but feel as if you're hopeless.”
“Mmmfletth?” she remarked. I removed my hoof. She shook her face, flexed her lips, and uttered, “I dunno about you, but I feel pretty happy.”
“Feeling happy and being happy are two different things.”
“Eww.” She gave me a disgusted look. “Since when?”
“Since the Cosmic Matriarch bestowed her holy breath upon the four corners of this realm and ascended to the cosmos—What's it matter?” I tossed my hooves and stood up. “A pony's soul is never at ease—I mean truly at ease—until he or she is lucid of his or her place in the universal order of things!”
“Is this the part where you ask if I've read Dianeightics?”
“Pinkie Pie, don't you ever value the past or future?!” I looked at her with pained eyes of concern. “Just how long can you live in the present? How can you possibly eke meaning from a life that is measured in the here and now? Doesn't anything hold permanence and meaning?”
“Hmmm... Well, I guess I could dwell on the past, if only to find out what the word 'eke' means,” she murmured. She stroked her chin in thought as two more ponies walked up and grabbed more muffins from the counter. “You see, I didn't exactly have a lot to laugh about when I was a little filly. My family built our home in a gloomy little town built in the ravines left behind by the bone spokes of a fallen god's lifeless wings, where to laugh was a sin and the only way to measure one's worth was to labor in deadly mines from sunup to sundown.”
“Pinkie...” I exclaimed, my breath leaving me as I rested a gentle hoof on her shoulder. “I... I-I had no idea. Did you really?”
“Snkkkt!” She snorted and pounded the counter. “Hah! I'm just kidding! I grew up on a rock farm.”
“Hah hah hah hah!”
“That's it.” I grabbed my saddlebag and hoisted it over my flanks. “I'm leaving.”
“Awwww... Don't be so down in the mouth! I'm just trying to get you to grin!”
“At this rate, you'll get me to my grave.”
“Oh! Where are my manners!” Pinkie Pie stood up next to me. “Of course! You're probably wanting to be paid for helping with the muffins! I'm afraid only Mrs. and Mr. Cake handle the bits around here, but maybe you'd like a parting gift?” She reached behind the counter and grabbed a purple stuffed hippo. “Plushie?”
“Miss Pie, I most assuredly do not want any plushies. Not now, not ever.”
“Right. Plushies are so yesterday. Oooh!” She rummaged behind the counter. “You seem like a clever pony! Here, have a book!” She tossed a tome of thick binding into my grasp.
I briefly juggled it, then flung it open. After a few page flips, I gazed dully at her. “All the pages are blank.”
“So? Start a journal! You can write, can’t you?”
“Why would I need a—?!” I paused in mid-speech. I gazed down as I flipped through the dead pages yet again. “Hmmm...”
“I never cared for diaries myself. They take forever to write. Plus, just what would I put in them, anyways?” Pinkie Pie cleared her throat and thickly orated, “'Dear Journal. Do you like rhetorical questions? How about rhetorical statements? I used to write rhetorical statements a lot, then something happened and it reminded me about something else that happened and then I decided upon being declarative!'”
“Uhm, Pinkie Pie?” Fluttershy said. I glanced over to see her returning to the counter. “I was wondering,” she quietly spoke. “Could I... uhm... possibly bother you for two more muffins? Angel's been really good-mannered lately, and I feel as though I should give him some positive reinforcement—” Fluttershy paused, leaning over to stare at me. “Why, hello. Are you a friend of Pinkie's?”
“You don't remember me from five minutes ago?”
“Uhm. No. I'm sorry. Sh-Should I?”
I slapped the book shut and gestured at Pinkie Pie. “Hah! There! You see?”
“She forgot me!”
“Heehee! She'd forget her wings if they weren't attached to her sides! Uhm... No offense, Fluttershy.”
“Nice slippers you sewed for Gummy last week, by the way. He's starting to work on his dance step.”
“Oh really?” Fluttershy's feathers fluttered as she smiled wide. “I'd love to visit one of his ballet recitals.”
“Yup! It's a world worth living in when an alligator gets in touch with his feminine side.”
“You!” Pinkie looked up at me. “Hello, you! Hey, nice book!”
“Oh dear Celestia...” I seethed, my teeth chattering through a sudden chill. “Did you forget me again too?”
“Uhhh...” Pinkie Pie blinked, then smiled. “Heartstrings? Cuz if you were named 'Cheestrings'—”
“I'd like some cheese,” Fluttershy said.
“Nopony asked you—” I tripped over the counter in my hurry to leave. “Ackk!”
“Looks like Gummy isn't the only one who needs to learn ballet.”
Two voices began giggling, and it made me all the more furious that I suddenly couldn't tell them apart.
The sun was setting by the time I stormed back to my tent. I fumbled with the zipper, cursing under my breath. When I finally opened the flap, I tossed myself in like a sack of potatoes wrapped in a stone-gray hoodie. I lay across my sleeping bag, sighing, basking in the toastiness of a dying summer day. I didn't realize I was hugging something to my chest until I felt the urge to look at it.
It was the blank journal.
“Ugh. Wasted my whole day, I swear to Celestia.” I tossed the empty book towards the far end of the tent and turned over. A stretch of flaxen mane hair fell over my eyes as I gazed blankly into space. I should have spent that day figuring out what this new tune was that had become stuck in my head. I should have worked on unlocking this curse, figuring out how to make a more sturdy home to live in, earning myself more bits, anything but what I actually did spend the entire day doing. “She isn't one of your pupils, is she, Moondancer?”
The world was cold and silent. Of course it was.
I shivered slightly, pulling the hood over my horn and hugging my forelimbs to my chest. As my breath came out in tiny vapors, I went over the images of the day's events in my head. If I was in any other circumstance, if I was any other pony, then perhaps even a fraction of the things that Pinkie had said would have done what she always wanted to accomplish. Admittedly, I felt like smiling on a few occasions, but for some reason a frigid new part of me kept that from happening. Because of that, both of us had come to an impasse. Did I really have the curse to blame for that?
What was I becoming? Or, better yet, what was I destined to become? I wasn't always so cold, so joyless, so devoid of any sense of humor or levity. Was the curse such a curse because I was letting it be so terrible?
No. No, it couldn't possibly have been that simple. I just needed to understand things more. I needed to get answers. If I could understand Pinkie Pie, then maybe—just maybe—I could understand everything else as well. There is nothing harder to unlock than randomness. After all, I was dying to know how a pony could live forever in the present, for I realized that I too may soon have to adjust to such an existence.
So, groaning, I turned over and did something I would never have predicted. I lifted the blank journal in my grasp. I opened to the first page. Then—telekinetically grabbing a pen that I had previously used only to write music down on paper sheets—I began taking notes. Then those notes turned into outlines. Then those outlines turned into narratives. Finally, those narratives morphed into journal entries. Before I knew it, there was an elaborate map being made of my imprisoned life in Ponyville.
Twelve months later, seated in the center of a cozy log cabin with a crackling fireplace, I was still illustrating that “map.” I calmly murmured aloud while dragging the quill one last time across the bottom of the page.
“‘Have you ever had a beautiful melody stuck in your head, but you don't know where it came from? That melody is me.’”
I stopped. I dropped the quill in its inkwell and gazed at my finished entry.
“Hmm. Good thing I’m the only pony who reads this. That rubbish would never catch on.”
I took a deep breath and smiled. Life was still tough, but it was manageable. I had discovered many elegies since my first frightful month of the curse. I had made a home for myself. I had planted crops to grow my own food. I had even devised a way to coax Twilight into helping me learn the latest mysteries regarding my predicament.
As a matter of fact, just the day previous, she had helped me discover the name of Elegy #7. I glanced to my left, pleased at the thick pile of notes that I could now safely label the “Threnody of Night.” After nearly a year of awkward trial and error, I was finally starting to get the hang of things. It felt refreshing, as if I was actually in a good place.
Perhaps such a sensation was what sparked the feeling of nostalgia suddenly blossoming inside of me. Whatever the case, I was motivated to flip through the first few entries of my journal. I hummed to myself as I spun the pages towards the very beginning of the book. I froze immediately on the first sheet, my eyes squinting.
I had several year-old notes scribbled down in hasty penstrokes. From the horribly jagged hoofwriting, I could tell just how much the cold had made me shiver twelve months ago. Among the convoluted to-do list I saw such gems as “earn more bits,” “tear down the barn,” “get access to the library’s older books,” and “acquire musical instruments.” But none of these had locked my attention so viciously in place. In the center of everything—with an angry line crossed through it not once, not twice, but three times—was a bold group of words: “learn to think pink.”
I blinked at the imperative statement. I made a face. “Ew, really?” My breath came out in a vaporous shudder. I gazed into the flames of the fireplace. “Couldn’t I just figure out how to time travel or build an artificial rainbow instead?”
There are times when I am reminded of just how alone I am. I can never predict when such epiphanies take place, but they’re almost always followed by an immutable silence that not even my frost-stricken breath can interrupt. The fireplace had seemingly drowned itself into the shadows of the cabin. The instruments hanging all around me faded into obscurity while the stars of night disappeared one by one outside of my windows.
I started to imagine that, with or without learning more about this mysterious Threnody, I had come a long way to reach this place of tranquility and soundness of mind. It wasn’t an easy road; I had struggled through many trials and tribulations of spirit over the year. Still, I had a lot to be proud of, psychologically speaking.
And yet, no matter how serene I may have become, I knew it was nothing compared to the joy that Pinkie Pie exhibited through purely natural means. What epiphanies, then, could such a bouncy earth pony be capable of experiencing herself? When she felt terribly alone, who would be there to comfort her? For that matter, who would be capable of telling exactly when and where she crossed the great divide between joy and despair?
Suddenly, “thinking pink” no longer felt like a mission to understand myself, but to figure out yet another soul who frolicked innocently across my accursed path. How could I have ever been possessed to cross such a note out on several occasions?
“I blame it on the alligator,” I mumbled.
I knew I might end up regretting it, but my mind was already making plans to do something about this. After all, I had just made another big step in uncovering the elegies. What was to stop me from helping my amnesiac friends discover their true potential as I had so blissfully stumbled upon mine?
I flipped forward through the book and graced the page right after my latest entry. With the pen, I dragged fresh new notes across the page. I smiled to myself. This would take several weeks, but I could already tell it was going to be easy. I had made my connections through town, after all, even if those connections had no recollection of me. All I needed to do was ask the right ponies the right kinds of questions and I would finally have Pinkie Pie all figured out.
And then, just perhaps, I could help her figure herself out...
Almost a month later, in front of Sugarcube Corner, Pinkie Pie was raising Scootaloo’s front hooves victoriously in hers. She did a little dance and smiled wide.
“Woohoo! Look who's all better!” She winked at the little filly. “It takes more than a crazy long-range magical pegasus-launcher to drain the spirit from you, eh, Scootszilla?”
Scootaloo blushed. She stepped back from Pinkie Pie and dug a bashful hoof into the ground. “Seriously, Pinkie, I'm fine. And I'm sick to death of everypony constantly celebrating and patting me on the back like I'm some sort of national hero. So I crossed the wrong paths with Dr Whooves' thingamajig. Big deal. That's something I won't be doing again anytime soon. Milky White will certainly see to that.”
“Milky White sounds like she could use a tall, cold bottle of sarsparilla down her gullet!”
“She could use something inside her, alright.”
“Oh. Uhm... You hear that?” Scootaloo gestured a hoof beside her ear. “Sounds like Sweetie Belle's singing. I should go and do stuff. Crusader stuff. Over there. Not right here with you.”
“Okie dokie lokie!” Pinkie Pie innocently waved the galloping filly onwards. “Go forth and smite talents in cutie marks' holy name!” She turned and looked at me with a smile. “This one time, I talked about the 'Cutie Mark Crusaders' in front of a bunch of zebras on a pilgrimage to the east? Baaaaad idea.” She began giggling—then stopped to blink fixedly at me. “Oh. Uhm. Hi there! I'm Pinkie Pie! Who are you, and why do I feel like I should suddenly avoid the topic of cheese?”
“Well, I guess there's hope yet,” I said with a smile.
“Pinkie Pie...” I strummed my lyre from where I stood against a tree a few feet away. Several close conversations with her close friends had prepared me for this, as well as many nights spent poetically combining heartfelt words with the knowledge that I had accumulated about her family and place of foaling. “Have you ever had a beautiful melody stuck in your head, but you don't know where it came from or what it's supposed to mean, only that you have the natural urge to hum it, regardless?”
“Ew. That's the worst tag line I've ever heard.”
“Uhhhhhh huh...” Undaunted, I tongued the corner of my mouth as I thought hard for a way to start over. “Ahem. Here goes.” I looked at her with yet another grin. “What makes a pony? Is it her dreams? Her thoughts and her ambitions—?”
“Pssst!” Pinkie Pie leaned over and gazed every which way with a goofy grin. “Am I on Canter Camera? Is that what this is?”
I sighed long and hard. I strummed my lyre with greater volume and spoke with a slightly edgier voice. “What does it mean to be alone? I mean truly alone? Have we come to a point of understanding the feeling?”
“Oooh! I love this game! 'Guess the song,' right? Lemme see what comes next.” Pinkie Pie inhaled dramatically to the point of her eyes bursting. When she was finished, she loudly screeched forth, “You've lost that loving feeeeeeeling! Oooooh thaaaaaaaaat loving feeling!”
I made a face. It had been nearly a year since I last attempted a solid conversation with this bright soul. Now I was remembering why. I glanced around to see several ponies glancing curiously our way for the source of the caterwauling. I spotted the mayor clamping her hooves over her ears while Berry Punch was shoving her head deep into a thick shrubbery in order to drown out the noise.
“—feeling! Now it's gone! Gone! Gone! And I can’t go on! No-Ohhh-Whoahhh—Da doo! Da doo! Da doo—”
I ran a hoof over my head. “Okay... Let's try taking this elsewhere...”
Many, many hours had passed. Under the glow of a park lamp buzzing with moths, I tiredly clutched my lyre and strummed a few ugly chords into the night. It took all of my leftover energy to mutter, “What does it truly mean to be cursed?” I spat out in bitter monotone, my eyes dull and bloodshot. “Does it mean that we've been robbed?”
“Oooh! Oooh! I know this one!” Pinkie Pie bounced in front of me, grinning wide. “You ever bought tickets to a Stevie Neigh concert? Highway robbery! I'm telling you, she should have stuck with Fillywood Mac!”
“No! I didn't mean—” I seethed, calmed myself, strummed my lyre, and uttered, “Do heroes exist only because history chooses to write about them? Are the greatest ponies who ever lived so legendary because they earned that status, or on account of their—”
“Oooh! Brony Stark!” Pinkie Pie bounced yet again. “Brony Stark is my hero!”
“Dang it, this isn't about... nnnkkt—Whoever Stark!” I barked.
“Ooooooooh...” Pinkie Pie grinned mischievously. “Somepony's angry that Marevel got bought out!”
“Will you let me finish!”
Pinkie Pie blinked, glanced around at the starry sky, then squinted at me. “This was all an introduction?”
“There was something very special I wanted to tell you and I wanted to do it eloquently—”
“We could have done that with a hoof-shake, girl!” She extended her limb. “The name's Pinkie! 'Pie' if you're nasty,” she added with a wink. “'Diane' if you're... if you're... well, if you're really bored, I guess.”
“Alright. That's it.” I stood up from the bench and lifted my instrument telekinetically. “Lyre time.”
“Just listen.” I growled briefly before absorbing the air around us with a tranquil little melody. There was something hypnotic about the tune that I produced. Even the crickets were drowned out as the sweet lullaby occupied all currents of the late night breeze. Soon, Pinkie Pie stopped stirring altogether. She gazed at me, her blue eyes locked on my lyre, as I played each gentle chord one by one. With each progressive bar, the earth pony's jaw dropped more and more, so that her teeth shone with as much brilliance as the moon overhead.
Finally, I finished, and I stared at her quietly—patiently—in the ensuing silence.
“That...” She murmured in an unearthly breath. “That...”
“It's a simple folk's song,” I said in a calm voice. “It's customarily sung to children before bed. Not many foals in Ponyville have heard it, though. That's because it's not a song that hails from these parts of Equestria. You see, I've done my research. Apparently it's a song that originates from a region to the northeast of here, where many colonies have formed around quarries and rock farms. You wouldn't happen to know of any ponies who are familiar with the tune, would you?”
“It...” Pinkie's voice wavered. Her eyes were locked on the dirt path below us as she gulped and stammered, “My mother. She... she used to sing it to me.” She ran a shaking hoof through her fluffy mane. “She used to sing a lot of things to me.”
“But she stopped, didn't she?” I gazed at her cautiously as I stepped closer. “Was it because you grew up, Miss Pie?”
Slowly, sadly, Pinkie shook her head.
I squatted down beside her. “Was it...” I gazed gently into her face. “Was it because you decided to leave your family, to move onto better things?”
She bit her lip pensively. Again, her head shook.
“Pinkie...” I placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Did you have a choice, when you moved to Ponyville?”
“Shhh...” I smiled comfortingly at her. “It's okay. You don't have to hide behind endless smiles any longer.”
“I'm not hiding!” she briefly hissed. “I—”
“Pinkie Pie, there's a time and a place for everything. Don't let anypony make you think that smiling is the only way to feel... to release...” I kept my eyes level with hers, absorbing her attention, reaching out to her soul with ever fiber of my being. “Listen. You're a marvelous pony. A beautiful pony. You have so much talent to do so many things. Need they be stifled by a life that is spent entirely on the whimsical mediocrity of the moment? You have the strength and charisma to move mountains, Miss Pie. Where you're pleasantly blowing up balloons and tossing streamers around, you could instead be building a house for yourself and moving out on your own. You don't have to hole yourself up in the Cake family's attic. Don't you think you deserve to start... to start living for yourself and not for other ponies?”
“But... But other ponies need me...”
“What about your needs, Miss Pie?” I asked. “What about what makes you whole, what guarantees you a future?” I chuckled. “You may even find that very special somepony if you just tried.”
“I...I wouldn't want...” She seemed to grimace, as if on the edge of something so painful that her face couldn't register an expression to sum it up. “I wouldn't want to repeat...”
“Repeat what? What your family did to you?” I gently stroked her cheek as I saw her eyes turning wet and glossy. “Pinkie. Listen to me. It's not your fault.”
She gritted her teeth. She started to sniffle.
“It's not your fault, Pinkie. What they did to you... to kick you out...” I shook my head with an angelic smile. “What they did was wrong. But you have it within you to grow up where they couldn't help out. You can start a family of your own, a family to be proud of, for your friends to be proud of. Tell me... What is it that you truly want in life?”
“I...” She gasped, her lungs heaving. Moisture doubled and tripled along her eyes. “I... I...”
I leaned forward. “Yes?”
“Wachoo!” She sneezed into my face.
“Gaaah!” I fell back on my flank. “Sweet Luna on a bicycle!”
“Whew!” She rubbed her nose and smiled plain as day. “I want hay fever to end! What about you!”
“Unngh! Bleachk! Ptooie!” I wiped my face clean and squinted up at her. “Hay... fever...?”
“Annoying as all get out, isn't it? Heeheehee! Oh! And about my family and stuff.” She bounced around me. “They kicked me out because Gummy made a mess on the carpet for the tenth time in a row!”
“... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...Gummy.”
“Wow, if I knew any better, I'd imagine you could fill that last breath of yours with a lot of ellipses.”
“Your family kicked you out because of a baby alligator defecating on your rug?”
“At least I think that's what they're called. The last time Twilight tried giving me a lesson in grammar, her thesaurus caught on fire. I'm still not sure how that happened. I think Spike saw Rarity passing by the window and—well—at least my math is good. Heeheehee.”
“You mean that all of this—all your being here—all of... of...” I gnashed my teeth and jumped up. “No! That doesn't explain anything!”
“It doesn't?” She blinked awkwardly.
“No! It does not!” I snarled in her face. “It doesn't explain why you're always, always happy! It doesn't explain why you never think about the past or the future! It doesn't explain why you're perfectly okay with forgetting who I am and still treating me as if I'm not cursed! It doesn't explain—”
“Whoah there!” Pinkie Pie frowned and waved two of her forelimbs strongly. “Whoah whoah whoah whoah whoah! Hold onto your horses!”
I stared at her, shivering in anger.
She looked back at me, glanced through the corner of her eyes, and smiled sweatily. “What were we talking about again?”
“Cuz could we talk about chocolate fudge instead? I've always wanted to talk about chocolate fudge in the middle of the night under a lone streetlamp. There always seemed something deliciously naughty about it—Hey! Where are you going?”
“Home! ‘Cuz at least I had the decency to build one!” I snarled over my shoulder as I stumbled away. “Some ponies like to rise above themselves, y'know!”
“Come onnnn! We can still have a pleasant introduction!” She said in a sing-songy voice. “It's not like you're a perfect stranger trying to motivate me into taking a huge step into a philosophical change of character by simply sharing a single melody! Come backkkk!” She plopped down on her haunches. “Hmmph. Someponies. Can't live with them. Can't live without—Oooh! Lookie! Moths!”
“All aboard! Last call for Fillydelphia! Train to Fillydelphia! Last call!”
I took a deep, shuddering breath. Weeks later, I leaned against the bench of Ponyville's train depot as I watched the dismal sight of a train chugging away towards the horizon. The soreness in the back of my throat was excruciating. Every thought was committed towards treasuring the last few words Moondancer had to say to me. Even still, every part of me ached as I hardened those memories, for I soon realized that the memories were all that I would ever have to cherish her with.
I clenched my eyes shut and ran two hooves over my face. I could still see her expression, her violet eyes, her devil-may-care grin. My ears twitched, for I could still hear her voice... only it wasn’t hers. It was...
“Whew! Why do trains have to be such steampunks?”
I winced. Gulping, I opened my misty eyes and looked to my side. “Huh...?”
“Get it?” Pinkie Pie smiled at me. She had an empty tray balanced on her back. “Cuz they're big, meanie punks with all the steam they blow out of their stacks.” She snorted back a giggle and pointed towards the horizon. “Train humor. I guess only the locals get it.”
I don't know why, but I laughed. It was both painful and pleasant all at once. I needed a reason to exhale other than a sob. “It's okay. I get it. At least I think I get it.” With another shuddering breath, I glanced lonesomely towards the horizon.
I heard a shuffling of hooves. Pinkie Pie had not left my presence. Apparently my previous, cracked facsimile of a smile wasn't convincing enough. “I just came all the way back from delivering the depot master a mountain of Mr. Cake's best cinnamon danishes, and boy are my wings tired!”
“But...” I gulped and murmured her way. “But you don't have any wings, Pinkie Pie.”
“I know! They took off and checked themselves in at the Honeypot Inn! It was the only hotel in town that didn't have feather in their pillows! Hehehe! Get it?”
I got it. It was a horrible joke, but I got it. My eyes began to well up with tears as I smiled for smiling's sake. I had just witnessed my past dissolve and Twilight Sparkle's future crumble, and suddenly all that mattered was the pitifully happy now. I felt silly. I felt weak. I even felt stupid. But somehow, I felt right.
“You're something else, Pinkie.” I heard my voice whimper as I gazed towards the horizon one last time. I could no longer see Moondancer's train, and that was what hurt the most. A sharp gasp escaped my body as I hugged my shivering self. I knew I was ready to collapse. If I moved a single muscle, every part of me would shatter. I didn't want anypony to see, and yet I didn't know what else to do.
Thankfully, Pinkie was doing the thinking for both of us... or perhaps not the thinking, but the feeling. I heard the clatter of the tray being put down as she squatted on the bench behind me.
“If I didn't know better...” She said in a very calm voice. “I'd say somepony could use some company.”
“Mmmm...” I gulped hard as a tear ran down my face. I smiled halfway towards her, my voice squeaking in gratitude. “Y-Yes, Pinkie. I-I think she could...” I sniffled again, but Pinkie paid no mind to it.
She was too busy chattering forth, “Did you ever hear the one about the horse who walked into a bar?”
“No.” I sniffed and ran a hoof through my mane. “What about him?”
“He said 'ouch!'”
“Snkkkt—Heeheehee!” I managed, my breath coming out in sharp palpitations, fixed through a painful but very warm smile. “Well, that was dumb of him.”
“Uh huh. You hear about the philosopher who tried to cross the road?”
“Uhm, no. Why did she try to cross the road?”
“To figure out why she tried to cross the road!”
“Heeheehee... That's awful.”
“Isn't it, though?”
“Mmmhmmm...” I leaned back, delighted by her warmth and presence. “G-got anymore?”
“Sure! What goes up white but comes down yellow and white?”
“I give. What?”
“Beats me, but you stink at juggling!”
“Heh heh heh. I got a million of them. Oooh! I know! Here's a doozie. Okay, so this one time at rock camp...”
“And that's when I got Octavia and the rest of the musicians to help me with a song and dance number!” Pinkie Pie proudly exclaimed. Another month, another afternoon, and another giggling breath had brought here there to the center of Ponyville. “I'm telling you, I mopped up the floor of that Gala with all of my dance moves! Ungh! Ungh! Yeah! Heehee! Too bad Fluttershy had to herd the stampede of garden animals into the ballroom and turn the party on its head. Say, that reminds me, does a rabies shot hurt? Twilight's been lecturing me about it ever since we came back a few weeks ago...”
“Perhaps it would be in your best interest, friend Pinkie...” Zecora winced and side-stepped away from her. “To bring this issue to Nurse Redheart immediately.”
“Why? Does she need a shot too? I should tell her about Berry Punch, ‘cuz that mare is always talking about taking shots. Say, that reminds me, Zecora! If zebras come from a desert land, why are they always talking in rhyme? Wouldn’t they get extra thirsty?”
I tapped her pink shoulder.
Pinkie blinked. “My shoulder is talking to me.” She spun around and looked at me with wide eyes. “Oh! Uhm, hi!” Her face scrunched up adorably in thought. “Uhmm... 'Something something something cheese is bad,' right?”
“You're just the mare I'm looking for,” I said with a smile.
She raised an eyebrow. “I am?”
“She is?” Zecora remarked. Upon the receiving end of my prolonged stare, the shaman fidgeted before nervously blurting, “Show biz!” With a wave of her hoof, she made a swift exit.
“Ahem.” I turned back to Pinkie Pie. “I desperately need you for a very important mission, a mission fraught with much uncertainty and cake frosting.”
“Oh! Well... uhm...” Pinkie made a confused face, realizing that she wasn't used to making confused faces. “I can definitely do one of those things!”
“I'm willing to bet you could do both.” I tugged her along as I marched the two of us towards Sugarcube Corner. “Let's make haste!”
“Okay—Ack! But but but but...” She hobbled awkwardly after me. “What's the occasion? What are we doing? Who are you?”
“Happy to see you! Isn't that enough?”
“Uhhh... Okie dokie lokie!” She put on her best smile and stumbled to keep up with my skipping hooves. “Hey! Wait for me!”
“There's something about the smell, texture, and taste of marble cake frosting that brings out the little singing bird caged inside of me. What about you?”
“Uhhh... Heh, sure! Though... Uhm...” Pinkie Pie fumbled to juggle the many ingredients I was tossing across the kitchen towards her. “Whoah! But... But...”
“What, you've never read Marea Angelou?”
“Oh! Her! Pfft! Like, who hasn't—” She paused in a precarious lean, squinting. “Wait. Did you just make that name up?”
“If I did, would you pat me on the back?”
“I'm afraid my hooves are too full of batter and flour bags to do that.”
“Well, so be it!” I slapped a large pan down onto the counter. “Cuz it's time for us to bake the ever living snot out of some cake!” I grinned psychotically at her. The world was alive and I was the center of the spinning bicycle wheel. “What say you? Enough pretense! Let it all hang out like your brother-in-law on Hearth's Warming Eve! Let's kick sprinkles and chew gumdrops and not plan the funeral until the whole sad world has somehow forgotten to enjoy the taste of both of them!”
“Well, hey, that sounds like fun! Uhm... I think.”
“Don't think. Just bake. Whew! Celestia! It's good to be alive, don't you think?”
“But I thought I wasn't supposed to think!” She gazed up at me, panting from the weight of all the ingredients she was balancing. “We're just baking, remember?”
“Miss Pie, to bake is to live is to weep is to laugh is to dance is to bake. I dare you somewhere in that abomination of a sentence to find an infinitive worth splitting.”
“Oh. Really! I wouldn't dare!”
“That's the spirit! Now hoof me the damnable baking soda already!”
“Sure thing! But... if I may ask...” She squinted at me sideways. “Why are you in such a good mood?”
“Hah!” I cackled as I began the infernal process of making the greatest cake in the history of Equestria. “You of all fillies would ask me that!” I winked sideways at her. “Ebb and flow, Miss Pie. Ebb and flow.”
“I'm a little rusty when it comes to my rivers.”
“Not all of us can afford to be cheerful all of the time,” I explained. “For some of us, it comes in little bursts, because of specific occasions. Only then do we understand what it means to be the embodiment of a spirit, or the skeletal structure of a felicitous dream. All this time, I've tried to understand you. I realize that I can never pretend to be you. I can only be myself—as happy as I'll ever be—because that's what's worth being when the chance presents itself. And it is definitely presenting itself today. Tell me, Miss Pie. Have you ever heard of a Mister Alabaster Comethoof?”
“I rest my case.” I slapped a white container down. “And the flour therein! Heeheehee. Ahem. I'm so happy today, Miss Pie, because I've recently did a lot of reading, and in so doing I learned something.”
“Oh yeah? Like...?”
“I learned that there are only ten.”
“Ten elegies,” I said in a warm breath as I rummaged through the baking tools she was setting down. “It may seem like nothing... but it's a road home, and a beautiful road at that.”
“I don't get it. If all you need is a road to get home, why not just dig your way?”
“Some things are only possible when they're graceful.” I glanced aside at her with a teeth-glinting grin. “Care to dance with me?”
“Whoah! Whoah! Yeesh... Watch it!” Pinkie Pie winced and squeaked, dancing left and right of me as I levitated a huge, wobbling cake down the center of Ponyville. “Careful! Oh jeez! Oh jeez, I just know you're gonna drop it!”
“After the four solid hours we spent hammering this masterpiece of vanilla and mint into the world of the living...?” I grinned back at her in mid trot. The glowing, floating cake teetered in midair between us. “Miss Pie, I'm surprised that you've remembered me this long!”
“I'll remember you forever if you let this go to waste!” She whimpered as she tilted herself from side to side, eager to catch the thing at a moment's sneeze. “It cost you thirty bits for Mr. and Mrs. Cake to let us bake this thing! I don't wanna ruin it!”
“Ruin what? We're having fun, aren't we?” I gestured towards the horizon. “Go long!”
“Aaackies!” She dove dramatically forward, only to have to catch nothing.
“Heeheehee!” I was still levitating the cake with me. “You scare too easily.”
“That's cuz you get freaky too easily!” Pinkie Pie briefly frowned. “What's your deal?! Cake is serious business! You think I'm lying?”
“Not at all. But the game mustn't go on for long. After all, we reached our destination!”
“Huh?” Pinkie Pie glanced at the door to the apartment we had just stumbled upon. “We're delivering the cake here?”
“Yeah. That a problem?”
“Well, no. I just think this pony has enough sweets as it is. Truth be told, Sugarcube Corner's always kind of had a teeeeeny-tiny friendly rivalry going on with her...”
“Well, consider this a step forward in diplomacy. Here.” I set the huge weight of the cake on her backside.
“Ooof!” Her legs wobbled as she struggled to balance the thing. She cast me an incredulous look. “Me? You want me to give it to her?”
“Absolutely!” I said with a pleasant smile. “The thing about this gift, is that it only stays a gift if I remain anonymous.”
“Anonymous?” Pinkie Pie sweated and strained. “You mean like what they say about William Flankspeare?”
“Heheheh... Not exactly Pinkie. Lemme just ring the doorbell.” After I did so, I gasped. “Oh! Shoot! I almost forgot!”
“What? What?” she panicked, shuddering beneath the cake's enormous girth.
I pulled a tiny velvet bag out from my hoodie's pouch and hung it by a golden string to the edge of the cake pan. “That makes it all complete.”
“I knew there had to be a cherry on top.”
“Oh hush.” I said. There was a shadow at the door, and I gasped. “Oooh! Here she comes! Try to look happy and cute!”
“Hey! Those—nngh—I can do!”
“Indubitably.” I darted off to hide behind a thick row of bushes. I gazed through the afternoon sunlight, watching as the door opened up and a cream-colored earth pony marched out.
“Oh... Hi there, Bon Bon!” Pinkie wheezed. “I'd sing a happy-surprise-afternoon-fun-cake song, but... nnngh... well...”
“Oh you poor thing!” Bon Bon leaned over and used her shoulder to bear part of the weight. “Here, let's put that down so you can speak!”
“Inside your apartment.”
“You... You mean this enormous thing is for me?” Bon Bon giggled confusedly. “Why... I'll have to put it on the far side of the house to keep from melting on account of my ovens!”
“Don't thank me! I'm not the pony of the hour!”
“Oh? Who's responsible for this... treat?”
“Uhm...” Pinkie helped place the cake down inside the atrium of her house. “Whew. Anonymous.”
Bon Bon raised an eyebrow. “'Anonymous?'”
“Yeah. Creepy, huh? Sounds like a bunch of lurkers to me.”
“Did this... anonymous pony give a reason for why I'm bestowed with such a baked delight?”
“I dunno. But he or she did leave a pouch.”
“A pouch?” Bon Bon turned and glanced down at the pan of the dessert item. “Oh! My oh my... isn't this interesting!”
“Is that a bag you recognize?”
“I should say so. It's Stalliongrad tradition. Most ponies where I hail from give each other gifts in little velvet pouches like this.”
“Wow, Bon Bon. I had no idea you were from Stalliongrad.”
“Well, I would think as much,” she murmured as she lifted the tiny velvet purse in her hooves and pulled loose the gold string. “It's not something I tell many ponies. As a matter of fact, it's taken several years for me to adopt a new accent since moving... to Ponyville...” Her voice trailed off as her breath left her.
Pinkie Pie squinted. “I don't get it. Is something wrong?”
“No. Hardly. These...” She covered her mouth with a hoof, then reached into the bag to grasp a cluster of shiny, glittering spheres. “These are street marbles. Every filly where I was foaled plays with these at a young age. They're... They're fashioned out of the same rock that forms the walls of our city. And... and...” Her nostrils flared and a squeaking cry left her throat. “Dear Celestia! It even smells like it...”
Bon Bon's face tightened into a bittersweet sob. “Like h-home.” She sniffled and bit her lip as a fragile smile graced her features. “Oh Pinkie Pie... How long it's been since I've heard the sweet anthems of that majestic city, since I've listened to my family singing along.”
“Jee. I always heard bad stories about Stalliongrad and thought it wasn't exactly a happy place.”
“That's the thing about happiness...” Bon Bon shuddered as a tear rolled down her cheek. “It springs from nothingness. It squeezes out of the barren, most unlikely of places. And there's so much warmth to be had. Even at my age... after all the years that have gone by...” She escaped a sob only by chuckling. Looking up at Pinkie Pie, she smiled with glittering, moist eyes. “Please. I must know who this pony is... who could have pierced so many walls to have blessed me so...”
“Uhhh...” Pinkie Pie squirmed where she stood. “I wish I could. But—”
“No. It's okay.” Bon Bon choked and smiled once more. “I understand. And it is a sweet gift. Such a sweet gift. It's like they knew. Somehow, they knew exactly what I needed...” She shuddered long and hard, then all but tackled Pinkie Pie with a warm embrace. “But I still gotta hug somepony!”
“Eeek!” Pinkie Pie gasped upon the receiving end of the hug. She ultimately giggled and hugged her back. “Heehee! Well, I'm happy that you're so happy because somepony was happy to make you happy and not unhappy!”
“We are precious things in a precious world, Pinkie,” Bon Bon said in a wavering voice. Her tongue twisted slightly, so that her words came out with momentarily foreign inflections. She covered it up with a clearing of her throat and a gentle smile as she leaned back from her fluffy-maned friend. “I hope you never forget that, because I know I won't.” She giggled and wiped her cheek dry. “And I know I'll absolutely be loving this cake. So don't think that you didn't have a hoof in all of this. I thank you, Pinkie. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“Hey... Uhm...” Pinkie Pie waved back as she trotted out of the house. “No problem! Good luck... uhm... playing candies and baking marbles—er, I mean...”
“Heehee... I know what you mean, Pinkie.” Bon Bon smiled. She nuzzled the velvet pouch and trotted into her house with a lasting grin. “More often than you think, ponies understand you, and are grateful for you.”
The door shut quietly, and Pinkie Pie was left standing in her yard with a blank expression. “Huh...” She turned around and slowly trotted out onto the sidewalk. “Now if only I could understand me as well.”
“The question of the century, no doubt.”
She heard a few strumming notes from my lyre and looked over. “Oh, you're still here?”
“Is that half as surprising as the fact that you still remember me?” I replied with a wink.
“I don't get it!” She marched over to me and pointed in the direction of Bon Bon's apartment. “Why did that have to be so animaniacs?”
“Gesundheit. Seriously, though?”
“You, Pinkie? Serious?”
“Hey! Believe it or not, I'm smart enough to know when I'm being made fun of!”
“Heheheh...” I strummed a few more chords and smiled pleasantly at her. “Don't sell yourself short, Pinkie. You have the mind of a scholar, the voice of a philosopher, and the heart of an angel.”
“I'd give it all just for you to have the voice of a bullhorn.”
“Very well.” I paused in my instrumentation to point at the apartment. “There you have a pony who, from the utter kindness of her heart, once did something very special for a stranger, when there was no promise for a reward in return. Little did she know that what she did was exactly what that stranger needed at that one moment in time. I found it amazing that a mare like her could have been so capable of doing something so kind for a soul she didn't even know. But then, it dawned upon me, that she was hardly the first example.”
“Tell me. What pony in Ponyville is the utter example of kindness? A shining beacon of joy and generosity? And an infectious spirit of levity all at once, without needing an explanation for all of those marvelous traits?”
“Uhm...” Pinkie Pie stirred where she stood before bestowing me a sheepish smile. “Can I take the physical challenge?”
“Heheheh. It's you, Pinkie Pie,” I said. “You are the living embodiment of happiness. You exist just so that felicity itself may exist. If it was possible for a spirit of rapture to have a soul, you would be the vessel, with all of your bounciness, your delicious absurdities, your attention and lack of attention to detail all at once—heeheehee—your utter you-ness that makes up... well... you.”
“Ohhhh... Um. You are complimenting me, right?”
“I would hope so.”
“Oh! Cool. Uhm... Can I blush now?”
I winked. “Be my guest.”
She turned a brighter shade of pink as she gazed towards the sky with an adorable snicker. “Heeheehee—Ahem. Really, though. I just like it when other ponies smile, like Bon Bon there. You think what just happened made her day? Heck, it just made my week! I only wished I could be better at it.”
“You don't realize how happy it makes me to hear that.”
“To hear what?”
“That you know that you stand to improve yourself,” I said. “That you're aware of your gifts, and that you plan to make them even greater. Because that's what makes you and I alike. We're trying to become better ponies, even if one of us appears to have everything together so perfectly. And I must admit, Pinkie, you've had my envy for a long time.”
I slowly nodded. I strummed on the lyre gently as I dripped forth, “The way you could live in the moment without seeming to care about the ills or dangers of the world. The way you could be smiling and gleeful when others around you wanted to do nothing but sob. The way you could be annoying, and not know it, so that when other ponies look back on the moment that they met you... they can only do what you've always wanted them to do from the beginning. They can only smile. Because that's what you've become, Pinkie Pie. You're a smile that keeps on going. That's something that's more than a passing expression. That's something immortal, something that isn't bound by either the past or the present, something that I would greatly like to master... for someday I may too end up nothing more than an idea, and if I must find a way to deal with that, I wish to do so happily, with a smile and not with a sob.”
Pinkie Pie gazed at me long and hard. Her lips curved ever so slightly. “I look at you, and I don't think I quite understand everything that's coming out of your mouth. Still, all I wanna do is grin. Does that help things any?”
I slowly nodded. “It does. And after fifteen long months of trying to figure out one of life's biggest mysteries, I think a huge chunk of my mind—and my heart—can finally relax and laugh.”
“Heeheehee. Musicians like you always know how to knock it out of the park, huh?” She bounced past me, gleefully uttering, “Keep on with your lyrical musings, madame mint. One day, they'll throw you flowers.”
I smiled after her as she bounded towards the center of town like a bright pink ball. I let loose the longest, most succulent breath of my life.
“I don't get it.”
“Hckkk—Hah!” Applejack yanked her forelimb across a tree stump.
“Waaah!” Rainbow Dash was flung onto a patch of grass in Ponyville Park. Her legs curled up like a blue cockroach’s as she groaned into the crisp afternoon air. “Dang it! Not again!”
“Reckon we can take a break from hoof-wrestlin’ now, sugarcube?” Applejack leaned back with a sigh. “My elbow's startin' to itch just a tad.”
“Nuh uh!” Rainbow Dash kipped up and glared across the stump from Applejack. “I'm not quitting that easily!”
“Please, RD!” Applejack groaned. “The dag-blame'd Gala is over and done with! There ain’t no more tickets to fight over! Can we move on from this here dark chapter of our lives?!”
“Bite your tongue! We're doing this to the end!” Rainbow slapped her forelimb once more atop the stump while smirking. “Best out of one thousand three hundred and thirty-seven!”
“Ungh...” Applejack gripped her limb with hers. “Fine.”
Before the two could start again, Pinkie Pie suddenly bounced up. “Hey! Whatcha guys doing? Spelling it out?”
Rainbow Dash growled. “I was about to wipe this farm filly's smug face full of freckles all across the—”
“Nothin' much.” Applejack smiled up at Pinkie. “What's on yer mind, sugarcube?”
“I was wondering, AJ. I just mapped out this nifty plot of land south of the Carousel Boutique. You think you could teach me how to build myself a house?”
“Well that's nice, Pinkie. But right now I'm in the middle of teaching RD a lesson she won't—” Applejack's green eyes bulged. She adjusted the brim of her hat and squinted up at Pinkie Pie. “Mind repeatin' yerself?”
“You wanna build a house?” Rainbow Dash asked with no less a bizarre expression.
“What for, darlin'?”
“Well...” Pinkie Pie took a deep, deep breath. Her following speech came out like a gatling gun. “It suddenly occurred to me in the middle of giving Gummy a sponge bath that the only reason I'm in Ponyville is because my parents kicked me out of the farmhouse back home in a fit of anger and ever since then I've been gleefully eking the fruits of my existence by making everypony around me smile and if I don't suck it up and act like an adult real soon I'll discover too late what it means to be a sad-sack of a lonely background pony with nothing better to do than to just sit around and philosophize!”
A bent haystalk fell out of Applejack's gaping mouth. Rainbow Dash was also brandishing a blank expression. It wasn't until a light breeze kicked at their manes that all three ponies realized something wasn't right.
“Huh... What...?” Applejack tilted her head around.
“I think the music just stopped,” Rainbow Dash said.
The three mares looked in my direction.
I fumbled to pick my lyre back up from where I had dropped it beside the tree. “Ahem. Uhm... My bad. Eheheh... Please, carry on.” I resumed my role as a random minstrel, filling the air once again with gentle strings.
Applejack shrugged, her hoof still entangled with Rainbow Dash's. “Well, uhh...” She smiled nervously up at Pinkie Pie. “I reckon that's a mighty big step yer takin' there, Pinkie. I can't pretend to judge you on the decision-makin', but I'd be more than happy to assist you in buildin' a log cabin. Assumin' that's what you really want.”
“Actually, what I really want is some pistachios mixed with blueberry,” Pinkie Pie said, gazing off towards the sunrise as she licked her lips. “Hmmmm.” After a pause, she blinked and cleared her throat. “And a log cabin. That too. I think it's about time I lived on my own.”
“Well, shucks! When did you wanna start plannin'?”
“Anytime you were willing to lend a hoof, AJ!”
“Fine by me! Just one second!” Applejack's face tensed as she slapped her hoof across the tree stump.
“Waaah!” Rainbow Dash was flung once more onto the grass.
“Now I'm ready!” Applejack stood up with a grunt. “Yeeha! Time to fetch us some cuttin' tools!”
“Okie dokie lokie!” Pinkie Pie gladly led the way with a girlish bounce while a smiling Applejack trotted along.
“Hey! No fair!” Rainbow Dash grunted and scampered after them. “You're not getting away that easy, AJ! Best out of one thousand three hundred and thirty-nine!”
“Awww why dun ya just stuff it?!”
“Stuff you! We're ending this once and for all!”
I gazed after them, playing a few prolonged notes on my lyre. My eyes fell on Pinkie Pie's bouncing form, and I shook my head in amusement.
“So typical, she's atypical.” I took a deep breath. Placing down my lyre, I reached into my saddlebag and produced an ancient brown tome. I squirmed comfortably against the tree trunk as I opened the book, its magical glowing letters shining bright and blue in the delicious shade. “So, Mr. Comethoof. Let's see if you have anything less absurd to teach me...”
Come to think of it, pistachios and blueberries would be nice right about now.
Allergies be damned.