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What does every pony want in life? I mean really want? Do our existences end happily, peacefully, only if we've accomplished all of the things we've ever dreamt of doing? Do all of our achievements and medals and trophies really mean so much to us when the final curtain falls? Are the lengths of our contributions to this world enough to serenade us gently into the cold embrace of death?
For no matter what we do, no matter what we set our minds to, no matter how many factors we struggle with in life—when that life comes to an end, we make our final bows alone. We are solitary in our death, which is a fascinating piece of irony, for we are hardly that solitary in our conception. History has a funny way of starting things with multiplicitous factors, only for them to end in singular, trailing tributaries.
I have a lonely journey ahead of me. I always have. There hasn't been a day when I wasn't meditating on the elegies, on the tempestuous act of unraveling them, on the unknowable future that such an endeavor promises me. In a way, I've been supremely courageous in my musical tasks, dealing with them with as much gusto as any heroine that I've long admired in literature.
But now, as I prepare to scale the most frightening mountain of my trek, as I gear myself for tackling Elegy #8, I do so with great hesitance, because I can't get over just how lonely a task it is. This didn't used to bother me so much. It didn't always make me feel so intensely alone.
Not until just recently. Not until him...
A crown of golden tulips framed a rosy candle burning dimly in the middle of a wooden eating table. I stared at the glistening yellow flower petals. I should have been pouring my eyes over the half-completed music sheet before me instead, but I wasn't. It had been several long weeks in the making, but the eighth elegy was finally finished in my head. The piece could just as easily have been finished on paper, but the only thing in the way of that was me, my hesitance, my fear, and—worst of all—my heart, along with the sickening depths to which it had recently sunk.
When Rarity walked into Sugarcube Corner, I was only residually aware of it. Her hoofsteps were ghostly percussions to a wandering mind. After several minutes, those beats drew closer, as did her sighing voice.
“My stars, what a day! Looks like I'm not the only one exhausted. Ahem. Do excuse me. Is this seat taken?”
There were twenty tulips in all. Twenty budding flowers. Twenty mornings spent trotting into town, only to be greeted by a smile, a voice, and an earthen scent that sent my heart a'flutter, until now. I had preserved them so well. Now I wondered how long it would be until they too withered away. Why are the sweetest things in life so fragile? I can still feel his gentle warm breaths against my muzzle...
“I'm so terribly sorry. Am I breaking your concentration? If so, I'll move along to another seat...”
“Hmm?” I glanced up at Rarity. She stood before me with a steaming cup of coffee floating beside her. Her glittering eyes entreated me and the empty stool on the other side of my table. I glanced down at my music sheets, then at the other tables around us. Every other spot in Sugarcube Corner was densely occupied by clusters of chatting, dining, murmuring ponies. “Oh... Uhm...” I gently smiled up at her, though I doubted my eyes were half as lively. “By all means. Have a seat, Rarity.”
She instantly brightened at the sound of her name. “Oh, well if this isn't a treat!” Rarity smiled and sat daintily across from me. After one sip of the coffee mug, she adjusted the scarf around her neck and remarked, “I spend an entire weekend in Canterlot, attending the Gala, surrounded by elite ponies, not a single one of them giving me so much as a second glance. I return to Ponyville, and the first stranger I speak to knows me by name!” She suppressed a giggle and smiled. “We all do well to be reminded where are home truly is. It's a pleasure to be of acquaintance, Miss...?”
“Heartstrings,” I murmured. “Lyra Heartstrings.”
“My my... I dare say,” she stifled an unladylike chuckle. “Your coat has seen better days. Dare I ask what happened, dear?”
I was briefly confused. My limbs flexed, and I again felt the stretch of tiny bandages covering random spots on my body: my leg, a hoof, and a stretch of skin below my left ear.
“Oh. Nothing to be concerned about,” I said gently. “Ponyville's been... no more dramatic than usual while you were gone.” I didn't bother sugarcoating the edges of that lie.
“Very well,” she remarked, swirling the coffee in her magic grasp. I often take for granted how truly intuitive Rarity is capable of being. “If you insist, I won't inquire further.”
“Much appreciated,” I replied in a low tone. I levitated a pen across the sheet and sketched two more notes of the elegy. The scratching of the quill across the parchment sent my nerves on fire. I could just as easily been chiseling words onto a gravestone. I feared that this scene might become even colder. “You... uh... You were just in Canterlot, hmmm?” It didn't take a genius to detect the lack of enthusiasm in my voice. It took even less of one to notice how little I cared. “Some pretty exciting things were happening there, if I'm not mistaken.”
“Exciting? More like 'magical!' 'Marvelous!' 'Supremely fabulous!'” With each utterance, Rarity swooned more and more. She teetered back dramatically in her seat, catching herself with a bright gasp. “Oh, the celebrities! The glamour! The magnificence! It was everything I ever dreamed of!” She sighed long and hard, her drunken smile melting into a mere smirk of contentment as she leaned forward and took another sip of her coffee. “Oh, how I am so terribly glad it is over with.”
I blinked. I finally looked her in the face. “You are?”
“Mmmmph!” She nodded, gulped her sip down, and remarked, “Exceedingly so! As delightful an evening as it was, I've never before in my life been witness to so much pompous extravagance, boorish half-attempts at chivalry, and self-inflated pretentiousness on behalf of affluent, civilized ponies! All of those ridiculous details seem amusing from the opposite side of the Equestrian tabloids, but up close and personal—heh—it felt like sewing silk to corduroy with one's teeth!”
“Hmmm...” I grinned slightly. “That's a colorful way to put it.”
“Miss Heartstrings, darling, the world gives us colors to dye the truth with, and too much of them are tragically garish.” Rarity casually leaned back and swirled the coffee in her telekinetic grasp. “Do forgive me for prattling on like a school-filly, but my calamitous weekend spent in Canterlot has my nerves scattered all helter-skelter. The only silver lining to the whole event has been my friends' company, but since I came home to Ponyville early, I haven't had any close mares to gab with. You know how it is.”
“You came home early?”
“Mmmmhmm... I realized that I had a terribly long list of dresses to manufacture, and far too many of them had been put off as I prepared for what I had foolishly expected to be the single greatest occasion of my life.” Rarity laughed lightly, rolled her eyes, and clasped the mug gently between two hooves. “Well, now I know the truth. I am most relaxed when I am working. I don't know if you can relate...”
I blinked at her. I tilted my head down and glanced at the music sheets. My ears twitched, as if being stabbed deep in the cartilage with frozen needles. The eighth elegy was a tidal wave of ice rising above the next aching breath. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rising.
“I relax when being talked to,” I blurted.
“Well...” Rarity chuckled with relief. “That's good to know.”
“Tell me, did you ever meet him?” I asked without thinking, my gaze lingering on the golden crown of tulips between us. “The stallion of your dreams?”
Rarity paused before the next sip. She looked at me, squinted at me, and then leaned towards me. “Have... Have we had this conversation before?”
I felt my heart beating. My teeth chewed pensively on my bottom lip. I reminded myself that sometimes the only cure to an awkward moment is a blind dose of truth.
“We... uhm... we spoke last week, just before you left for Canterlot with your friends, Rarity,” I said. I looked calmly at her. “You made a gorgeous yet simple dress for me. The cream-colored one with the gold floral pattern?”
“Did I, now?” Rarity's face was scrunched with thick confusion. She leaned back and ran a hoof through her mane as her eyes traveled the ceiling. “Indeed. Sounds like an ensemble I'm capable of making. Why can't I just...?” Her lips moved through a minefield of unintelligible words. She ultimately gulped and produced a sheepish smile. “Good heavens, my mind really has been in another place entirely these past few weeks, hasn't it? My supreme apologies, Miss Heartstrings. I can only ask, did such a dress serve its marvelous purpose?”
My eyes briefly fell to the floor. “It's a spectacular gown, and I couldn't have asked for anything lovelier. So, thank you.”
“Well, you're more than welcome! From the bottom of my heart, though I wish I could say the same about my mind!” She produced a flippant laugh. “Oh, if only all dresses met a gorgeous fate equal to the genius I put into them. I had the most fantastic gown made for the Gala, and I'm afraid it has become horribly acquainted with applesauce and cake frosting.”
I glanced at her in horror. “That... That sounds terrible...”
“Mmm... He was,” she said, briefly glaring daggers into the walls.
“Oh... Uhm... Yes, that...” Rarity rolled her eyes. “Alas, I should have spent the entirety of that night with my friends and not in the company of a regal oaf whose manners extended as far as the silver spoon stuck in his mouth.” She tossed me a tranquil smile. “Miss Heartstrings, I hope you learn this lesson with far less drama than I did, but true love is hardly anything you ever stumble upon. What fate delivers, it does so without announcement, and we are fools to think that we can predict it like a pegasus molds the weather clouds.”
“Why do you say that, Rarity?” I asked her calmly. “You strike me as a romantic.”
“Oh, and I have most exceedingly been such the majority of my life! But life is short, and it's never too late to reassess things.”
“Like what kind of things?”
“Silly things. Embarrassing things. Enchanted notions of a whimsical filly. They're all charming to conceive, but a lot more difficult to live out. I had only wished the spotlight of Canterlot wasn't on me when I came to terms with how utterly disastrous a single stallion's rudeness would be to my childish dreams.”
“Whatever may have happened to you at the Gala, Rarity, I'm sure it was only a setback.” I scratched three more musical notes into existence. I stared into the abyss of Luna's compositions, murmuring. “Your dreams can still come true.”
“Hmmm... methinks I am not the only romantic at this table,” Rarity said. She leaned forward with a warm smile. “At least, I may not be the most zealous one. Tell me, Miss Heartstrings, if I may be so bold as to inquire: have you ever survived an impossible infatuation?”
I stopped once more in the midst of signing my life away to endless night. My eyes swam over the golden tulips. Slowly, I looked up at her.
“Good morning to you, angel,” he said. He smiled. He hoofed me something golden... like the silken texture of his coat.
I mirrored his expression, albeit with an ounce of bashfulness. Nevertheless, I telekinetically plucked the offering from his grasp. It was a tulip: fragrant, delicate, and glistening in the breath of dawn. I stood at the north entrance to Ponyville three weeks before my Sugarcube Corner conversation with Rarity. As always, I had my saddlebag and lyre with me. As always, the town was coming to life with hustling and bustling ponies. And, as always, he was there in the middle of it all, gazing and smiling at nopony, nopony but me.
“Why thank you,” I returned. My cheeks would have been burning red by that point if only the darling moment hadn't become something of a ritualistic dance for me. And yet my heart frolicked with each beat that accompanied his amnesiac offering of smiles, breaths, and petals. “Well, if you aren't a charmer,” I said. I already knew his reaction. I didn't care; I wanted to hear it again. I wanted to hear it forever and ever.
“I am only charmed,” he said. He bowed his head low, a sapphiric fountain of mane hair falling loosely about his lithe neck. “Welcome to Ponyville,” he produced, and then was gone like a dream, shuffling towards a cluster of rose bushes that he was presently trimming as soon as I had arrived.
Halfway through trotting past him, I paused. I stared at the tulip that I was levitating before me. The object was simply a bright part of a plant. I could very easily have plucked a thousand of those things from the earth and made a wreathe with them.
After all, the world is full of flowers. It's sentiment that's a sparse thing, something that fills us and makes us grow in a desert world made dry with fear and isolation. I had several elegies to unravel, several deathly tunes to trek fearfully through, and yet a single tulip was enough to remind me that in a strange world of cold, there was something warm worth striving for.
Another dawn had arrived, and I had my oasis. I happily lifted the tulip and stuck its stem behind my ear. I gazed back, produced a deep breath, and reluctantly trotted on to my destination. With that, the ritual was complete. I counted the hours until the next sunrise.
His name is Morning Dew. He's an earth pony, a gardener, an artist. He paints his canvas all over town, digging up soil and planting beautiful bouquets. He spreads color like a song expands a melody. Every bright shade of yellow, deep hue of red, and tranquil splash of blue owes its expert arrangement to him.
To the best of my knowledge, he is the one and only flower-planter in Ponyville. Sure, there are famous vendors in downtown such as Daisy and Roseluck. But they only sell flowers. They don't live them, not like Morning Dew does.
He's awake at the crack of dawn everyday. The rising sun shines on him and the earth in equal lustre. He spots every weed and casts it away before the golden glow rising over the horizon can highlight such a blemish.
Ponyville is a beautiful town, but it didn't get that way on its own. The village is perfect because his work is perfect, as he is perfect: perfectly concentrated, perfectly poised, and perfectly balanced. He trudges his hooves joint-deep in dirt and mud, and yet he comes out of it looking like a ballet dancer. No amount of grime or sediment can dirty his complexion, for he is always glowing, as if happy to be alive, for somewhere and somehow he has discovered a secret in a simple existence that we all envy for the very fact that we can't remotely be as graceful as him.
And every day—every single day—I cross the path of such a genius earth pony, such a saint of diligence and humility, and every single time—without fail—he stops what he's doing. He quits in the dead-middle of his masterpiece. He stops perfecting the all-too-important world to look at me, to smile at me, to give me a flower... and then to give me something more.
“Good morning to you, angel.”
I took the flower from him yet again and tried not to collapse. The world never spins. Morning Dew just looks at me and I become dizzy. “Well, if you aren't the charmer,” I said. I almost wished I had sung it that time.
“I am only charmed,” he sang back. Yet again, he bowed, then disappeared back into his muddied stage, struggling to eke color and beauty from a stubborn pit of compacted moss in front of the post office. The air about him was stained with labor and sweat, but I was not disgusted. Somewhere from deep within the moment a fragrance was entrancing my senses, so that I struggled to keep the tulip levitating in front of me. I pretended that only the simple things in this world were capable of making my heart beat so, and then I pretended that they could just as easily be ignored.
I failed. Tucking the new flower behind my ear, I trotted forcibly away while I still had strength in my legs to do so.
I'm not the only pony that Morning Dew talks to, that Morning Dew greets. He talks to friends and strangers all the same. He smiles at passing ponies and chats it up with them for as long as he can afford to be distracted from his expert gardening.
However, with all of these ponies whom he converses with, whom he meets and greets, he calls none of them “angel,” none of them but me. I know this. I've seen him, watched him. Gorgeous fillies—mares that could make the cover of Equestrian Fashion magazines—he merely calls “ma'am” or “miss” at best. Even when ponies as beautiful as Rarity or Fluttershy walk by, he goes only so far as to call them “madame” with utmost gentility.
It is only with me that he steeps to poetics, that a certain spark twinkles in his blue eyes, that the flecks of dirt on his coat melt away as his expression brightens at my immediate appearance. Whatever that spark is, it motivates him to pluck the exact same flower—a golden tulip—from his gardening wagon and hoof it my away, along with those five priceless words:
“Good morning to you, angel.”
This time, I had to stifle a giggle. It was a dismal morning. Both of us were drenched. The pegasi were giving the landscape an early shower so as to clear the skies for a picnic later that afternoon. The streets of Ponyville were practically flooded. Half the restaurants and shops weren't even open yet. The morning sun was nothing more than a gray splash of refracted light beams. I didn't even know what I was doing there, plodding through the mud, letting my hoodie get soaked to the sleeves, until he said those words, and I realized that even all of the misery in the world couldn't stop him from repeating what would be—at best—a tragically forgotten piece of history.
“I don't suppose this thing folds out to become a yellow umbrella?” I said with a dripping smile.
“If it did, it'd make my job a lot easier,” he dripped back, stifling a laugh of his own. We were two souls swimming in an absurd puddle called “life,” and it was nothing worth sighing at. He returned to his muddy toil. I returned to my rainy walk. Neither of us returned to sanity.
That afternoon, I couldn't stop sneezing, even as the clouds dissipated. It was all right, though. I felt the flower behind my earlobe in between the violent attacks, and my smile never went away.
What does it mean? What triggers this response in him? What is it that motivates Morning Dew—upon first sight of me—to say those same words, to perform the same gesture, to reach into the same flower pot and deplete its golden treasures one stem at a time, one day at a time, one smile at a time, as the two of us spin our isolated circles into the future?
Sure, I can accept it as simple flattery. Only... I don't want to accept it as “simple flattery.” The idea has no meaning to it, no heart, no motivation beyond a generic response to a persistent stimulus. It'd be the same as Spike complimenting me on my hoodie, Rarity insisting she make me a new jacket, or Rainbow Dash questioning why she just rammed into my cabin out of nowhere.
I've come to accept the citizens of Ponyville over the past year as friends, acquaintances, and even family. At the same time, I have to step back and reexamine these “neighbors” of mine, realizing that they'll only ever be hollow imitations of friends, at least as far as I'm concerned. Every conversation I have with them is a first conversation. Every meeting I have is a first impression. Whenever I want to broach a subject that I've discussed with them before, I have to spill forth a series of sentences that guide our dialogue down a pre-programmed stratum, so that touching base with another soul has as much delicacy as punching buttons in some unfeeling machine.
But with Morning Dew, I don't have to punch any buttons. I don't have to make any effort to dredge a response. I only have to exist, to be visible, to walk past his blue-eyed gaze—when he's all too terribly busy with his priceless tasks of floral art—and suddenly I'm the target of something so sweet, so sincere, so... deliciously sappy that it pains me to think of any single piece of it being hollow.
So why is it that I summon such a response from him? Why do I light up his day, when he's as handsome and majestic as the sunrise himself? Why does he donate me his smile, a smile that would make any self-respecting filly crumble to her knees, and then top that off with a flower and a greeting and a regal bow?
Why am I Morning Dew's angel?
I think about this constantly. I ponder about it. I obsess over it. And sooner than I realize, discovering the eighth elegy is no longer the forefront of my mind. Something else is. Somepony else is, and in spite of all my years of scholarly research, musical compositions, and adult studies, I cannot help but feel like I am once again a whimsical schoolfilly.
“Well, if you ask me, Miss Heartstrings, there's nothing at all wrong with it,” Twilight Sparkle said with a smile.
I stood in the center of the library, summoning a protection field over my glowing horn. I meditated carefully, but all of the strain was gone. It was no longer a difficult task. The only thing that took an awful lot of effort was convincing Twilight that this mint-green stranger needed a lesson at all to begin with.
“What do you mean there's nothing wrong with it?” I groaned, eyeing the green dome forming above my crown. “Somepony my age should know better than to humor a schoolyard crush.”
“A schoolyard what, now?”
I glanced at her with a sour expression. “You heard me. What else am I going to call it?”
Twilight giggled and paced around me. “It's only natural to feel attracted to another pony, regardless of the severity of that fixation.” As she spoke, she carefully judged the progress of my protection field. “Why, I've read in several psychological studies that a distinct lack of infatuations in early adulthood is suggestive of acute depression...”
“I came to you because I've heard a great deal about your innate wisdom, Miss Sparkle,” I muttered. I briefly clenched my jaw as I extended the emerald dome into a translucent parasol above me. “Do you have any advice to give that you haven't gotten from reading books?”
“You're talking to the wrong pony,” she said, almost chuckling. “My experience with courtship is about as detailed as my experience with—oh, I dunno—street hockey. Hehehe.” She blushed slightly, her violet eyes adorably searching the floor for an exit from this topic. “Besides, my head isn't exactly in the right place at the moment. Just before you came, I was preparing a speech to give to Princess Celestia when I meet with her at the Gala two weeks from now.”
“Oh. I'm sorry.” The dome above me began to dissipate and wobble. “I obviously came at a bad time—”
“N-no! It's fine!” She gestured in front of me, smiling to placate my worries. “I'm happy to tutor somepony in magic once in a while. Besides...” She rolled her eyes at herself. “Princess Celestia's always telling me in letters that I need to take breaks every once in a while. And if there's anything I want to prove to her when we meet again, it's that I've learned a lot of things over the past year.”
“I have no doubt that you'll have a lot to show for yourself,” I said to her with a smile. “Along with all your friends.”
“Heehee... Perhaps so.” She cleared her throat and paced around me again as I reformed the dome. “Does he only give flowers to you?”
“This stallion you were talking about,” Twilight remarked with a wink. “You said he gives you a tulip every morning. I may not exactly be an expert on romance, but that's showing some persistence, don't you think? Heehee... When most guys commit to a single act, it's a sign.”
“A sign of what?”
“You obviously mean a great deal to him for the stallion to be performing the same gesture on a regular basis, unless of course he's just as forgetful as a gold fish—Oh, wait...” Twilight's face scrunched up cutely. “That myth's been debunked... or has it?”
“I... Uhm...” I smiled nervously. “I wouldn't put too much stock in it.”
“No, I mean... erm...” I sighed. “Never mind.”
“Anyways, I think it's perfectly fine to still be infatuated at our ages,” Twilight said, smiling gently at me. “It's especially fine when you have the target of such a fixation mutually interested in you.”
“You... Y-you really think that's the case?” I stammered.
She rambled on, “In fact, many mares would consider you lucky in our day and age. After all, following the Great Changeling Incursion of the Early Classical Era, the gene pool's never exactly recovered. There's still one male born to every five females in Equestria. If you're actively looking for a very special somepony, and someone compatible is right there in front of you, then it's almost a crime to not pursue a relationship! Erm... metaphorically speaking, of course.”
“But...” I bit my lip. I was already dreading the number of minutes until this conversation, like so many thousands of others before it, would evaporate into oblivion, and I would once again be alone with my thoughts and shadows. “What if I'm not in... not in a place to be looking for a special somepony?” I gulped, and the emerald shield above me wavered slightly. “What if I just can't afford it?”
“Shhh... Concentrate...” Twilight stood before me and gently touched my shoulders.
I sighed. I took a deep breath. I gazed into the face of my foalhood friend.
She gazed back, my anchor, and smiled. “It's a sad day when we convince ourselves that we can't afford the things that will only make us happy.”
Her innocence was heartwarming, though I expected a surge of regret to trail the end of it. I spoke before I could think that far. “What if it's just a paper moon? How would I know it's something worth affording?”
“Well, if I were in your place, and I wanted to pursue something... well... anything...” Twilight sat back and tapped her chin while thinking aloud. “I'd go about it scientifically.”
I made a face. “Scientifically?”
“I'd make tons of observations.”
I want to tell Twilight that I have. I want to tell her that my life as of late has been nothing but observations. But how could I do that without coming across as a total sap, a pathetic dreamer, or a silly filly with sparkles in her eyes?
Besides, how would the learned mare relate? There's no way I can instill in her the same burst of excitement, the same flutter of the heart each time I hear his voice. Every morning, I expect him to ignore me. And every morning, to my immeasurable joy, I'm disappointed. I may be invisible to the history books, but I am as real to him as oxygen. He breathes me in, and then he breathes the immortal words out.
“'Good morning to you, angel.'”
“Seriously?” Applejack exclaimed, raising an eyebrow beneath the shade of her hat. “He calls you 'angel?'”
“Uhm... Y-yes,” I nervously confirmed, all the while planting seeds in front of my cabin. “And then he gives me a flower.”
“What, like a rose?”
“A tulip, actually.”
“Erm... Y-yes?” I fidgeted with my task. She reached in and guided my hooves so that I planted the seeds expertly apart in the plowed soil. I thanked her with a nod and continued on. “Is... is that a bad thing?”
“Well, it's a might bit peculiar.” She brushed a few golden bangs beneath the rim of her hat and leaned against a parked wagon full of apple baskets. “Most times, stallions fancy offerin' roses with them pick-up lines.”
“Is that what you think it is?” I briefly frowned. “A pick-up line?”
“You wantin' to hear my advice, ain'tcha?” She smirked. “He's baitin' ya, missy. Oldest trick in the book.”
“A book you've read through and through, I imagine.”
“If ya mean to question my experience, then them's some fields you don't wanna be harvestin'.”
“Why not, Miss Applejack?”
She groaned and adjusted her hat. “Because...” Her nostrils flared at the recollection. “The frist time I ever caught the fancy of a stallion, I.... mmfmmffmmgh...”
I paused and squinted up at her. “I'm sorry, what was that?”
“Nnngh... I...” Her words once again melted into indistinguishable mumbles.
“Applejack, I know you just met me, but I'm a musician. I can't be expected to make a tune for something without lyrics.”
“I said, I knocked him onto his keister!”
I did a double-take. “You bucked him to the ground?”
“It was a knee-jerk reaction!” Applejack exclaimed, waving her front limbs with emphasis. “He marched right onto my family farm while we were plantin' our fresh seeds and he had the gall to put his leg around me and whisper in my ear! He's plum lucky it was me who gave him a face full of dirt! If Big Mac got to him, he would have ended up with no behind, much less one he couldn't sit on for a week!”
She briefly frowned at me. “T'ain't funny! The stallion was a heavy breathin' varmint with no respect for mares or personal space for that matter!”
“And this has to do with my situation how?” I smiled up at her from where I continued planting the seeds one at a time. “The pony I described is a perfect gentlecolt. His worst sin is flattering me and returning back to his work like nothing happened.”
“Hmmph...” Applejack sighed, dusting her hat off absent-mindedly while speaking, “Yer right, I suppose. Reckon not every stallion in the world deserves to have his fifth leg cut off...”
“Now there’s the spirit.”
“But they do stand to sit on it once in a while,” she grumbled.
“Awww... Miss Applejack...”
She sighed, then softly trotted towards me with a smile. “Look, Miss Heartstrings, darlin'.” She sat beside me and took the seeds, planting them so I could watch up close. “I don't mean to be sendin' you the wrong impression. Each and every pony swings to a different tune. I reckon you know all about that. Me?” She paused briefly. “I'm sure there will come a day when I exchange the pullin' of the plow for the rockin' of a cradle, but that time just hasn't come yet. In all honesty, I'm so plum busy workin' on my farm, that I hardly even give it a second thought. Why, heck, I've been up to my ears this week in gettin' enough apples ready to make a samplin' table for the Gala twelve days from now.”
“I'm sorry,” I said. “And here I am interrupting you—”
“Don't you sweat it none!” She said in a sharp voice, though she smiled. “I wouldn't be the pony this village depends on if I didn't lend a hoof—or an ear—to strangers.” She cleared her voice and said, “But when it comes to meetin' that special somepony, I'm just not qualified to lend advice, considerin' I don't plan on settlin' down until I've got all of my apples in a row... heh... to put it lightly.”
“But if you knew that a pony had a crush on you...” I winced. “If you thought that a pony might be infatuated with you, wouldn't you feel flattered?”
“Wouldn't you want to learn more about him, if even to entertain the very notion?”
“Perhaps.” Applejack shrugged. “Really, it depends on what a stallion is lookin' for. Tis a cryin' shame that so many of them only want one thing... heh... and t'ain't apple buckin'.”
I fidgeted, my eyes falling to the dirt road in front of my cabin. “Just... Just how do I figure it out?”
“Miss Heartstrings, if you've asked any pony in town about me, they'll tell you a thing or two about my brutal honesty.” She smiled, as if with glowing pride. “If y'all are really so torn about a handsome colt lookin' ya over, you just gotta be straightforward.”
“How do you mean?”
“You gotta trot up and ask him straight to his face just what he means by it!”
I trotted straight into town early one day to do just that, and Morning Dew didn't greet me. I couldn't decide whether to feel devastated or relieved. However, I didn't have to ponder about the topic long. Soon, I heard his voice, and those of many others on the northern fringes of town.
Curious, I trotted past the corner of a general store and gazed into a clearing. In the background, several construction ponies in orange garb were hammering and chiseling away at an abandoned hotel building in disarray. Before this noisy scene, in the spotlight of the morning sun, was a group of young ponies. In the center of which were two familiar souls with familiar voices, nuzzling each other under the gaze of their mutual companions.
“Well, let's see it!” Exclaimed Thunderlane. Blossomforth and two other pegasi were craning their necks beside him to get a better view. “Give us a look at what sealed the deal!”
Caramel looked at Wind Whistler. Wind Whistler blushed. She hid her smile into Caramel's mane while blindly raising her left hoof. A kaleidoscopic shine of glittering reflections anointed the small crowd of friends. A diamond-studded band was adorning Wind Whistler's limb.
“Awwwwww!” Blossomforth cooed. “It's fantastic!”
“Yeah!” Flitter nodded, her eyes bright. “It's the most dazzling hooflet I've ever seen!”
“A very good find, Caramel,” Morning Dew said with a smile.
Thunderlane squinted. “How could you afford it, dude?”
“Thunder!” Blossomforth hissed and thwapped him with her wing.
“Eheh...” Caramel's ears drooped as he rubbed one of his hooves with another. “I... uhm... I dug them up myself.”
“Did you now?” Morning Dew inquired.
“Only had to fight five diamond dogs in the process.”
“Really, dude?” Thunderlane smirked.
Caramel bit his lip. “Okay, maybe three dogs.”
Wind Whistler cleared her voice and leaned her smiling face in. “Well, if you ask me, it's the most romantic thing anypony's ever done in this village.”
Cloudchaser giggled. “So is that what made you say 'yes?'”
Wind Whistler and Caramel looked at each other. After a deep gaze, they nuzzled and it was Wind Whistler who spoke again, “Actually, we had planned for this over the last few months.”
“Ever since we became Souls of Solstice last Summer Sun Celebration.”
“And we decided to start a business of our own,” Wind Whistler explained. “A delivery business.”
“Really?” Morning Dew's eyes lit up. “That sounds like a fantastic idea!”
“What's this I hear about the business of marryin'?” Uttered a mare's voice. The group looked over to see one of the construction workers trotting over from the noisy site before the hotel building. With a shrug, the pony removed her hard hat and shook loose a lengthy fountain of snow-white mane hair. There now stood a remarkably pretty mare in the midst of them, clad in orange garb and brown tool belts. Her green eyes reflected the sparkling hooflet on Wind Whistler's limb as she smirked wryly. “Well, whaddya know. Caramel and Windy's gettin' hitched? About dang time!”
“It isn't really much of a surprise, is it, Ambrosia?” Wind Whistler exclaimed, blushing.
“Girl,” Ambrosia said, chuckling. “I see everythang from where I work all over town. I haven't seen ya usin' them wings of yours in half a year, on account of ya bein' tied to Caramel's hide and all!”
“They've been the most adorable couple in Ponyville!” Flitter said, her wing-tips living up to her name.
“You would think that!” Cloudchaser teased her.
“Hey, just because you haven't had a coltfriend in a year—”
“Ohhh, you're gonna get it now!”
“Girls, it's such a beautiful day.” Morning Dew chided the sisters. “Save killing each other for when you're home alone. After all, this is...” Suddenly, Morning Dew teetered. I watched curiously from afar as his blue eyes shut halfway, and he leaned limply to his side.
“Wuh oh.” Ambrosia craned her neck. Her face momentarily paled with concern, then all too quickly melted into a wry smirk. “It's happenin' again.”
“Hey, Morning.” Thunderlane nudged Morning Dew with one wing. “Stay with us, buddy.”
Morning Dew snapped out of it. His eyes blinked until they were fully open again. “Ahem. Eheheheh... do forgive me. I'm just happy to hear the good news.”
“We can tell,” Ambrosia said, winking. She looked over to the nuzzling couple. “I think it's fantastic. Any chance us ponies can witness yer nuptials?”
“The wedding's going to be in a month and a half from now,” Caramel said. “It's not really anything too fancy. We'll be renting town hall's meeting room for a day.”
“The whole town's invited!”
“Hehehe... Yes...” Caramel took a deep breath. “I can hardly believe that this is all happening. Months ago, I was almost completely convinced I would have to leave Ponyville to start a new life.”
“Funny how fate is more often than not swayed by love,” Morning Dew remarked.
“Ugh... Lay it on thick, why don't ya?” Ambrosia’s stammering voice cracked slightly.
“I mean it, Amber!” Morning Dew gestured with his hoof. “Witness for yourself! Have you seen a happier couple?”
“As a matter of fact, I have!” She grinned rosily at him. “My folks weren't just doin' their taxes when they made me and my two young brothers, Morning.”
“Ugh, dear Celestia.” Thunderlane rolled his eyes while Blossomforth giggled. I noticed for the first time that a tiny little colt was standing beside Thunderlane's side. He blinked with quizzical innocence while all of the adults conversed and laughed around the scene.
“Well, we're headed to Sugarcube Corner to celebrate,” Wind Whistler said. “Everypony's invited to come, of course.”
“We'll talk more about the wedding and this delivery business we've got planned!” Caramel exclaimed, his sapphire eyes alive with excitement.
“I may join you fine ponies later,” Morning Dew said. “I can't rightly abandon the work I have to do.”
“Same here, y'all,” Ambrosia added. “Besides, I've been around sawdust and sweating workponies all day. I'd just stink up a pretty place like the Corner.”
“Heh, somehow I doubt it, Amber,” Blossomforth said. She looked at the others. “Well, what are we waiting for?”
Wind Whistler giggled. “Come on, everypony!” She and Caramel were the first to trot away, side by side. Cloudchaser and Flitter followed. Thunderlane and Blossomforth soon marched up the rear. Only one equine figure lingered.
It was the colt, a tiny pegasus at that. I suddenly recognized him as Thunderlane's little brother. What was his name again? Tremor? Quake? Boomer? His face was blank, until it grew longer. I noticed that his lonesome gaze was being cast in a direction that no other pony was looking towards the entire time. With the careful precision of a well-practiced observer, I trailed his eyesight across the lengths of Ponyville.
Where it landed was on a patch of grass where three young ponies were having a picnic. They were all the colt's age and just as bright and innocent. The trio was hardly a rare sight for the likes of downtown Ponyville. Scootaloo, of course, I recognized immediately. The other two fillies I had seen before. It took me a few seconds to process the information, but I soon determined that they were the sisters to Applejack and Rarity respectfully.
The three crusaders were scribbling various things onto a sheet of paper, undoubtedly a brazen to-do list of experimental talent-hunting. Scootaloo said something, and Applejack's sister giggled. Rarity's young sibling reacted differently, breaking into a brief song to tease Scootaloo before the orange pegasus suddenly swept her in a giggling tackle.
Thunderlane's brother blinked from afar. A sigh escaped his lips, something that was remarkably somber and lonesome for a colt his age, or so I thought. I saw his tiny wings drooping on either side of him, so that when I glanced once more between him and the fillies in the distance, I made a sudden connection, and I didn't know whether to feel humored or sympathetic. Perhaps both.
“Rumble? Didn't you hear?!” Thunderlane's voice boomed from the distance. “We're headed to Sugarcube Corner!”
“But... But I was just—” Rumble's tiny voice squeaked.
“Come on, pipsqueak! Don't let me catch you dragging your hooves! Dad says I'm to look out for you!”
Rumble's head hung towards the ground. His wings twitched one last time, and he trotted firmly—but slowly—away from what he had been gazing at, eventually joining his brother and his brother's friends in their trek across town.
Morning Dew's voice, as always, broke me from my silent watch. “Well, that is certainly good news. For the longest time, I was frankly worried about Caramel.” He turned and smiled at Ambrosia. “It's remarkable how his and Wind Whistler's life turned for the best.”
“Stranger things have happened in this town.” Ambrosia nodded. She slapped the hard hat back onto her head. “But you don't see me complainin'.” She turned and smiled at the stallion. “Why, Morning, yer not jealous, are ya?”
“Hmm? What are you going on about now, Amber?” He smirked.
She giggled, betraying the rough exterior produced by her working gear. “You always have struck me as a bit of a romantic, what with all yer flower pluckin' and all.” She winked. “The way you gush over Caramel and Windy.” Her jaw tensed slightly. “I figured you wanna be hitched yerself someday.”
“Heh...” Morning dug his hoof briefly into the ground. “I doubt that's gonna be happening anytime soon.”
“Why are the nicest ponies always married to their work?”
“It's not that, Amber.” Morning Dew sighed. He turned around, his face sweeping the village in a brief but immaculate deadpan. “I guess I've yet to meet that very special somepony...”
His gaze met me, only it didn't. As soon as I my ears heard those words, I vanished, hiding like an escaped criminal against the obstructing wall of a buildingside beyond his vision. I felt my breath coming out in pathetic little pants. My throat had knotted up, and my chest heaved like a zeppelin on the breaking point. I fiddled with my hoodie's sleeves. If I could have somehow hidden my entire body into that sweaterjacket, I would have.
What is wrong with me? Why is it that every little thing he says mean so much? Why am I excited, entranced, horrified, and mesmerized by every tiny movement of his eyes? I'm a better pony than this. I'm a self-respecting adult, a musician, an artist and a scholar.
And yet, I was giggling. Shivers were attacking my limbs. The deathly tendrils of Nightmare Moon's curse were surging through my system, and yet I was smiling. I was electrified, floating like a crazed pony in the center of Ponyville, set afire by a name, a voice, and idea after idea... all of them half as rosy as my burning cheeks must have looked.
In life, we are all looking for something. I was looking for an answer to the elegies, or so I had long thought. It occurred to me that I was secretly searching for something more, something that I had been pursuing since I was born, long before any curse stranded me there in Ponyville. To think that maybe—just maybe—a stallion like Morning Dew was looking for the same thing to... or the same one...
No. I can't afford to think of anything so silly or fanciful. I have a situation to deal with. I have a magical imprisonment to break myself free of. That is all that matters. That should be all that matters. I should stop entertaining this... this... this deliriously happy stupidity. What life can I expect to win for myself if I don't simply move forward?
I felt exhausted, breathless, dizzy. I realized just how tired I was of running in place, encouraged by the hopeful yet fallacious notion of “moving forward.” Everything stopped making sense when my heart raced like it did, fueled by the trace fumes of Morning Dew's voice. I had to regain my senses. I had to distract myself. I had to throw myself into the presence of somepony who was a million times more prone to delirium than myself, just so I could wake up to my senses.
“And everypony will see my dresses—will be amazed by my craftponyship and finesse—and we will be the talk of all of Canterlot!” Rarity was already swooning halfway through her dramatic utterance. She sat on a stool across from me, a half-altered cloak draped across her lap, as her voice rang across the fabulous lengths of the Carousel Boutique. “We will be the belles of the ball, all six of us! And even Princess Celestia herself, an immortal who knows no boundaries to time, will forever remember the night that we came to bring shine and beauty to her annual Gala!”
I smiled as I listened to her, my chin propped up on a pair of hooves. My ears twitched happily as I absorbed her enchanted musings. In truth, bringing the cloak for her to alter was just an excuse for... for this. I very much needed this, a distraction, a dream within a dream, even if it was her dream. It was a welcome respite from mine.
“Pinkie Pie's bright gown will infect ponies around her with her unique bounciness and foalish enthusiasm! Applejack's ensemble evokes class, so surely it will help her sell countless apples from her bounty! Rainbow Dash's gown will dazzle the Wonderbolts! Twilight's dress will instill her mentor with pride! And—dear heaven—don't get me started on my masterpiece, Fluttershy's dress!”
A warm breath escaped my lips as I listened to her gush about every dress she had made for the upcoming Gala.. I was staring at Rarity, and yet—suddenly—I wasn't. I saw Wind Whistler standing in the center of Town Hall, an hour after a young couple's vows had been exchanged. She was clad in a snow-white gown of pure satin, and Caramel was awash in her beauty. Together, the newly-weds danced and nuzzled each other as all the surrounding guests watched, applauded, and ultimately joined in the gentle swing of hooves themselves. I was among them, standing alone in the shadows. The minutes were measured in my sighs, until I heard a gentle series of hoofsteps coming to a stop beside me. I looked up, and a breath instantly escaped my lungs. Morning Dew was there. The light of the wedding reception bathed him in a soft amber, highlighting the silken gloss of his immaculate gold coat. He smiled and lifted a hoof my way. Did he actually want to dance with me? I was a perfect stranger; I would forever be. I should have refused, but some cosmic force pulled my hoof towards his, accepting his gesture, set afire by the possibility that we could be dancing together, side by side, ear to ear, and I would finally get a chance to hear him call me “angel” again, only this time so close to me... and so close to my beating heart...
“And then, when the night is alive with stars and music, I will finally get a chance to meet... him!” Rarity's voice broke through my dreamy cloud.
I snapped out of it, my eyes wide. Some stallion's warm smile flashed in a panicked blink. “What about him?! I... erm...” I gulped and smiled nervously. “Who?”
Rarity squinted awkwardly at me. It felt as though the two of us had been mutually woken up from some fitful enchantment. “Is... is something the matter, dear?”
“Erm... No.” I cleared my throat and shifted nervously on the stool. “What makes you think that somepony's the morning, dew? Uhmm... I m-mean...” I seethed, shook my blushing cranium, and took a deep breath. “You... erm... you were going on about the night being 'alive with stars and music?'”
“Mmmmmm... Yes.” Rarity's eyes sparkled with more than the noonday light filtering in through the windows. Her pale features melted under a deep rosiness blossoming to her cheeks. “I can see it all now. I'll be trotting into the polished chambers of the royal palace, a stranger to everypony's eyes, and yet a glorious sight to behold in my stunning dress. Everypony will wonder just how a simple mare from Ponyville could be dressed in such a way as to be the envy of the most elite and regal of equines. And then he will see me, and his heart will be set aflame with curiosity and awe. He will have to know just who this special pony is. He will abandon his entire royal entourage, just so he could march across the palace on his lonesome and raise my hoof to his lips for a kiss, then ask me to dance just so that I could bless him with my presence—”
“You...” I narrowed my gaze on her. “You have your hopes set on capturing the attention of an Equestrian prince?”
“Well, I most certainly don't intend to make the palace groundskeeper swoon, darling.” She let loose a flippant lap.
There are times in life when it's perfectly righteous to giggle like a pony having just visited the dentist.
In response, Rarity merely rolled her eyes. “Hmmph! Is it really such a shameful fantasy for a mare my age to cling to?”
“Ahem.” I finally recovered from my tittering outburst. “Well, it certainly is... fantastical...”
“If you ask me, Miss... Miss...”
“I pity ponies who completely grow up,” she said. “Really, I do.” She telekinetically threaded a needle through my cloak, patching up the tiny holes left in the fabric. “We are the sum of our dreams. Some of us—those who are artists—are even defined by them. What is life if not a canvas worth coloring as much as we would dare to?”
I smiled. “You have the most magical night in your life just around the corner, Miss Rarity,” I said. “It's hardly shameful to indulge in a dream that suddenly has the chance of being realized.”
“Darling, it should never be shameful to indulge,” she said with a wink. “So long as we can afford to tease fantasy with the bits of reality we merit. Only fate knows who I will or won't meet at the Gala, but I surely won't—for even a second—lose sight of that which I've anticipated since I was a tiny little foal.”
“And that tiny little foal wanted to become a princess through courtship?” I asked.
Rarity gave an airy laugh. “Miss Heartstrings, surely you too had fanciful dreams when you were just a filly!”
I shrugged. “Being first chair in the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra comes to mind.”
“Do not attempt to fool me any more than you fool yourself, darling.” Rarity leaned forward and implored the gentler parts of my soul with her eyes. “Certainly somewhere in that learned mind of yours is a romantic dream still unrealized.”
“A... romantic dream?”
“Mmmmhmmm. Yes. A notion, a fantasy, an aspiration that is larger and sweeter than life as you currently pretend to know it.”
He smiles at me. He gives me the flower. I'm his precious angel, and he reminds me of it. I have the urge to tell him that if I'm an angel, then I had lost my wings ages ago. No sweet seraphim should ever be stuck on this earth, countless leagues from home. It isn't until he looks at me with a sad expression that I realize that I've been rambling. I apologize and try to leave. He anchors me in place. He insists that I explain what I mean. He's curious. He cares about me and what's plaguing my spirit.
So I tell him. We go for a walk through the woods as the conversation blooms. I pretend to be interested in the weather, in the sunlight, in the life glimmering all around us, in anything but what I'm actually staring at. His blue eyes entreat me with as much magnificence as his smile, and soon I am telling him everything. I tell him about it all, about the curse, about the cold shivers that assault me on a regular basis, about the days that I spend alone in a sea of happy souls that drown me as much as they inspire me.
And he understands. I am utterly shocked. How could he understand? Is he pretending just to make me feel better? But no, he understands. And he explains it. Gently grasping my hooves in his, he looks into my eyes and shares it. An angel clipped of her wings looks for other ways to fly. It's no wonder that I'm always trying to make song; I'm trying to catch a wind that is forever lost to me. If he could, he would be that wind, and he would carry me to brighter, warmer, happier places. Looking into his eyes, windows to a soul that wishes it could absorb my sorrows, I suddenly have no energy left to doubt him. If the curse's cold finally ends me there in the middle of the forest, I would feel no qualms about dying in his embrace. For I know that he would bury me with as much respect and care that only a dutiful gardener could commit, the same respect and acknowledgement I've struggled for so many months in this freezing prison to summon from the disparate ghosts around me.
And so I tell him what to put on such a grave. I tell him my name, like I've never told any pony before. I offer it to him. I pour it into his ears, with my breath as the vessel and my pent-up tears as the solvent, and he catches every single drop, adding it to the same reservoir from which he draws the water to christen the most beautiful and colorful things this village has ever known.
Before I know it, evening has fallen. I don't know how long we have left before the moon shatters the beauty of this moment. I don't know how many steps we'd have to take for me to escort him back to Ponyville and bid him a bitter goodbye. All I know is that my cabin is around the bend, and I don't want to face the cold, dark gaze of night alone. Not again. I would rather die.
So I make an excuse: something about showing him a musical composition I've been working on in the confines of my cabin. To my shock, he's actually interested. It's frightening, really. I should be frightened. My hoofsteps quicken, but instead of fleeing from him, I'm leading him home, to my home. Once inside, he instantly marvels at the plethora of musical instruments hanging from the walls. His smile of admiration lights up in an amber glow, like an artificial sunrise. It's almost magical how swiftly I've already lit the fireplace. It's not like I'm actually cold. I'm sweating through to my hoodie. I should take the stupid thing off. I realize that if I asked him to, the gentlecolt would likely oblige me. And I sweat even more.
He notices. Of course he notices. He sees everything. How else could he plant and grow beauty in all of the world's most hidden niches? He walks across the cabin towards me. Our hooves don't touch. We are both on the crest of something so beautifully dangerous, and yet he knows that some things must remain sacred until I choose to build that bridge first. I stand there, shivering, mere inches from his concerned expression. I realize that the best bridges in history have been built by the architects simply collapsing, so as to show where the ravines are in the first place.
It's a bitter ensemble that brews these tears suddenly cascading between us. So many sullen symphonies have been performed in this cabin, alone, when the lights go out and the only fire that remains is the pain in my crumbling heart. There is no number to measure the nights I have spent curled up in this very place, serenaded to slumber by the sound of my own sobs. I wake up in the morning purposefully forgetting them. I hardly even write about them in my journal. What is the point? Everypony is sad. Everypony is alone. I just never thought—not even in a million years—that I would be all of these pathetic things, and the only creature capable of dealing with them would be myself. Brave soldiers and warriors of ages have died in utmost agony. At least they had the songs of their comrades to herald their courage for centuries to follow. When I die, the resulting dirge will fizzle out along with me, and all that will be left of my melody will be an empty space cast heartlessly between the breaths of strangers.
It isn't until I've brushed the tears from my eyes with my sleeve that I see his face moving closer to mine. It's now that I realize that every single thought that's run through my head has been spoken aloud. I want to scream in frustration, but he silences me with a whisper. He's nuzzling me. For the first time ever, I can finally feel the soft, silken texture of his golden coat. He treats me as if I'm a hundred times more priceless than he will ever be. He gives no words, no grandiose speeches, no hollow attempts at placating me. All he says is my name, over and over again, like a gentle hoof planting seeds of life into inert soil, and that's when I finally crumble.
He catches me. He holds me. I try to tell him that this is all I want: to be held, to be caressed, to have my existence and preciousness acknowledged through an endless embrace. However, I'm crying too much for my words to come out legibly. But, as it turns out, words are as pointless to him as they are to me. After all, he already knows. He understands. As the minutes bleed into hours, we lie before the fireplace together, and he is simply holding me, chasing the accursed cold of the night away with his warmth and whispers. And I release—so many months of anguish and ennui—I release, knowing that he will catch them all. His heart's a basin built for the two of us since the dawn of time. I know that he realizes this, for no matter how much I cry or sob, his smile never fades away. I want to write songs about him forever. I want his ears to be filled with as much beauty as what he's gifting me with right here and now.
And then, I gaze up, and I gasp. I see the sunrise through the window. The night has gone by, its cold moon having shattered like a bad dream. I feel my heart racing, about to burst from my chest. He asks me what's wrong, but that's not all. When he asks, he says my name.
He says my name. Bless Celestia, he says my name. He hasn't forgotten me. I still mean something to him. I still exist. I am more than just a shivering body in his embrace. He knows my name, and I know that I am no longer cursed, for I am his, and he is mine.
That's when the tears end, and I cuddle up against him. I maybe even laugh. He does too, stroking my mane like a porcelain doll in his forelimbs. The morning sun pours in through the window. It's a new future, a new life. I wonder what the first thing is that I love about it. I decide that it's his fragrance, and I laugh again, if only to smell him more, to know that this is real.
And it is.
I took a deep breath. I looked across the boutique at Rarity.
“Romantic dreams are just that,” I ultimately murmured. “Dreams.” My smile was placid, the necessary dam to inane floodbanks that nopony ever needed to be burdened with. “There are many things in life that stand to be achieved. Quite a few of them, I'm convinced, can be accomplished alone.”
“Hmmmph...” Rarity gave me a knowing glance. “What a tragedy.”
I blinked, then looked at her cockeyed. “How do you mean?”
She ignored that, instead gazing down at her gentle needlework. “Flights of fancy aside, there's a truth I've long believed in, Miss Heartstrings.”
“Oh yes? And what's that?”
“It's a large world that we live in. A world that is all too often beset with trepidation, pestilence, and all sorts of horrid monstrosities. If you think about it really hard, we Equestrians are truly blessed to have such a radiant alicorn watching over our lives on a daily basis.” She looked up at me with a serious gaze. “If this was another life, another circumstance, where we weren't so avidly protected, just how swiftly would we lose all the fragile things in existence that we cherish so much?”
“That's... rather deep,” I said, chuckling helplessly.
“Is it, now?” Rarity smirked wryly. “Have ponies around town given you the impression that I'm incapable of such intense thought?”
She went on. “We live such short, bleak lives. And yet...” She grinned delicately. “We have the power to exhibit such boundless beauty and grace. True, there are many other creatures who shine with dazzling qualities of their own. Griffons possess an unmatched stature. And dragons—for all of their brutish exteriors—display great, noble antiquity. But think about it, Miss Heartstrings, are there creatures in this world who are truly more precious, more delicate, or more exquisite than ponies?”
“Well...” I ran a hoof over my neck as I shrugged. “I suppose there are times when I've believed in that, though I've felt a little shallow for doing so—”
“Don't,” she said bluntly. “For there is no shame in it. Ponies are diamonds in the rough of this world, Miss Heartstrings. For all of our historical mistakes and occasional sins, we've only ever been stewards of nature, and I'm convinced that we've left a blessing on this landscape instead of a blemish. There's a reason for all of this, and it's something that I've believed in all my life.” She smiled as she let a warm breath escape her lips. “And it's that everypony is made for one thing, and that's to be loved. How can a gentle soul built for such a singular, darling purpose be anything but benevolent?”
I couldn't help but smile. My heart danced at such a notion. “It's a charming thought, to say the least.”
“And I intend to be completely and utterly charmed at the Gala the weekend after next,” Rarity said with a dreamy exhale. “Whether I win myself a prince or a pauper—heeheehee—I guess it doesn't truly matter, so long as I win him, and he treats me lovingly, like a lady, and I get to understand first-hoof just how true my most cherished belief is.” Her face suddenly drooped in a cold frown. “Only...”
I blinked curiously. “Only what?”
“Nnnngh...” She groaned and ran a hoof dramatically over her teetering forehead. “I do not know the Cosmic Waltz!”
“The Cosmic... Waltz?”
“Only the most traditional dance performed orchestrally at every Galloping Gala from the Early Classical Period to modern day!” Rarity put on a pouting face as she continued sewing my cloak to perfection. “If I can't engage in a single ballroom dance, I would just die!”
“That's what you're afraid of?” I couldn't help but gawk at her. “You have every intention to win the heart of a royal prince—to the point that he'll utterly ignore your common stature—and the only thing you're afraid of is screwing up a classic dance?”
“Hmmph!” She tilted her nose up in the air. “I said that I desired to live out my most cherished belief! I didn't say I wanted to do so in a bumbling manner!”
I blinked. I snorted. I giggled. It wasn't until she laughed as well that I stopped feeling guilty for it.
Everypony is made to be loved.
It certainly is a thought that's hard to get out of one's head, even if it came from a mind as fanciful as Rarity's. I went to her with hopes of distracting myself from... my distractions. It only had the opposite effect, to the extent that I wondered if a certain, conniving part of my soul had orchestrated the whimsical meeting from the get-go.
I wanted to believe in what she believed. I wanted to be the sort of friendly pony who supported her ideals no matter how ridiculous. But I've always been—for the lack of a better description—a practical filly. A part of me will forever giggle at Rarity, and yet that part of me will simultaneously nod in agreement with the likes of Applejack.
There's another thing that I couldn't stop thinking about. Applejack is more than just a smart, resourceful, hard-working pony. She is a gorgeous mare, far more resplendent than I think she's ever had the grace of perceiving herself. In all the years that she's spent living as the backbone to Ponyville's integrity and development, it astonishes me that she hasn't won herself dozens of suitors knocking at her farmhouse door on a daily basis.
Anecdotes of whalloping rude stallions aside, the only thing I can imagine keeping Applejack from having settled down with a special somepony by now is that she—like myself—has long grasped a truth just as immortal as Rarity's, though far more palpable.
It's not so much that a pony is made to be love; she or he is made to be respected.
“Good morning to you, angel.”
I took the tulip from him. I rotated it around in my levitating aura, smiling. My nostrils flared, and once again I detected the fragrance that I only sensed when I was around him. Something stumbled deep inside of me, like a filly trying to break out of the strange mint-green cage that had grown up around her. For the moment, I lulled her to sleep, if only to build the courage for what I was about to do next. The bright glow of dawn glittered over the treetops on the north edge of Ponyville as I spoke above the noise of distant construction workers.
His handsome smile was briefly overcome by a blank expression. I wondered if any other stallion in the history of Equestria had ever been so intensely struck with a more random inquisition.
“I'm sorry?” Morning Dew stammered. It was cute to the point of distraction.
I cleared my throat and gazed at him steadily, steering my words with sheer intellectual power. “Why am I an angel? Hmm?” I took deep breaths. It was all I could do to keep myself from collapsing or—more appropriately—galloping towards the nearest building and slamming my stupid head against it. What was I doing? Why was I shattering something so terribly precious? My name's always been “Lyra,” not “Applejack.” Nevertheless, I continued. “Why would you call a random mare—a total stranger—something so flattering?”
“It... well...” Morning Dew chuckled, running a nervous hoof through his blue mane. A few flakes of garden dirt got caught in his hair from the bashful gesture. I wondered if he noticed all the small things that made him so amazing, that even the tiniest of blemishes couldn't ruin it. “Because... uhm...” He ultimately gulped and limply let forth, “You reminded me...” His breath lingered as he bit his lip.
“Of who?” I asked, squinting at him. “Of another pony?”
“No, not a pony,” he said firmly, which convinced me that it was honest. My heart jolted with each fresh new word from his lips, words that I had never heard from this stallion before, and yet were flavored with the same gentleness as the ones he had always repeated to me previously. “It's more like a feeling, a memory... heh...” His chuckle was the most delicious thing to come from his lungs. “I'm sorry, ma'am. I... I shouldn't have put you on the spot like that—”
“No! No, don't—!” I almost bit my tongue. Swallowing, I lowered the desperate tone in my voice, accompanying my next few words with a gentle smile. “Don't be sorry. I'm... I'm just curious, is all. This is a very gorgeous flower, after all.”
“It matches your eyes.” The directness of that statement stabbed me. I hadn't expected that, nor the sudden firmness in his next gaze. “A very proud color: gold. Few things in nature can imitate it.”
I blinked instinctively at that. I gazed at the tulip in my magical grasp. It was at the last second that I chose to giggle instead of sob. “Heeheehee... That's... Wow. Uhm, yeah, okay.” I smiled goofily at him. “I'll buy that.”
“As for what I said, ma'am...” His politeness was painful, like a gap had been formed between us. But, of course, the gap had always been there. He shifted on his hooves as he spoke, “Well, it's a long story.”
“I have long ears.”
“Heheh. Ahem. Well, you must be a stranger around these parts and all, but I'm the city gardener for Ponyville...”
“You don't say?”
“But I didn't always want to be planting flowers for a living.”
I glanced at his cutie mark without having to. I had memorized the three brown seedlings long ago. “Why not? Certainly it's your special talent.”
“Oh, there's no denying that,” he said calmly. “But my parents were both active members of the royal military.”
“Yes. And as long as I could remember, I wanted to follow in their hoofsteps. I wanted to join the Canterlot Royal Guard,” Morning Dew explained.
“That's... rather interesting,” I said with a nod. “Because it's what your parents did, huh?”
“Well...” To that he fidgeted with a bashful smile. “Not entirely.”
I leaned forward. “I'm listening.”
“I was sick a lot as a foal,” he said. “Even to this day, I have to deal with these constant, terrible dizzy spells. But, in my childhood, there was always one thing that got me through such episodes.”
He nodded. He suddenly had a hard time looking at me straight. “I had... well... I had a vision. On one of my sickest nights, I could have sworn that a pony came to me, and she chased the illness away. I got up out of bed, all of my dizziness gone, and I felt like a new being. I looked to her, to try and thank her. I saw a pair of golden eyes—bright as the moment of Creation—and it was around that time that I came out of my spell. I realized that I was looking out the window of my room at the time, and the sun was rising. Later, when my parents came home from their overnight shift, they gasped in surprise. It turns out that I had earned my cutie mark overnight.”
“Awwwww...” I couldn't help but grin at that. “That's such a sweet cutie mark story...”
“Isn't everypony's?” Morning Dew exclaimed. “My parents and everypony I speak to still think that I earned my cutie mark because gardening is in my blood. And they may be right. Still, I think it's something else entirely. That morning when the vision came to me, and I saw those golden eyes—so full of warmth and sincerity—I realized that there was nothing more I wanted to do but ensure that same security for ponies everywhere. After all, I had just been delivered to well-being by a guardian angel.”
“Why didn't you become a guard?”
“Heh... One does not simply 'become a guard,' ma'am,” he said.
I winced. “Sorry. I guess I should have realized that.”
“Don't be sorry,” he said with a shrug. “I still hope that someday I will make the grade.”
“In the meantime...” I gazed at his gardening wagon full of tools.
He looked at it as well. “In the meantime, I've simply done what's come naturally to me. I figure that if I can't protect ponies from a guardpost, I can give them security in another way. What's more wholesome and secure than an environment that pleases the eye and the heart at the same time?”
“Heeheehee...” I ran a hoof through my mane as I gazed aside. “'Flower Security.' I think Princess Celestia should open a new military division.”
“Heheheh. Yes. I imagine my ramblings must sound terribly silly.”
“Oh! No! N-not at all,” I exclaimed, then gulped. “Still, I wish I could say that it explains why you—”
“Your eyes make me think of that waking moment of clarity I once had, long ago,” he finally said. “And... heh...” He gazed at the earth as he thought aloud. “It reminded me of that glorious feeling of self-discovery, when I no longer felt afraid or lonesome anymore. I wish all ponies could feel so secure, to have met their guardian angel and come out of the experience with a conscious memory of it.”
I stared at him. A lump had formed in my throat. I glanced down at the soft earth between us. Even in a moment as sanctified as this, I couldn't stop the freezing globe from spinning out of my grasp. I felt a brief wave of shivers. “I also wish all ponies could remember something so wonderful...” I smiled painfully. “I often wonder if we would be better creatures, if only such beautiful things weren't always lost to us.” I heard a soft thud. I glanced over.
Morning Dew was lying on the ground.
It took a mountain of effort not to shriek. I didn't realize I was hyperventilating until I found myself having slid on my knees, crouching over him. I gazed with twitching, wide eyes at his limp figure.
He had collapsed... fallen over like a heavy log into the earth. Blades of grass and loose flower petals were still fluttering back to the world around him as I reached two shivering hooves up to his neck and felt for a pulse.
I ignored the silken texture of his coat in my examination. His heart was beating, but nothing responded to my touch. Not a single muscle spasmed. Not a single stretch of skin showed a sign of life. In my panic, I could barely see if his nostrils were flaring or not from breath. I heard a loud noise, and suddenly realized I was yelling.
“Somepony, help!” I didn't know enough first-aid to figure out how to assist him, to save him—to save him from what? He just collapsed! “Anypony! Call a doctor! Fetch Nurse Redheart! For Celestia's sake, this stallion's just collapsed!”
“Hey!” A voice barked. “Quit yer fussin'!”
Gasping, I glanced over.
Ambrosia was calmly trotting up from the half-dismantled hotel a few yards away. She smiled at me in spite of my horror. “New to these parts, ma'am?”
“Pl-please!” I whimpered. “You've got to go get help! Something's wrong with him! He was just talking to me a few seconds ago, and now he's—”
“Puttin' on a show, is what,” she briefly grumbled, taking her hard hat off. “I swear, the dumb sap should grow a brain and wear a sign around his neck or something.” She squatted down beside me, placing a hoof on Morning Dew's brow. “Yup. Just as I thought. I'm surprised he's lasted this long today.”
“What... What...?” I breathlessly stammered. I didn't care how desperately fearful I looked.
“He's just havin' himself another one of his cataplexic episodes.”
“Cat... Cata... pl-plexic...?”
“Heh. Glad I’m not the only pony who struggles with that mouthful. Ahem. It's very rare, Miss,” Ambrosia lethargically explained. “The poor pony's a narcoleptic, you see. Only, he's got it real bad. He's dealt with it all his life. It's courageous, in some really sissy way.”
“But...” I gulped. “It almost looks as if he's dead.”
“He only wishes that he was. Nah, he's just dozed off. Morning Dew's lucky he doesn't swallow half the flowers he plants around town with how much he falls flat on his muzzle.” She smiled. “All it takes is a little pick-me-up, s'long as it's timed right. Here, I'll show you.” Ambrosia cleared her throat, leaned over, and practically shrieked into the stallion's ear. “Hey! Earth to Morning! Pick yer flanks up, lazy bones!”
“Snkkkt—Gahh!” Morning Dew's blue eyes flew wide open, twitched, then clenched shut as he weathered what appeared to be a terribly dizzy headache. “Nnnnngh... Mmmf...” His eyes opened again, this time squinting. “Awwwww hayseeds. I did it again?”
“Yup.” Ambrosia smiled as she helped him back up to four hooves. “Don't fret it much, Morning. It was only—like—two minutes this time. Maybe three.”
“Ugh...” He groaned and sat on his haunches while rubbing his forehead. “What is this—Four times this week?”
“Five,” she said with a chuckle. “Looks like the boys owe me lunch again.”
He rolled his eyes and smiled tiredly at her. “Seriously? Are you still making bets over me? Don't you have better things to do, like razing a hotel building to the ground?”
“Like you're one to complain!” She stuck her tongue out. “It certainly makes up for all the bits you owe me for waking your sleepy butt day after day!”
“Heh... Yeah...” He sighed and gave her a thankful glance. “What would I do without you, Amber?”
“Mmmm...” Her green eyes danced warmly through the clouds. “I shudder to think.” She victoriously plopped her hard hat atop her alabaster mane. “If only I was as good a counselor as I am an alarm clock. You just about scared the tail off of Miss Doey-Eyes here.”
“Don't be rude, Morning!” Ambrosia gestured towards me. “Didn't you know you had company?”
“Hmm?” He turned my way. He smiled sleepily. “Well, good morning to you, angel.”
“I...” I gulped. I gazed down at the ground. I saw the tulip lying in the grass where I had dropped it in fright. “Yes. It's... It's a good morning.” I tossed him an awkward smile. “But I should be on my way. I've... got a great deal of business to attend to,” I lied.
“Very well,” Morning Dew performed his ritualistic bow, reeling with brief dizziness. “Enjoy your stay in Ponyville.”
“Yeah, 'angel,'” Ambrosia threw in. She gave Morning Dew a sharp glance, rolled her eyes, and was gone.
I too had made my hasty departure, but not without snatching a certain golden flower from the earth as I scampered away.
When I made it to my cabin, I slammed the wooden door behind me as if holding back a tidal wave of chaos at my tail. I slumped down to my haunches, still exhausted from the incessant beating of my heart.
With telekinesis, I plucked the tulip from the pocket in my saddlebag where I had hastily stowed it away. I twirled the golden petals before my gaze. I thought of how quickly a beautiful moment can turn into something horrifying... and then precious once again.
I didn't want to feel so much pity for Morning Dew, but it was hard not to. I wasn't all too familiar with narcolepsy, especially its chronic cases. Still, it didn't take too terrible a stretch of the imagination to see how crazy an ordeal the stallion had to endure on a regular basis. It was no wonder that his dreams of being a guardpony were hardly realized. What self-respecting division of the royal guard would enlist ponies who were bound to collapse on the job?
And yet, he still clung to the dream, something that was spawned from a singular moment of epiphany and beauty. He had the fulcrum of his life encapsulated in a foalish vision, something that was illustrated with golden bands of dreamy wonder.
To think... he had the poetic grace to affix such a sensational detail to me, from only a single gaze on a random morning, a morning that he didn't have the gift to realize was repeated endlessly for me, so that an infinitesimal moment became a boundless fountain of blessings for a filly who only knew curses.
A sigh escaped my lips as I nuzzled the flower. It felt silky to the touch, and I suddenly remembered that I had briefly grazed Morning Dew's immaculate coat in the desperate act of checking his pulse. When he collapsed, I was lucid, I was sane. It didn't matter how frightened I was; it pleased me to think that I could still act perfectly rational around the stallion when push came to shove.
But who was I kidding? No matter how much I would actually come to know this stallion, no matter what degree to which I entertained the notion of us being something special, I knew the reality of the situation. It enclosed around me far colder than the wooden walls of my home just then.
Sighing, I stood up. I marched over to a table in the corner of the place. There was a crystal vase full of water, but that wasn't all. I dropped the tulip into the container, where it joined several more—about twenty buds, to be exact. I had started collecting them about two weeks prior, when my good sensibilities gave into more fantastical whims.
Lethargically, I swiveled and gazed at my cot. Several music sheets were left exactly where I had abandoned them in the middle of the night. The writing of the eighth elegy lingered perpetually, growing more and more sluggish with each passing day. There was no excuse for my delay. The tune had at last become solid in my head. I had the four sound stones enchanted. I had been taught how to properly cast a protection spell around me, even competently so. All that was left to do was scribble the entire tune onto parchment, so that I might have a way to share it with Twilight, get a title for it, do some final research, and finally take the plunge into the next leg of the accursed symphony.
And yet, there was no denying—in the gentle glow of the blissful noonday sun—that the number of flowers in my home dwarfed the few, flimsy sheets of musical discovery. And for the moment, I couldn't help but wonder if it was such a crime to fill my cabin with so much color, where before there was nothing but dread.
After all, what joy truly is there to paint the courageous lengths of my quest? How am I to know just how many elegies there are left for me discover? There could be fifteen, or there could be fifteen thousand. Princess Luna had an immortal reign during which she composed her secret symphony. What hope does one mortal equine have against the emotionless lengths of time to even remotely emulate that legacy? I could very well be spending the entirety of my life unravelling these damnable tunes. Assuming I ever do achieve my goal, and this curse is lifted, how old and jaded will I have become? What will there be left of me to cherish, as I would so desire to be cherished, as Rarity had so poetically reminded me?
I'm a pony, and there are things I need in life that are far too blissful and transient to be defined by a single curse being lifted. I know that it's a simple concept, too fantastical to believe, but too powerful to ignore. How long have I been working to finish something noble for nobility's sake? Am I really doing all this research for myself? Or am I doing it all for the idea of “myself?” What defines me when all I desire exists forever on some unobtainable horizon?
There is one thing I do whenever my thoughts become too terribly jumbled, when I start to second-guess the task I am working on everyday, stuck in this beautiful but accursed home of mine.
The air danced with musical notes as I sat on a bench beside Ponyville's central park, plucking the lyre with every energetic burst my telekinetic soul launched into the strings. I didn't care what the tune was, so long as it was something musical, something rhythmic, something that made my heart sway at a beat that wasn't determined by him, his eyes, his gentle voice and even gentler backstory.
My face tensed. I clenched my eyes shut and attempted drowning myself in my melody. I failed.
Why would he tell me so much about himself at the drop of a hat? Was there something about me that made him trust me? Was it really all about my eyes? I've never held too much stock in my looks—well—no more than the average mare, I suppose. Living in Canterlot demands a certain elegance that is hard to shake loose. Even Twilight Sparkle—who is basically a shy intellectual—carries with her an ethereal beauty that is hard to come by elsewhere. If all librarians in Equestria looked as striking as her without even trying, then there'd be a lot more stallions involved in reading and less in... in... well, whatever it is that guys like to do in their spare time. Wrestling?
But no. My narcissism goes as far as my performance of music. I've never tried to appear “gorgeous.” Heck, I've never cared to. Not until now...
He sees my eyes—golden eyes that match fresh tulips—and he thinks of a guardian angel. He thinks of an angel? Has anypony ever said anything so nice and sincere about me before?
No. It's flattery. That's all it is. After all, Morning Dew doesn't know me. He sees my eyes, and in every amnesiac circumstance, all that happens is a series of neurons firing off in his brain, daring him to speak out loud the knee-jerk comparison he's made in his head. I am simply an idea to him, as he is an idea to me. Two shallow infatuations hardly come together to form something wholesome. This entire thing is simply a foolish flight of fancy, both for him as well as for me. I should just forget about it. I should just forget about it...
And yet in trying to forget about it, I did the exact opposite, to the point that it frustrated me, flustered me, and I was hardly cognitive of the music that I was performing... or of the sudden, melodic voice singing along with my strings.
My eyes flashed open. I didn’t stop strumming, if only to hear the voice continuing to hum along with my tune. I tried to recognize the voice, and suddenly I was seeing three tiny shapes in my eyes, bounding across the center of Ponyville, and one of the blank figures was colored a great deal like Rarity.
I gazed over at the filly. Apparently, seeing my horned cranium move was enough to startle her out of her dreamy vocals. “Eeep!” she hopped back, standing guiltily across the park's path from me. “I'm... I'm sorry. I broke your concentration, didn't I? My big sister's always getting on my flank about that.”
I smiled gently, still strumming the lyre. “It's perfectly fine. If anything, you only added to the harmony.”
“I did?” Her voice cracked adorably, matching the excited gleam shining across her face. Beneath her lavender and pink mane, a bergundy cloak was tied, glistening underneath with a golden trim. I caught the unmistakable image of a prancing foal patched to the hem. “I just heard you playing something so beautiful, I couldn't help but hum along to it.”
“Well, you've got a natural talent for singing,” I said.
“R-really?” she almost burst at the compliment. “You think?”
I blinked at such an exclamation. I glanced towards her blank haunches, realizing just how sincerely the filly must have taken a statement like that. Still, I didn't mean it any less. “Absolutely!” I smiled. “I'm tempted to play the song again, just to hear you sing some more!”
“Oh... uhm...” She blushed with a foalish bashfulness, digging a pale hoof into the grass beside the beaten path. “I couldn't ask you to do that, ma'am.”
I shrugged. “Have either of us anything better to do?” I just needed a distraction like this.
“Well, I was waiting for my two friends to show up,” she said. “Normally, I'd be having lunch with my sister, Rarity.” She suddenly pouted. “Only she's too busy running around the Boutique, trying to get ready for some stupid dance.”
“Funny thing about the Grand Galloping Gala,” I uttered. “It brings out the little filly in most adults. I'm sure your older sister's no exception.” I smiled and winked. “If you chose to talk to her about it, I bet you'd find that the two of you have a lot in common.”
“Heh. No thank you. I don't like it when Rarity rambles.”
“Well, it's like Scootaloo says. 'She starts sounding like a vampire!'”
I chuckled. “Well, she's certainly pale enough.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
I cleared my throat. “Never mind.” I strummed all of my lyre's strings in succession. “So, you got a tune in mind?”
Her green eyes blinked at me in surprise. “You mean you can really play any tune?”
“It helps to keep a wide library in my repertoire.”
“Do you know 'The Laughing Zebra and His Dog?'”
“Depends. Do you know the lyrics to it?”
“And how!” her voice cracked again. Not all things I instinctively feel like cuddling are because of their handsomeness. When she sang, her voice was solid, pristine, immaculate. The filly hit every note with perfect tonality. I struggled to strike my chords with equal mastery, all the while marveling at this prodigy's vocal range. The song was short, silly, and childish. She made it sound like an opera number. When the melody was done, and the leaves of the trees above us finished their rustling applause, I followed up with a gentle clap of my own.
“Bravo! Bravo!” I grinned down at her. “You have a gift. I mean it! Why, if you shared that voice of yours in a place like Sugarcube Corner, you'd have ponies tossing bits at you in no time!”
“Ow...” She winced. “That sounds painful.”
I chuckled. Okay. Adorable, but nopony upstairs. I suppose we've all been there. “Great gifts are meant to be shared. If we keep what's best about ourselves secret, how will we ever grow?”
“I always thought that gifts were meant to be found by searching for them.”
“There's truth to that,” I said with a nod. “A good life is one spent searching. But you gotta make sure you don't forget to search within yourself.”
“This one time, I stuck my hoof inside my mouth, and I threw up all over the floor!”
“Apple Bloom says it was because I was nervous. I swallowed a bug the day before and I was trying to search for it—”
Just then, two familiar voices chirped over the grassy hilltops surrounding the park. The filly spun and waved towards her two petite friends grinning at her from afar.
“Speak of the devil! I gotta go!” She flashed me a glance that was both happy and apologetic at once. “It's been really nice chatting and singing with you, Miss...”
“Heartstrings,” I said. “And your name, sweetie?”
“Sweetie Belle,” she admitted with a slight blush.
“Heh.” I leaned back and strummed my lyre with finality. “Somehow, that doesn't surprise me one bit.”
She galloped away, her petite body in a fast-forward waddle. “So long, Miss Heartstrings! I'll remember what you said about my talent!”
I waved at her. I smiled. But as her last few words echoed in my ear, I felt that smile fading. I lowered my hoof and sat limply in the bench.
There was a sigh alighting the air. I was only mildly surprised to realize it wasn't mine.
“She sounds so pretty...” A colt's voice murmured from the shade of the tree beside my bench.
I turned around from where I was squatting. Through my peripheral vision, I instantly recognized the tiny pegasus' pale coat and slick black mane. I smiled gently as I spoke to the afternoon breeze, “Does your brother Thunderlane know you're spying on fillies, Rumble?”
The tiny pony jumped in place, gasping. I could even see his chest thumping from a beating heart. “I... I w-wasn't spying! Honest! Oh please, don't tell anypony!”
“Relax. It's a beautiful day,” I murmured, playing a few more notes on my lyre as he shuffled into the light. “Why ruin it by punishing ponies for enjoying beautiful things?”
“I mean it. I was just...” Rumble stood in place, fidgeting. His lonely eyes fluttered over the hill, where three young crusaders—and one filly in particular—were galloping onwards to glorious adventure. He exhaled once more, slumping down so that he squatted on the joints of his limbs. “I'm such a weirdo.”
I raised an eyebrow. I glanced down at him. “Now who on earth gave you that idea?”
Surprisingly, I was right on the money. “My friends at school,” he muttered. “Snips and Snails: they say that I'm a weirdo because I don't hang out with them like I used to.”
“That's rather mean of them,” I remarked. “Just because you have your own things you're doing—”
“They say that I've been boring ever since I started thinking about her,” he added, playing lethargically with a few specks of dirt in the path beneath him. “That I'm no fun anymore.”
Oh. So that's what it is. Why's it always a pegasus that grows up first?
I smiled and glanced his way. “Kid, I think the only reason they treat you that way is that they're jealous.”
He blinked curiously at me. “Of me?”
“Cuz these 'Snips and Snails' can tell that you're growing up,” I said, strumming my lyre. “I'm willing to bet that you're a lot more mature than they are, and they just aren't equipped to deal with it.”
“But why am I so much better than them?” He asked, making a face.
“Notice—I didn't say 'better.' I said 'more mature.'”
“Whatever. Why is that?” Rumble frowned and punched at the dirt with frustration. “Just because there's this filly that I can't stop thinking about? Why can't they understand?”
“Do you understand?”
He bit his lip.
I left him alone with his thoughts, feeding the air with a tranquil melody, as if lulling a frightened infant out of hiding.
Eventually, his voice murmured, “She's so pretty, and she has this singing voice that makes me happy. I dont' know why, but I want to know more about her. I wonder what... what she would think of me. I don't want to be a boring weirdo to her either.”
“Sounds like this has been on your mind a lot.”
“Well...” He almost chuckled, instead tilting his head up to give me a confused expression. “My brother's hanging out with fillies his age all the time. He seems so happy with the likes of Flitter, Cloudchaser, and Blossomforth. Especially Blossomforth.”
“Heh. You're pretty observant, kid.”
“I... I kind of think it would be cool to be happy like that too...”
“Hmmm...” I smirked at him. “And does happiness equate to having a lot of fillies wanting to hang around with you?”
“Well... I dunno...”
“Now there's an honest statement if I've ever heard one.”
“I... guess happiness isn't happiness if they're not happy too,” Rumble said, shrugging. “The fillies, that is.”
I couldn't help but giggle. I paused in my melody. “You don't give yourself enough credit, kiddo. Something tells me there's a Casanova inside of you that will see the light of day several years from now.”
“Eh, never mind. Ask your brother—preferably when only Blossomforth's around.” I cleared my throat. “By the way, it's 'Sweetie Belle.'”
“Huh?” He blinked at me.
“The filly you like.” I winked. “That's her name.”
“R-really?” His face brightened. I saw his tiny wings fluttering, giving his petite body modest lift. “That's... that's such a pretty name.”
“It's rather fitting, if I may say so.”
“Do you know anything else about her?”
I giggled. “Who am I now, the village match-mare?”
“If you're so curious, kid,” I gestured towards where the crusaders had run off, “You could go up to her and ask her the questions yourself.”
He immediately winced, as if receiving several flu shots all at once. “Oh no. I... I-I couldn't do that...”
“Does this have something to do with what Snips and Snails said?”
“No, it's just that...” His body slumped in yet another sigh. “Who am I? A silly blank flank with a popular big brother... that's who. I'd only be boring to her.” His tired eyes remained locked on the ground below. “Besides, she's never even noticed me once. It's like I don't even exist.”
I felt a cold breeze blowing through my mane. With a deep breath, I murmured, “Trust me, kid. I know the feeling.”
“Just...” He rested his sad face atop a pair of crossed forelimbs. “What is it that gets a girl's attention anyways? What is it that fillies want?”
“A question as old as time, undoubtedly.”
“Mmmph. This is hopeless...”
I cleared my throat. “Still... uhm... it's really simple, if you think about it,” I said to him. “Fillies want sincerity, attention, commitment. They want to know your feelings, especially if you're willing to share them.” My eyes traced the sky, mesmerized by the bright blueness. Pleasantly, I pierced the sapphiric texture, until I saw a certain stallion's gaze in my mind, setting my heart afire. “A filly is most happy when you are honest with her, and when you show that—no matter what ambitions your life may pressure you with—you are willing to sacrifice a piece of it, the most warm and vulnerable piece, if only it means that the two of you get to share something wholesome and unique that's made to replace it. And if you show that she'll forever be a part of your heart, something that you spend the time and energy to cherish as much as you poetically promise to, then... heeheehee...” My cheeks turn rosy as I run a hoof through my mane. “She'll swoon for you instantly, for she knows she's found a pony with whom she can feel happy, safe, secure, and—” I gazed down at him. My words trailed off.
Rumble was looking up at me. His expression was blank. His eyes were full of confusion.
I fidgeted atop the bench. “Uhm... Y'know what?” I smiled crookedly. “Flowers. Fillies love flowers. You should go get her some.”
“Flowers?” Rumble's mouth dropped at the thought. “You mean it's that simple?”
“Oh, believe me.” I winked. “It goes a long way.”
“Flowers...” Finally, a smile returned to his precious little face. He waddled off, his wings flexing as if pushing him through an invisible, warm cloud. “Flowers... Flowers... Flowers...” He gave me a blind wave. “Thanks, lady!”
“Don't mention it, kid!” I chuckled and waved back at him. “Remember, the happiest things in life...” I knew he was within earshot. It didn't matter; I was no longer speaking to him. “... are the things you seize with no questions asked.” My murmurs ended, and I bit my lip at the end of the exclamation.
I glanced down at my lyre, a lone vessel for exploring the cold depths of my curse. It no longer invited any awe or promise for me, for it was something I had always carried alone, and forever would.
The determination I felt then was positively scathing. I hopped out of the bench. I stood tall and resolute in the sunlight. With a bold breath, I marched straight for the north edge of town.
“Good morning to you, angel.”
There was a tulip being offered. In a blink, I plucked the golden thing from his grasp and leaned forward.
“What's your favorite color?”
Morning Dew did a double-take. His golden body wobbled on the precipice of curiosity. “Uhm...”
I blushed slightly. “Besides gold.” Not once did I sever my gaze from his. “What's your second favorite color?”
“Oh... uhm...” He smiled bashfully. “Silver, I do suppose—”
“Silver! Wonderful!” I trotted off, waving. “Have a good day!”
He waved limply back, confused.
“Good morning to you, angel.”
“What's your favorite smell?”
“Uhhh... Huh?” Morning Dew blinked.
“Your favorite fragrance.” Tilted towards him, staring in earnest. “Name it.”
“Oh... uhm... eheheh...” He blushed slightly, running a hoof through his blue mane. “I work around so many plants. That's a difficult one...”
“Surely one scent has to be your most preferred.”
“I... uh... I guess I've always had a deep appreciation for jasmine,” he said. “Such an exquisite flower.”
“Perfect!” I grinned wide, took the tulip, and galloped away. “Thankies!”
“Good morning to you, angel.”
“Favorite musical composition?”
“I beg your pardon?”
I smiled, stifling a deep giggle. “If you could, right now, listen to any single musical number that you had the ability to choose, which one would it be?”
“Are... Are you a musician, ma'am?” He asked, glancing towards my cutie mark.
I blocked his gaze with a gentle smile. “Humor me.”
“Oh... uhm...” He scratched his chin, his eyes slicing figure-eights in the bright morning sky above us. He eventually smiled and said, “When I was a colt, I had a deep appreciation for Mareece Ravel's Royal Symphony. They used to play that number at military parades a lot.”
“Perfect! I can play Mareece Ravel in my sleep!”
“Oh really? Well that's... uhm... certainly interesting...” He then blinked. “Ma'am?”
I was gone, galloping to my cabin to scribble the musical notes already blossoming in my head.
“Good morning to you—”
“What's your favorite place in Ponyville?”
Ambrosia and several other working ponies glanced curiously from the half-demolished hotel across the way. They watched as Morning Dew was caught in the gaze of a hysterically cheerful mare.
“If you had a vacation from planting flowers,” I said. “If you could spend an entire afternoon doing nothing but lying back and enjoying the beautiful weather, where would you go in Ponyville to do it?”
“I... I...” Morning Dew stammered. He teetered with brief dizziness, recovered, and awkwardly dripped forth, “Aside from the greenhouse, I'd go to the lake on the east side of town, I guess.”
“Yes. Staring into the waters makes me feel calm, meditative. Sometimes I go there to sit, relax, and simply reflect on life.”
“Sounds wonderful. Ta-ta!” I bounded away.
Morning Dew's lips hung open with an unpronounceable word. He gestured dumbly with a hoof, glanced over his shoulder, and shrugged at Ambrosia and the other ponies... who simply shrugged back.
In my cabin, I finished scribbling a rough composition from memory. I held the sheet before me and went over it with studious eyes, quietly humming the notes with a pair of numb lips. Blindly, I got up and trotted across the cabin. I stepped over the discarded sheets of the lunar elegy. I passed by my lyre until I stood in front of a wooden cabinet.
Pausing, I turned and gazed thoughtfully across the tiny abode. Golden flowers rested where I had placed them on an end table in the corner of my home. At the sight of the near-dozen tulips gathered in a vase, I smiled. Then my face tensed in thought.
I turned to the cabinet. With telekinesis, I opened the panels and rummaged through several drawers. I finally found what I was looking for: a silken length of silver thread. Raising it before my eyes, I turned and glanced once more at the tulips. In a strong breath, I marched over and started plucking each glistening bud one after another from the jar.
The bell above the door to the Carousel Boutique rang loudly. Rarity was too busy galloping left and right across the interior to take notice.
“Oh dear, where did I put all the ribbon? I absolutely must bring some with me! Heaven forbid Fluttershy's dress might fall apart and I wouldn't have a single thing to mend it with! Ungh! I almost forgot! Twilight's gown! One of those sparkling star patterns is bound to become unstitched!”
“Uhm...” I winced slightly as I marched on nervous legs into her domain. “Miss Rarity? Have... Have I caught you at a bad time?”
“A bad time? Oh, no no no! Nonsense!” Rarity gave a flippant laugh as she stuffed a myriad of awkward things into a ruby-studded chest. “It's only two days until the Grand Galloping Gala and I'm at my wit's end! How could this possibly be a bad time?!” She paused and ran a hoof through a noticeably disheveled mane. “Oh blessed Celestia! Rainbow Dash had better taken my warnings seriously and kept her golden crown away from rain clouds!” The fashionista's eyes briefly burned like red hot coals. “If that thing turns out rusted during the dance, I swear, I will wrap her wind pipe three times around her ears!”
“Ahem.” I boldly stood in front of her. “I... uh... I know this is very last second and all, but I was hoping that you might—”
“Negatory!” Rarity waved a hoof in my face. “Cease while you are ahead, darling. I apologize sincerely, but I cannot fashion a dress or perform any alterations for any customers at this current moment! If you desire to have something mended, add your name to the list and I promise you that I shall attend to it as soon as I come back!”
“But...” I bit my lip and stirred anxiously where I stood. “This is... is really important to me—”
“I do hate to be more emphatic than I've already been, ma'am,” she said, pacing back and forth between her various tools. “But this is not up for debate! And before you ask, no amount of bits, gems, or even land deeds could possibly sway me to the contrary—”
With a metallic clank, I had slapped my lyre down onto the table in front of her. “The Cosmic Waltz,” I uttered.
She froze in her tracks. She stared at me. “I-I beg your pardon?”
“The Cosmic Waltz,” I repeated, my eyes firm. “I can teach it to you in under an hour.” I gulped and added, “So that way you can dance to it on the spot, in any given situation.”
She immediately dropped every piece of fabric or tape that she had been levitating around her. “Sold!” She bounded towards me and snatched a sheet of measurements from my grasp. “Tell me what you need!”
“I swear...” Caramel fidgeted with the bow-tie around his neck. He stood awkwardly in the morning sun beside another stallion on the north edge of Ponyville. Both of them were tied to a silver carriage as they faced the long east road towards Canterlot. “This thing is gonna strangle me. Why did I agree to this again?”
Wind Whistler was suddenly hovering down in front of him. “Because Miss Rarity convinced you to. And Rarity is a close friend to Twilight Sparkle.” She smiled lovingly and adjusted the tie so that it fitted him properly. “And Twilight Sparkle is only the most influential Ponyvillean with ties to Canterlot. And if we want our new business to get off the ground, we need to spread the news of how friendly and serviceable we are.”
Caramel sighed, rolled his eyes, and smiled tiredly at her. “I thought we were getting in the business of delivering parcels to households, not dressed-up mares to a royal dance.”
“One step at a time, Caramel,” Thunderlane's voice suddenly spoke up. He trotted up alongside Blossomforth, Cloudchaser, Flitter, and lastly Rumble. “Not all of us have the wings to skip ahead in life.”
Caramel groaned. “Well if it isn't the feather gang. Come to snicker at me?”
“Awwwwww, Caramel!” Blossomforth smiled. “Why so glum? We're your friends. We just wanted to give you a proper send-off!”
“Besides, you'll only be gone for the weekend,” Cloudchaser added. “Hey... isn't Windy going with you?”
“She says she'll be catching up,” Caramel said, motioning towards his fiance.
“Yeah. I've got a few things to do around town.” Wind Whistler nodded. “But then I'll be headed to Canterlot to meet up with him.”
“That reminds me.” Caramel turned towards her. “Where'd you want to rendezvous? I heard about this great doughnut cafe in downtown. First thing tomorrow morning?”
“Mmmm... Make that tomorrow noon,” Wind Whistler said. “I need to go buy a dress from the shopping district.”
“A dress?” Caramel did a double-take. “But Windy, neither of us have tickets to the Gala! Besides, the dance will be over by then!”
“Who said anything about a dance?” Wind Whistler remarked, smirking.
She sighed. She hovered lower and whispered in his ears.
Caramel listened. After a few blinks, he blushed furiously.
“Uh oh!” Thunderlane snickered from afar. “Something tells me there'll still be some Grand Galloping to be had!”
“Oh hush!” Wind Whistler stuck her tongue out at their friends and giggled. “You must fly through a lot of smoggy clouds to get a dirty mind like that, Thunderlane!”
“I... uhm... I could do with a clean shower myself,” Caramel dazedly said. The reined stallion next to him snickered. “And don't you start!”
There was a shuffling noise. Everypony glanced over to see Ambrosia galloping up. “Whew! Made it just in time!” She lowered her hard hat and gestured Caramel's way. “Best of luck on the journey, kiddo!”
“You ran all the way here just to say that?” Caramel exclaimed.
“Heheh. Yup! Figured you deserved to be paid some respects.” Ambrosia's gaze narrowed. “This 'Miss Rarity' ain't even hoofing you one bit for this, is she?”
Wind Whistler planted a hoof over Caramel's mouth and leaned in. “We're gonna meet in Canterlot and make a date out of it.”
“Ya don't say...”
“Yeah,” Blossomforth added with a nod. “They're gonna work on planning their delivery business... or something.”
Thunderlane coughed. “Though somepony may be delivering something else in a year's time.”
“Smack Thunderlane for me.”
“Okay, girl.” There was a loud thwapping noise.
“Ow!” Thunderlane rubbed his side and frowned at his significant other. “You're just looking for excuses by this point.”
The two pegasi sisters beside them cooed in unison.
“Oh stuff it!”
Cloudchaser and Flitter giggled. Ambrosia chuckled. Rumble, as usual, was in another world.
At that point, a tiny purple dragon was running up, huffing and puffing.
“Change of plans, guys!” Spike climbed up the stagecoach in one single motion. Sweating, he adjusted the collar of the suit that was around his petite torso and uttered breathlessly, “We're swinging by Carousel Boutique to pick the girls up there!”
“What?” The stallion beside Caramel balked. “They can't trouble themselves after so much sprucing-up to trot a few blocks and meet us here?”
“Hey!” Spike's breath was briefly flaming. “Lady Rarity tells us to move, so we're moving!”
“Right, I see where this is going.” Caramel rolled his eyes, then smiled up at Wind Whistler. “See you tomorrow?”
“I'll see you in my dreams.”
“Heheheh... You beat me to it.”
She hovered down and the two nuzzled each other closely. After a peck on the muzzle, Wind Whistler took to the air. Caramel signaled to Spike, who then shook the reins.
“Onward to the Gala!”
“Don't you mean the Boutique?”
“Er. Yeah. Eheh. Right.”
As the two stallions pulled the silver coach away, Caramel's friends stood behind, waving and shouting good wishes.
Ambrosia lowered her hoof in time to chuckle. “I'll never understand all this fancy schmancy hullabaloo over a silly dance.”
“Well, Amber, some ponies could do with a little extravagance from time to time.”
Ambrosia did a double-take to her side. “Morning! How long have you been there?”
“Not long enough to get a word in,” the stallion said softly. “But, no matter. Caramel knows he has my best wishes. Windy as well.” Morning Dew turned and smiled at the others. “I heard there's going to be a little party of sorts in downtown. Is anypony attending?”
“Ugh...” Blossomforth rolled her eyes. “You mean the mayor's genius little 'consolation party for those ponies unlucky enough to have been snubbed an invitation to the one true Gala for the umpteenth time in a row?' Pfft. Yeah, no thanks.”
“Besides, we all know how to party, and we do it all the time,” Thunderlane said proudly. He glanced down at Rumble. “Ain't that right, little bro?”
Rumble was muttering quietly to himself. “Hmmm... Daisies? Dandelions? Roses?”
“Yo! Earth to Rumble!”
“H-huh?” Rumble jumped nervously in place, glancing up at everypony. “What?”
“What the heck are you rambling about?”
The little colt gulped. In his squeaky voice, he innocently inquired, “What's the prettiest kind of flower in Ponyville?”
“Why heck...” Ambrosia gestured. “Morning Dew here could tell ya that. Though what for?” Her eyebrows wagged. “Is a certain little scamp fixin' to give a filly some special gift?”
“Huh?” Rumble made a face. “Ew! No! She probably doesn't even like flowers—”
Blossomforth gasped. “Awwww! So there is a filly!”
“There is not!” Rumble's voice cracked, and he blushed at what it sounded like. “I don't even know why I was thinking about flowers—”
“Oh dear, whatever are we going to do?” Cloudchaser playfully ruffled Rumble's slick black mane. “Rumble's turning into a romantic stallion right before our very eyes!”
“At least somepony in his family is,” Blossomforth added in a dull tone.
“Heh heh, yeah—Hey!” Thunderlane glared at her.
“Nnngh! You guys are stupid-heads!” Rumble frowned and waddled off in a huff.
“Awww! Don't be like that, ‘lil Rumble!” Flitter called after him. “Dang it, sis! Look what you did!”
“I'll go fetch the little booger,” Thunderlane groaned. “You girls go elsewhere. I swear, you've been nothing but trouble all week.”
Blossomforth and the other two merely giggled and floated off in the opposite direction. Morning Dew watched the group dissipate. With a gentle smile, he turned and gazed at Ambrosia.
“So much excitement in the air. I swear, it's the same thing every year without fail.” His eyes narrowed. “What is it about the Gala that electrifies a place as far away as Ponyville?”
“Speak for yourself, flower-plucker,” Ambrosia muttered. “I'm too busy with my work to give a darn.” She turned and pointed past Morning's garden wagon, gesturing to where her co-workers were stringing up orange wire around the inner framework of the hotel. “That there building is gonna be bitin' the bullet tomorrow. It's just too dag-blamed stubborn to fall on its own.”
“I read all the warning memos at the downtown bulletin board,” Morning Dew remarked with a nod. “Does it seriously have to come to this?”
“Heh. What, you frettin' there bein' a little bit of thunder in the middle of yer gardenin' tomorrow?” Ambrosia shifted the hard hat on her crown. “It's only gonna last a second. Besides, it's not like anypony's at risk, so long as they keep a safe distance when the charges go off. If anything, I reckon it'll be just the entertainment this village needs. It'll make the sad saps of this place forget all about the Gallstone.”
“Well,” Morning Dew said. “I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Amber. Your job always has a certain grace to it.”
“Ehhh, ya lug.” She waved a bored hoof before running it sheepishly through her white mane. “One of these days, I swear, your eye for beautiful things is... gonna be... the end of you...” Her words trailed off as her eyes squinted at a bizarre sight just beyond him. Her sweaty brow furrowed.
“Hmm?” Morning Dew blinked at her. Slowly, he turned around. The first thing that donned his face was a smile. “Well, now.” He reached his hoof into the wagon and instinctively held forth a tulip. “Good morning to you...” Right then, his smile left him. His face drew a blank, but the gold texture of his coat remained as bright as ever. The next breath was wavering. “...angel.”
I took a deep breath, poised gracefully before him. I was staring deep into his eyes—suddenly wide eyes—and in those blue pools there was no mistaking the reflection of what he saw: a mint-green mare clad in a silken silver gown. It was a modestly simple ensemble, with the faintest golden trim embroidered about the cream-colored seams in tiny floral patterns. My lyre hung unassumingly from a golden sash draped across my left side. There was something atop my forehead that glistened in the sunlight, bringing out the highlights in my eyes. It was a crown of tulips, framed broadly around my horn, made up of none other than all the flowers that he had given to me over the past several days, in his past lives, when an amnesiac ghost went out of his way to charm me as I was incidentally charming him right then.
“Well,” I said in as brave a voice as I could. I didn't mean for it to come across as so pathetically demure. I only wanted this soft moment to be carried on soft breaths. “If you aren't a charmer...” I added with a nervous smile.
Please say it. Please...
He gulped. He was frozen in place. He was dead-still, but he was still Morning Dew. “I am only charmed,” he murmured.
Oh thank goodness...
I gulped. My heart sang. I was afraid Rarity's marvelous gown would melt off of me with each subsequent heartbeat. I cleared my throat and tilted my head aside. “You're too kind to make me such an offering,” I pointed at the tulip in his grasp. With a relaxed breath, I finally allowed my blush to peak through my face's skin. “But... heehee... Where exactly would I place it?”
He gazed at the tulip, then at the crown on my forehead. He gulped dryly and stammered, “A very good question. I... erm... Eheh...” He rubbed his neck and smiled awkwardly. Dear Celestia, will he ever stop being so precious? “Ever painted a picture, and then you feel like something should be added to it, but you can't for fear of ruining it?”
“Hmmm...” I coyly gazed at the ground. “Is every citizen of Ponyville so poetic?”
“Uhm... Only the foolish ones.” Her cleared his throat. “I... uhm. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—”
“No! Don't be sorry.” I took a step towards him. “As a matter of fact, you're just the stallion I've been meaning to speak to.”
“I... I am?” He blinked awkwardly at me.
“Yes. You're Morning Dew, the town gardener, correct?”
“Uhm, yes, ma'am. As a matter of fact, I am. Why?” He squinted. “Have other ponies talked about me?”
“I heard you're the local expert on flora.” I smiled. “I was hoping to speak with you.”
“R-really?” he said, gulping dryly.
I was barely aware of Ambrosia at this point. Her figure shifted in my peripheral vision. She glanced at Morning Dew, at me, and then at him again. Very, very quietly, she backtrotted from the scene until her alabaster figure melted into the background.
I stood boldly in the foreground, gazing at the stunned earth pony in front of me. “You see, my name is Lyra Heartstrings. I doubt you may have heard of me, but I'm a musician from Canterlot.” I fidgeted slightly. Even with the buffers of the curse to cushion my words, I can never quite feel good about myself unless my lies have an ounce of truth to them. “And... and I have plans for performing a few shows around town. But I'm not satisfied with coming across like just any other minstrel. There's a reputation I have to live up to, so I need to produce a show that will truly dazzle the locals around here beyond the mere melody my lyre makes. To do that, I have to... uhm... I have to set up a fabulous stage. Yes. And... and I was thinking about having a beautiful floral arrangement erected around me while I do my solo act.”
“That's...” He gazed at me, slowly nodding. “So pretty.”
I smirked, my eyes darting his way. “You don't say?”
“I mean... erm...” He let loose a nervous laugh. “That sounds like a pretty good idea.” He placed the flower back into the gardening wagon. “Well... uhm... y-you came to the right pony! That is—the other villagers have a good reason to suggest you come to me. It's not like I'm the expert on... on... uhm... sofas and quills, cuz I don't know who you talked to, but that's a different pony altogether. Ehm... oh jeez...” He ran a frustrated hoof over his face.
There were many things that I desired from this encounter. Admittedly, the very last thing was making him so flustered. I broke the conversation into another direction by pacing around his wagon and uttering, “You really are the town's one and only gardener?”
“Well, not exactly,” he said in a calmer voice. I felt him relaxing with each word coming from his lips. “This is an earth pony town. Unlike Canterlot, there are less ponies talented in the arts and more equines talented in tending to crops and vegetation.”
“But florists?” I leaned over and sniffed a pot full of daisies, smiling. My eyes darted his way as I felt the petals of my crown fluttering in the morning breeze. “Just how many Ponyville residents are responsible for planting such beautiful flowers all over this quaint little town?”
“Hmmm...” He ran a hoof through his mane and blushed. “Heh. Okay. Guilty as charged.”
“So, perhaps you can understand why I came to you.” I sashayed gently back towards him. I took my time, glancing down briefly. Rarity had even fashioned me some shiny, silver-polished slippers for my hooves. I tried not to dirty them as I stood in front of the stallion, smiling gently. “To be the only expert on flowers in town must be something truly special. It means you're a pony who can be depended on, a pony with an eye for beauty. Who else would I possibly go to for help with setting up my performance?”
“Well, I don't know if one could call me special—” Morning Dew began, but paused in mid-speech. His blue eyes twitched, and I saw him tilting his nose up slightly.
I couldn't help it. I gnawed pensively on my lip. Oh please. Oh please don't flip out...
“That... Heh...” His face broke into a chuckling grin. “Remarkable. Is... Is that jasmine?”
I gulped and smiled as gracefully as I could. “Yes. A true musician endeavors to be pleasing... erm.. in every sense.” Oh jeez. I'm already laying it on too thick, am I? “It's a perfumed habit I... uhm... picked up from Canterlot. I suppose it's unbecoming of Ponyvillean standards.” I winced. Stop talking! This is no time to be a sociologist!
Thankfully, Morning Dew was a less rational pony... or a more rational one. I could hardly tell anymore. I simply heard him talk and my heart jumped. “Oh no, I think... I think it's lovely,” he practically cooed. “You're...” He bit his lips on that. An instinct inside of me screamed to kiss them better. Clearing his throat, he said, “You're... looking for any particular type of flower?”
“I imagined I could depend on your good tastes,” I said. “Assuming it's wouldn't take too terribly much of your time.”
“Oh! No! I...” He shrugged. “I was done with most of my morning rounds.”
“I go from building to building each sunrise, making sure the flowers are still in bloom, keeping weeds from growing in the shopfronts. Those sorts of things. The mayor has always had a very specific vision for this town. There are many places to cover to ensure that dream.”
“I can only imagine...”
“I was considering going to the building across the street to pluck it free of wildflowers—”
“You mean the one where those construction workers are clamoring all about?” I asked, pointing to where Ambrosia and her cohorts were still hustling. “Isn't that place about to be razed?”
“Heh. Yes. It's only taken all month.”
“And...” I squinted at him. “Wildflowers? Seriously?” I tried my best not to giggle. “Are they really so salvageable?”
Morning Dew chuckled. “Perhaps it appears silly, but I hate to see anything colorful go to waste, even if they're as common as oxygen.” He glanced over at the half-demolished hotel. “I know it sounds weird, but even a part of me regrets that in a few days, that old building will no longer be around. Once it's gone, a certain antiquity will be lost forever.”
“What one pony sees as antiquity, another may perceive as an eyesore, yes?”
“True. But I hate to think that life is so black and white.”
“Mmmmmm...” He exhaled slowly, nodding. “I've found it to be a useful belief to try and see beauty in everything, especially the stuff in life that comes and goes.” He gazed over at me, his handsome face calm and contemplative. “After all, why do we have memories if they are not ways for us to cherish things of beauty that we can no longer touch?”
I wanted to respond to that. I wanted even more to just toss myself in his forelimbs and preserve those words with my tears. But I stood in place. I had worked so hard for this moment to be real; I wasn't about to shatter it. Nor did I want to shatter him.
“You strike me as a very thoughtful pony, Morning Dew,” I eventually murmured.
“The world is full of thoughts. Only flowers are worth growing,” he said. “Speaking of which, I shouldn't be wasting your gracious time. A Canterlot musician surely has a busy schedule to keep. Isn't there a Gala for you to be attending?”
I giggled finally. I waved a hoof. “Oh, that. There are far more charming places for me to be. I wouldn't want to be anywhere but in Ponyville at the moment.”
“Well, if you insist.” He performed a very timely bow. “I am more than happy to be of help. If you would like to see a sample of the flowers I have to provide, I know of just the place to show you. Would you be so kind as to follow me, Lyra?”
“Certainly! I—” I froze in place. My ears rang. I looked sharply at him, squinting. “Did... Did you just...?”
“I'm sorry. That is your name, right? Lyra? Did I hear you correctly earlier?”
“Yes, but... Snkkkt—Heeheeheehee!” I broke out into hysterical laughter.
He was blushing furiously, and yet he stood dead in place like a soldier caught out of line. “I... I apologize. Is something amiss?”
“No. It's just... Ahem. The way you pronounce my name—”
“Am I saying it wrong?”
“Well, not exactly. I...” My heart was pounding. I hadn't the strength to explain to him that I was a thousand times more amused than I was offended. “I'm not used to ponies saying it like that.”
“It's Lyra. Not 'Lee-ruh.'” I almost snorted, fighting to contain my giggles. “It's so... so silly how you say it.”
He smiled bashfully and shrugged. “The other way sounds rude, like I'm almost saying the word 'liar'.”
“Well, think about it! It's just like the musical instrument: 'lyre.'”
“Something you're a prodigy at, no doubt.”
“Yeah and... Heeheehee...” I waved a hoof in his general direction as I nearly collapsed. “I'm so sorry. It's just that... heehee... All this time, if I knew you'd say it like that...” I wanted to faint. I wanted to fly. Could he possibly be any more adorable? The unpredictability of the moment made me want to hug him all the more. “Goodness. Life is so goofy, isn't it?”
“I... I don't understand,” he remarked with a curious chuckle. “When have I had the opportunity to say your name before, Miss Heartstrings?”
I felt a cold sheen of sweat forming at my temples. Whoops. Keep it together, girl. He can only tolerate a basketcase so far. “Well, you're right. Do forgive me. I'm... uhm...” White lie. White lie. White lie. “I'm not used to being up this early in the morning. I guess I'm a tad bit delirious.” Good enough.
“It happens to the best of us,” he said.
Or only to the luckiest of us. The most handsome of us. The bluest-eyed of us—
“If you would follow me, Lyra,” he said correctly. For once, it was just as I had ever dreamed of him uttering it. I floated after him as if on clouds.
We ended up in the center of a fantastic greenhouse on the northeast edge of town. I had strolled past the translucent building on several occasion. Never before had I bothered taking a closer look, probably because the path I took eventually led me past him, and I had far more charming things to look forward to on a daily basis.
Now he stood before me, talking to me, acknowledging me with a glint of joy sparkling in his eyes. Every awkward shiver, every bashful fumble was absent from his limbs. At the time being, he was confident, emboldened by the familiar flora hanging all around us. We were in his element, his world. I felt like a blissful wanderer on the threshold of this gentle stallion's kingdom, and every careful set of words that came from his mouth tickled my ears as I trotted after his pacing, narrating figure.
“Since you're from Canterlot, I can only assume you're used to affording a spotlight at your venues, so it would be a good idea to go with bright flowers that not only complement your appearance but also highlight your position on the stage. You have a lovely, flaxen streak to your mane, Lyra.”
“Why thank you.”
“Heheh... Ahem. So, I was thinking carnations for if it's an inside show. An arched wreathe with several blossoms could do the trick. If you're performing outside, however, I'm tempted to suggest these lilies here.” He brushed his hoof past the plants in question. “But, as you well know, the flower has its own common connotation, and I very seriously doubt you're performing at a funeral. So, to offset that impression...” He trolled a few paces down and gestured towards another row of flowers. “These daisies could be added to the stage, and it would create a balance.”
“You really do have a flower for any occasion or circumstance,” I remarked, strolling along with him. It was very warm in there. I pretended that it was because of the glass panels surrounding the greenhouse. “That's quite remarkable.”
“Ponyville is a tranquil, peaceful little town,” Morning Dew said. As we strolled along the sampled flora, he made a great deal of effort in brushing aside jutting leaves and branches so they wouldn't brush against me or my dress. I silently smiled at his subconscious gestures. “We have a lot of time on our hooves, compared to the likes of Fillydelphia or Manehattan or—I dare say—your home town.”
“Canterlot isn't as busy and stressful as many ponies here in the country may think,” I said. “After all, it is the center for Equestrian arts and sciences. You don't achieve that pinnacle by fighting through morning traffic everyday.”
“Heheh. I imagine they must have entire legions of gardeners employed in beautifying the city,” he said. “Especially with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna dwelling there. The ponies who landscape the palace have to be none other than Equestria's absolute best.”
“Oh, they are good,” I said with a nod. “They are royally tested and approved, no doubt. But are they the best?” I came to a stop and pivoted to face him. “The palace groundskeepers do their job because they are bound by it. There's something to be said about such noble duty, but it's the same thing that has been said in countless generations before. Passion, however, is something that is all too often sorely missing, even in the deepest bastion of our country's most sacred alicorns.”
“Perhaps, then, that is why so many souls from Canterlot come to visit this town,” Morning Dew said aloud. “They've spent all their days surrounded by tradition. But then they come to Ponyville, because they're searching.”
I smiled deeply. “Searching for what?” For passion? Please say “passion.”
“For completeness. That is what any pony wants in life, or so I've long felt.”
A breath escaped my lips as I smiled towards the flowers. Okay. That was even better, in a way. “Funny how so many ponies from all over Equestria are headed to this silly Gala tonight, as if it's the one thing that will ever define their lives. I don't know about you, but I've lived in Canterlot all my life. The Gala is hardly what it's hyped up to be. A pony would do well to pursue whatever he or she wants, and not let something that's popular become the apple of their eye.”
“Like becoming an accomplished musician?” he remarked with a smile.
“Heeheehee... Well, that's just me.” I gulped and gazed intently at him. “What about you?”
“Oh...” He sighed and marched over towards a pot of daisies that he proceeded to inspect with gentle hooves. “I'm very happy with what I do here in Ponyville. This village needs me, and I'm happy to keep them secure in the knowledge that their streets will never turn ugly.”
“But is that all you'll ever do?” I stepped towards him, swallowing a lump down my throat for courage. “I know what I desire to do with my life, and I'm satisfied with it. I think that should be the same for everypony.”
“But... heh... if we knew what our lot in life was, that would ruin the suspense, don't you think?”
I merely giggled at that. He looked at me strangely. In response, I cleared my throat and said, “Don't mind me. I think it's a charming excuse.”
His face was briefly deadpan as he gazed at the daisies once again. “What you call an excuse, I call the hooves of fate.”
I bit my lip at hearing that. I remembered the bashful stallion telling me his life's story the other day beside his gardening wagon. After all this pretense and preparation, could it be possible that I still hadn't pierced the layers that deeply? Maybe I was trying too hard. Maybe I was—
“I personally think the carnations would be a fantastic choice,” he spoke up, his charming voice reverberating across the glass panels around us. “I've always found them to be an easy accessory to a public presentation, be it poetic or musical.” His lips curved softly as he glanced my way. “It would most especially be complementary if you wore an ensemble like that while performing.”
I knew my teeth was showing by the glinting reflection of my smile in his eyes. “So, you like silver?”
“Eheh...” He instantly blushed and gazed towards the hanging greenery beyond. “It's... a very flattering color for a dress.”
“Let me ask you something...” I bravely shuffled closer towards him. I breathed lightly, my lungs on fire. The place was smoldering enough as it was. “Carnations, lilies, daisies: they're obviously good choices for a public instrumental. But...” I nibbled on my bottom lip for the space of two seconds and finally rolled forth, “What of a private performance?”
“You... You mean like a serenade?” He asked innocently.
I slowly nodded, gazing up at him.
His grin cracked awkwardly. “Eheh... I fail to see how you would need any assistance there, Lyra.”
My heart sank briefly. “No?”
Then I saw his eyes resting specifically on the crown of tulips atop my head. My heart lulled to a calm, then spiked again as soon as his voice rang. “Some things can't be helped, for they're perfect enough as it is.”
I exhaled weakly. Would he freak out if I placed a hoof on his shoulder? I felt a pulse that wasn't my own. Glancing down, I realized that I had already made such a contact. The next second that passed by was like shattering concrete. Instead of panicking, I slowly spoke, “If there's anything I've learned in recent months, it's that there'll always be something in life that stands to be perfected. All it takes is the right moment.” My smile was equally blissful and painful. “And the right soul to spend it with.”
I saw the tiniest of fluctuations in his eyes. I couldn't tell if he was frightened or thrilled. Either way, he didn't bother to shove my hoof off of him as he said, “You're a most remarkable pony, Miss Heartstrings.” Then the smile came. “I wonder. When you play music, is it even half as harmonious as your words?”
My breath came out in a gust of relief. He called me “remarkable!” That's... That's good, right? That's at least worth two “magnificents” or half a “resplendent!” “Well, words only convey so much. I tend to ramble when I fixate on them.” I turned my head, looking at where my lyre was hanging tactfully from the golden sash on my left side. “But, if you would like, I could give you a demonstration of just how harmonious I can be—”
Something loud echoed across the greenhouse interior. It sounded conspicuously like two pairs of legs tumbling to the stone floor. I stood there, frozen, too afraid to look and confirm my haunting suspicion. Nevertheless, I had to. And when I did, it explained why Morning Dew hadn't said anything for the past few seconds.
Oh dear Celestia, the poor thing! It's happened again. Okay. Don't panic. Don't be a frightened, hysterical filly like the other day. His cat... cata... cataple... his ordeal comes and goes swiftly. Just... wait it out. Wait it out...
I steadied my nerves, stopped squirming, and simply squatted down by his side. He was breathing; I could tell this time. The greenhouse was deathly quiet, so that I could detect the gentle wheeze pouring in and out of his nostrils as he remained lying there on the floor. His forward limbs twitched ever so slightly, and the contours of his face occasionally creased and uncreased. I tried to imagine what a life like that would be like, to be incapable of expecting when or if the lights might go out and plunge oneself into paralysis. I tried not to pity him. I tried to ignore the horrible pit forming in my stomach, but I couldn't.
Gently, I reached a hoof out—brushing it ever so slightly against his blue mane as if it was made of thin ice. I couldn't stop myself; it was all I could do to prevent a whimper from escaping my throat. In my cursed existence, I had been vexxed by ponies collapsing into fugue states all around me on a constant basis. There wasn't a part of me that envied Morning Dew for his condition, for not being able to be in control of oneself. For all the evils of my curse, I at least had a grasp over my faculties, my sole anchor in life.
And it was then that another horrid realization struck me. Morning Dew had collapsed. In the absence of his voice, I felt foolish, silly, and naked. A thin, silver dress was a poor shield against a wave of chills assaulting my being. Not even the sunlight refracting through the greenhouse windows could any longer melt the reality of my situation away.
So by the time he began stirring again, I was hardly relieved. I sighed, and I had to force out a smile as I murmured to his waking figure, “Are you alright there, sir?”
“Nnnngh...” He winced, hissed, and rubbed his aching head. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”
“You took a nasty tumble,” I said in a deep monotone. My eyes were wandering the cobblestone design of the floor, mapping out a swift path home in my mind. “You're lucky that somepony was around to check on you... uhm... I-I guess...”
“Why? Did I bump into something?”
“Heh... Nothing that can't heal,” I said wryly, almost sounding like a certain construction worker. Swallowing, I glanced towards the exit of the place. “Well, now that I know that you're okay, I suppose I should be on my way.”
“Really?” Morning Dew blinked several times, then squinted up at me. “Does this mean that you've changed your mind about picking flowers, Lyra?”
“Thank you, but I just—” I froze. Every part of me froze, every part but my heart. With each heavy pulse, my head rotated limply towards him, bearing a gaping expression. “You...” My voice wavered; I didn't have the strength to hide it. “You r-remember me?”
“Well...” He shrugged. “It would be awfully rude of me if I didn't, don't you think, Miss Heartstrings?”
I was breathless. The image of him was tilting up. I soon realized it was because I was helping him up to his hooves—almost yanking him. My forelimbs brushed against his, and I didn't want to let go. “S-say it one last time...”
I clenched my eyes shut and looked away from him. “My name. Please. Just... Just say it.”
I felt his voice in greater proximity. He must have been looking at me up close to see if I had banged my head. "Lyra. Lyra Heartstrings...?”
I choked on something. When I opened my eyes, his handsome face had fogged over. I stared at him—unblinking—until the image cleared, and it was just as crystal clean as from my dreams. “Where would you like to take me?” I murmured.
Morning Dew raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”
I winced. My voice squeaked. “Erm, what I mean is...” I smiled, tilting my head at an angle. I wasn't sure what I wanted him to see less: my burning cheeks or my moistening eyes. “Would... you like to take a walk... together?”
Morning Dew glanced at the flowers. With the business at hoof, he opened his mouth to protest. But after a lingering pause, he gazed down at me and grinned with ease. “Certainly. I... would like that, Lyra.”
“Good,” I exhaled, nearly bouncing in place as I grasped one of his hooves with both of mine. “I know just the place!”
“Heheh...” Morning Dew shook his head in awe as we strolled along. “I always loved hanging out by the lake.”
“Really?” I hummed, smiling to myself as I sauntered alongside him. “How fortunate, cuz I really like it too.”
“Very few ponies frequent this area,” he remarked, gazing out across the rippling pond water to our right. The afternoon sun bounced off it in rich crimson bands, covering us with a painterly sepia tone as we reveled in warm breeze after warm breeze. All around us, September was alive. I felt as though I would never be cold again. “I think it's a shame. There's so much to see and think about. Still, at the same time, I'm rather thankful for the quiet.”
“Do you consider yourself a loner, Morning?”
“On occasion, I suppose.” He glanced at me. “Why, do you, Lyra?”
“Welllll...” I murmured in a sing-songy fashion. “Not by habit, I assure you.”
“Are you on the road a lot, on account of all your musical venues?”
“Oh, hardly.” I cleared my throat. “It's not that. I just haven't had the chance to socialize much as of late.”
“Why?” he asked. “You seem a natural conversationalist.”
“Y-you really think so?”
“Indeed.” He chuckled. “Although...”
“A tad bit on the philosophical side,” he remarked.
“So?” I smirked wryly, side-stepping an overturned log so as not to ruin Rarity's dress. “You mean to suggest that mares shouldn't be allowed to philosophize?”
“Not at all!” he said with a grin. “It's just that philosophy is measured only in its pretense. Stallions are all too easily overwhelmed in the art of cyclical dialogue. Mares—I've long perceived—serve a much better existence by actually living.”
“And by 'living,' I'm guessing you mean cooking, cleaning, and giving birth, riiiight?” I winked.
“Hardly.” He stopped by a throng of cattails and looked at me. “I only meant that there are many beautiful things in this world, and the majority of them so happen to be exemplified by mares.”
“Heh. Easy for you to say.”
“Indeed. It is.”
I giggled, shaking my head as I paced around him. “You're a little bit backwards, Morning Dew, sir, if I may be so bold to say.”
“Trotting backwards is a good way to practice for doing what counts forwards,” he replied. “Besides, I can't pretend that all codes of chivalry apply to modern life. It was you who swept me off my sleepy hooves back there in the greenhouse, not the other way around.” His gaze fell bashfully from mine. “I thank you most kindly, Lyra.”
“It's never too late to be a maid in shining armor.”
“Well put,” he said, then glanced at my shifting hooves. “Are you tired of walking?” he asked.
I smiled coyly at him. “If I said 'yes', does that mean we can continue this conversation sitting here where it's so nice and peaceful?”
“A gentlecolt is never too forward to assume anything.”
“Well, that's too bad. Let's sit our flanks down already.”
At the last second, he reached a hoof out. Both curious and amused, I took it, and I found him ushering me to a flatter stretch of grass that only an expert gardener such as him could spot. I took my sweet time smoothing out my dress before sitting down, and he took even more of his own time politely waiting until I was done before squatting himself.
“I didn't always enjoy this kind of peace,” he said.
“Oh?” I gazed curiously at him. “Was it by choice?”
“As a matter of fact, no,” he remarked, gazing across the rippling waters. “I grew up in a military household. And if there's one thing you should know about 'military households,' it's that they never remain in one single spot for too long. Most colts my age would easily adapt to being constantly on the move. But me... with my rather embarrassing conditions...”
“Like that which made you take an impromptu nap just moments ago?”
He somberly nodded. “Ahem. I didn't exactly fare too well.”
“It must be terribly unnerving,” I said. “To have grown up without a firm base, and to not even have an anchor to cling to when you felt ill.”
“My parents were my anchor,” he said. “As were the other ponies they worked with. I have and always will have the deepest respect for equines who selflessly serve the royal alicorns and their land. It's just...” He lingered slightly, his blue eyes blending with the reflections of the shallow pond water. “I wish I could contribute more than just my respect. So many stallions my age have given their part. I hope that someday—before I'm too terribly old—I'll have a chance to give mine.”
I gazed at his side, measuring the seconds that dripped by, until I bravely asked, “Is it that you have something to prove?”
“Hmmm...” He smirked calmly my way. “More like something to gain.”
“Clarity,” he blurted.
Morning Dew nodded slowly. “There was a moment... a very special moment in my young life—as all ponies have their own moment of magical epiphany.” He gulped and gestured as he spoke, “But for me, it wasn't just about discovering who I was and what I was meant to be. It was a metamorphosis, where I came out of my sickly youth like a dawn sunrise breaking apart a fog. Ever since then, I understood what I wanted to do with my time on this earth. And yet... while the logic of the matter remains, I've found myself losing touch of... of...”
He glanced at me.
I smiled gently. “You're not the only pony who loses control of his faculties from time to time, Morning. Be it dizzy spells or afflictions of the spirit, we all serve to be reminded of what it was that made us, and how we stand to be rejoined with that glorious insight once again.”
“That's a charming hope to cling to, Lyra. But sometimes I fear...”
“That it's too late.” He shuddered, his eyes locked onto something pale and gleaming from his past. “I fear that the only way to grasp ahold of what's truly meant for me is to somehow reverse time, to become that young colt once again, to have the world of confusion melt away like it only could that one occasion and that one occasion alone...”
I nodded slowly. “Yes. You and I can analyze the woes of the past to death with enough words to make a novel out of.” I smiled brilliantly. “Or...”
“Or...?” He looked at me. He had to squint from a glint of reflected sunlight.
I had pulled my lyre up into my forelimbs. Sitting in front of him, I charged a pulse of telekinetic energy into my instrument's strings. “Or... we can recreate that which is lost with the gifts given to us.”
“I... I'm afraid I don't understand.”
“Shhh...” I looked deeply into his face. “Just relax, Morning. And listen.” I closed my eyes. My mind scanned several scribbled musical notes until I saw the entire orchestration before me. Then, with careful precision, I performed a sweeping number, as bombastic as my strings could hope to suggest, rich and powerful and steady in its cadence. As I navigated each sweeping melody of the tune, I briefly glanced at Morning Dew's expression, and I saw his jaw dropping further and further. The song was barely done by the time I heard his voice breathily kissing the air.
“That...” He stammered. “That was the most... most delightful rendition of Mareece Ravel's Royal Symphony I've ever had the pleasure to hear,” he said.
“Please, Morning.” I giggled. “You flatter too much. So what if I happened to... have practiced...?” I paused in my words. I had expected him to be pleased by the tune.
However, I hadn't expected the tears forming in the corners of the grown stallion's eyes. “My parents. They used to march to that very tune. I would watch them from the compound fence after school, before we all trotted home together,” he murmured. “I tried to imitate their march, their proud stance, their fearless poise. When the years went by, and I suffered through worse and worse episodes, I still did my best to march with their rhythm. They always encouraged me. They always believed in my enthusiasm. When I grew up, and I tried year after year to apply at the Canterlot Military Academy, I remained steadfast in spite of my constant failure. Even today, I try to give myself hope, for I won't be completely satisfied until I am able to accomplish what they had accomplished so well.” He gulped hard. “I owe as much to them... to their legacy.”
“Their... legacy?” I squinted his way. Suddenly, it dawned on me. The soft demeanor. The incessant need to prove himself. The continuous, almost foalish fixation on a seraphim savior. A part of me broke inside, and it ruptured a soft voice from my lungs, “Oh Morning, what happened?”
His nostrils briefly flared. His eyes had dried up before possibly committing the sin of leaking. “The S.S. Hurricane,” he uttered coldly. “They were overseeing a supply drop-off along the Eastern Banks of Dream Valley. An entire military detachment was sent to guard the royal supplies. One night, there was a rupture in the ship's steam tanks.”
His tale trailed off, but it didn't need to complete itself. I already had a sore throat by that point. After all, every adult citizen of Equestria knew about the “S.S. Hurricane.” “I... I had no idea, Morning. I'm so very sorry to hear that.”
“Don't be sorry, Lyra,” he said. He smiled, a very genuine thing, as was his next breath as he spoke, “You've blessed me. You really have. Whenever I hear the Royal Symphony, it's always the classical presentation—usually a recording of a full-piece orchestra, complete with the number's usual, dramatic fanfare.” He sighed briefly. “It's the exact style of performance that they play at every memorial held for the ponies of the Hurricane since the tragedy. There's no pride or joy in it anymore. Only a deep, immeasurable, and noble sorrow.” He swallowed and glanced my way once more. “But the way you play it... the way you revel in it, with your solo strings and your passionate gusto... Well...” He grinned painfully. “It's invigorating, Miss Heartstrings. It reminds me that the dead were once very much alive. I wish there were more performers who felt with their souls as much as with their talents.”
I was barely convinced. I stared forlornly at the lyre in my hooves as if it was a terrible weapon. I muttered, “Sometimes... I swear, I feel too much.”
He narrowed his eyes curiously. “Why's that?”
I shook my head, stumbling over the thoughts. I should have waited before spilling them out from my lips, but I felt as if so many barriers had fallen already. He had been brutally honest with me so far. What had I done to even come close to paying him equal respect?
“Do you ever feel like you stumble upon a moment—a moment that is so golden and so perfect—that you feel as if you were meant to be there at that place and at that time for a purpose?”
He ran a hoof through his mane and said, “I... I suppose I have, maybe once or twice. Why?”
I gulped and said weakly, “I feel that everyday.” I looked up at him. “And on every occasion, the moments become more and more intense, Morning. And yet...” I grimaced slightly. “I feel as if they never come with any reward, no matter how frequently they occur.”
“Maybe you just haven't seized the moment,” he stated. “I mean truly seized it. Perhaps that's why you feel for the moment more and more each time it keeps happening. You're never rewarded, because each time you come upon the precipice, you never make that leap of faith. I mean, never truly.”
“Morning...” I murmured. “Not all of us can be as blessed and... and...” I gulped. “And as magnificent as you. For me, I shall always have infinite moments like this, so gorgeously framed but so bitterly unrealized. But you?” I looked at him lovingly, sadly. “This is it. This is your moment. Your one and only.”
He gazed at me as though I was suddenly drifting away from him. “Lyra, I don't understand. Do you mean that—?”
“Shhh...” I reached out to him. I grazed his silken complexion with a hoof. I felt my lips quivering. The whole universe was shaking, and he was sliding downhill into the abysmal world I had refused myself all day to wake to. I should have seen it from a galaxy's distance. “This is your moment. Can't you feel it? Like a sunrise that sings to you, or a golden pair of eyes that is only a precursor to the most secure feeling you'll ever have the good fortune to know. You called me something when we first met, Morning.” I swallowed hard, then entreated him. “Do you remember, Morning Dew? Do you remember what I was... or what you thought I was?”
His mouth hung open. The lines in his face stretched apart, pulled by talons of pain that had been raking him all his life, until now. “Angel...?” he murmured, like a colt who had just been reunited with a foalhood friend.
But I was not that protector. I could see that now. There was a phantom reflected in his eyes, a paper-thin mare with a wreathe of silly flowers trying to gussy herself up for a first and last date. I wanted immediate things, transient things, superficial things. I wanted to be held, to be cuddled, to be warmed as I stumbled inevitably into the dead thick of night.
Morning Dew needed more—so much so that he was too humble and powerless to even want it. He was on the verge of self-discovery. He always was. And every Ponyvillane dawn that he saw me, my eyes and my face were only teasing him upon the brink of such enlightenment. Nopony should ever be toyed with on the advent of transcending his demons, and Morning Dew had more ghosts than any amount of flowers could exorcise.
I may or may not have the power to free myself of this curse. But until then, I will never have the ability to free him. All my words would be for nothing. Even a tune carries itself only so far.
I wished I had the courage then and there to accept that. But where my mind worked, my heart didn't, and a last part of me tried to do the impossible anyways.
“Morning Dew,” I murmured. “You are your own guardian angel. You always were.” I sniffled briefly, then produced a brave smile. I didn't trust too much in what reflected in his eyes, but I continued regardless, “When you suffered through illnesses as a child, when you endured the loss of your parents, when you fought over and over again to achieve your dream of becoming a guardpony, and finally when you settled for your humble life here, it's been you and you alone whom you've had to thank for such tenacity, for such strength.” I bit my lip briefly, then finished with, “I only wish you would accept that which has made you strong, that which is here for you in Ponyville. You don't... You don't need to keep searching...”
He gazed at me. His eyes were soft. I knew I was going to break before he even said it. “I didn't know I was searching until I met you, Lyra,” he exclaimed breathily. “How could I always have been my own guardian angel, and yet it is only now when somepony like you is here, filling me with such song and wisdom and joy, that I'm starting to feel secure?” He smiled blissfully. “Please. Believe me. I'm not searching. I... I daresay I've found it. I've found you...” His eyes narrowed on the breaking point. “Who are you? Please, tell me. I... I must know more...”
I wanted to tell him. I wanted to weep. I wanted him to know that I was the right pony, the only pony. I was the one soul that needed to be guarded, to be held, to be made happy and safe in his embrace. All his days of wandering, all his days of lonesome trepidation, of fighting against the grindstone of his afflictions: they were all preparing him to meet me, and it would all end in tragedy. For as soon as we found each other, I would live, but he would die. By the throes of Nightmare Moon's taint, this version of him that had become enlightened, that had become blissful, that had become secure in this place in life, would no longer be. And there I would be left alone, once again forced to grow flowers out of the ashes.
“I'll tell you more,” I said suddenly in a monotone voice. He couldn't see where I was going. He didn't know the cold darkness hanging over us both like an onyx ceiling. I was the only one who knew, and it was my fault and my fault alone that things had limped this far. “But first, my little florist,” I barely managed to speak. My voice was cracking too much. I cleared my throat and forced a smile. “I need you to do something for me.”
“Anything,” he murmured, entranced. “Name it.”
My eyes traveled the landscape behind him. There were several sets of trees at the lakeside. Some were ten feet away. Others were twenty. Finally, there was a row of trees about thirty-five feet's distance. Beneath them, several brightly-colored shapes fluttered in the wind.
“Could you march over there really quick...” I weakly pointed. “...and grab one or two of those marigolds?”
He glanced behind his shoulder at the trees, then back at me. “Marigolds?”
I giggled lightly. My voice was raspy at this point. I avoided his gaze before he could see my long face. “I... I want to explain something, and I need them to make an analogy.” I gulped. “Philosopher, remember?”
He blinked. Slowly, he nodded. “Very well then. I'll be right back.”
He got up. He left, and so did his shadow with him. As I heard the crunching of grass beneath his hooves, I clenched my eyes shut and ran a hoof over my face. I sucked a huge breath into my lungs, containing the sobs before I could feel a hint of them bursting forth. Several seconds passed, and those seconds became minutes. Finally, I heard his voice from what sounded like miles away.
“Huh... Marigolds. I have plenty of these in my greenhouse,” Morning Dew murmured unemotionally. His body pivoted and his face blankly scanned the horizon. “Why... Why am I spending a perfectly good afternoon gathering more of them...?”
The stranger may have looked my way, or he may not have. I had already gotten up and swiftly trotted away from the lake. After all, a murderer never stays at the crime scene.
The cabin greeted me like a tomb. I stood there, the dress hanging limply off of me with the grace of dead skin. With every breath I took, the fragrance of Morning Dew became fainter and fainter, panting that entire afternoon with the transparent shades of a decaying dream.
I lurched forward, my hooves shuffling lifelessly. I saw the abandoned elegies lying in a discarded phalanx. The very sight of them burned into me, searing and convicting the cowardly barriers I had pulled over myself.
When will I ever learn? When will I finally, finally come to terms with the things that I deserve and the things that I can only afford to desire?
With a sigh, I levitated the crown of golden tulips off my head. I held the strung flower buds in two hooves. They were so fragile, so delicate, yet so devoid of life. I could have left them where they belonged, on their stems, being fed the moisture and care they needed to survive as long as possible. But that wasn't what I chose to do. I plucked them from their foundations and threaded them into a silken circle of superficiality, just like everything I had done that day had been cheap and paltry and inexcusably desperate.
I wasn't sure what angered me more, that I thought such an aesthetic presentation could possibly win Morning Dew's affections, or the fact that that the gesture had actually come so close to succeeding.
I winced. I gnashed my teeth. My hooves rubbed together, threatening to grind the golden petals to a pulp. But I didn't let them. After all, enough beautiful things had been destroyed that day. I placed the flowers onto the end-table, pulled my slippers off, and hobbled over to the bed. I collapsed across the cot; I didn't bother peeling the dress off. I was too weak, too encumbered by shivers and shadows. I once again had the dream, the fantasy, the deep warm place where a phantom doppelganger of Morning Dew was there to hold me, to caress me, to remember my name and whisper it to me beyond the iron curtains of the cursed night.
All it ever was—all it ever would be—was a vision, a fancy idea, a happy thought for an unhappy prisoner. I should have known better than to have entertained the notion that I could have transformed any of it into something concrete and real. I should have had more respect for Morning Dew than to have dragged him into my ordeal. He had a soul—just like every other pony in this place. It was high time I came to grips with the fact that the things I do to the spirits around me, though impermanent, are still very much real and potentially devastating. My task in Ponyville was to trail a musical goddess, not to become one. It's one thing to seize a golden opportunity in life. It's another thing altogether to conquer it at the behest of souls too weak to retain meaning from the matter.
I clenched my eyes shut and curled my limbs to my chest. All I had to do was to accept it, to finally embrace it. I was alone. I am alone, and forever will be. It is my duty to unlock the elegies and nothing else. I’ve only needed to be reacquainted with my resolve. After all, what better task is there for a ghost to accomplish?
“That's the last of them!” A pony in orange work gear shouted. He marched out of the barren brown shell that was left of the abandoned hotel on the north edge of Ponyville the following morning. “I got it wired up and everything! We finally doing this?”
“You can bet Princess Luna's spitshiney tiara, we are!” Ambrosia grumbled, rotating a timer on a silver device. Several sets of wires had been threaded out of the multiple doors and windows of the building. They all converged onto the contraption in Ambrosia's grasp. “This had dang well better work! I wanna go back to buildin' houses and raisin' barns. I'm serious, the mayor doesn't pay us enough for this demolition crud.”
“I dunno, Amber,” the stallion chuckled, adjusting his hard hat. “I always figured you were a natural for tearing walls down.”
“No, that's what your momma does when she pays a visit to the outhouse.”
“Hardy har har.”
“Enough hijinks. Did the others set up a perimeter?”
“Yup. They just finished combing over the area four times. There's nopony around for a hundred feet.”
“Good. Let's get this over with.” Ambrosia paused fiddling with the timer to shout over her shoulder. “Okay, everypony! Three minutes! Keep back like you've been told to!” As it turned out, a thin line of random pedestrians were watching from a safe distance. They waved and cheered with meager enthusiasm for the dramatic implosion that was to happen. Ambrosia gave her co-worker one last glance. “Ready?”
“Ready.” He nodded.
“And... Set!” She twisted a lever. The silver device began ticking away as the timer counted down the seconds until detonation. The two workponies wasted no time. They galloped briskly away from the site until they were barely within shouting distance of the ill-fated hotel. Catching her breath, Ambrosia came to a stop beside her fellow workers and a small group of excited onlookers. Several orange signs had been planted in a wide circle around the site, repeating the words of warning that the memos in downtown Ponyville had been broadcasting all weekend. “Few. How's this for a Gala?” Ambrosia remarked. Many ponies around her snickered and chuckled.
It was around this point that I had trotted up. It was later in the morning than I was used to arriving. This was no accident; I had hoped to not run into a certain stallion. To my solemn relief, Morning Dew was nowhere to be seen. I hung in the shadows of the line of gazing ponies, feeling my saddlebag weighing me down like a bag of bricks. My sighs were just as heavy as I gazed one last time at the doomed hotel building. This week seemed to be the perfect graveyard for memories. I only wished I wasn't the town's one and only undertaker.
“I feel like something's missin',” Ambrosia said.
“Don't say that, Amber,” one of her co-workers grumbled. “That ain't even remotely funny right now.”
She chuckled, breaking the tense silence as the ponies awaited the impending implosion. “No, not that. Oh! I know: Morning Dew's a no-show. What's up with that?”
“Why? You were hoping he'd be around to marvel at your hoofwork?” one co-worker said to her.
“Two minutes!” another called out.
Ambrosia responded to the first pony. “Eh, perhaps it's for the best. He's always a sucker for sentiment. Somehow, I just know it: seein' this here building go down will... break... his heart...” Ambrosia's face grew pale. Her mouth hung agape. It was an expression most unnatural for her.
“Huh?” Her co-worker squinted at her. “Amber, what's up?”
“What...” She pointed a hoof, murmuring breathlessly. “Who in Tartarus' name is that...?”
Everypony looked. I too craned my neck to see better. When I did so, my heart sank.
A tiny, pale pegasus had approached the site from a high altitude. Fluttering past the signs and warnings, he landed directly in front of the building. The colt immediately began rummaging through a series of bright stems and buds left in the windowsills of the doomed structure. One by one, he began plucking the most colorful flowers, wildflowers that were only there still because Morning Dew hadn't harvested them... which was entirely because a certain unicorn had chosen to distract the handsome gardener all of yesterday.
Oh dear Celestia, no...
“Kid!” A pony shouted. He and several others dashed forward. “Get away from there—”
“Now just hold on!” Ambrosia shouted, holding them all back with an outstretched pair of hooves. “Don't everypony go gallopin' in at once! That place is about to blow!” She alone took three steps forward and cupped her hooves around her mouth. “Hey! Shrimp! Get your pale little butt outta there! Explosive charges are about to go off!”
There was no way in Equestria that Rumble didn't hear that. As a matter of fact, he gasped—his eyes wide and panicky. His wings fluttered ahead of his hooves, desperately trying to lift him up. Almost immediately, though, he plummeted hard into the ground, wincing. He tried lifting off again... and then again. He couldn't budge. We all watched in heart-throbbing horror, confused as to his predicament, until it suddenly dawned on us...
“Weeds...” A pony murmured. “The little kid's rear leg is caught in some weeds!”
“Help!” Rumble's voice squeaked from a distance. “Please! I-I'm stuck!”
“One minute!” a panicking co-worker stammered.
“Hold on!” Ambrosia motioned for the others to stay while she galloped forward. “I'm comin' for ya, kiddo! Just stay put—”
“I've got him!” a voice shouted, a voice that was far closer to Rumble already.
I wasn't sure if my heart should have leapt at that tone or not. Then I swiveled and saw his abandoned wagon rolling over to its side directly behind a line of kicked-up grass. I covered my mouth with a pair of hooves and turned towards the hotel.
Morning Dew was already there before my eyes could reach him. Skidding to a stop, the brave gardener planted a calming hoof on Rumble's neck, leaned over, and snapped the entangling weeds with one fierce bite of his jaws. Rumble limped free, wincing slightly as he stumbled forward over the many detonation wires worming into the building above them.
“Thirty seconds!” somepony's voice shrieked. I could barely hear them, for as much as I wanted to rejoice, the part of me that understood the cold breath of fate was still sitting on edge.
“Go! Go!” Morning Dew was shouting, panting, dizzy. Oh please. Please no. As Rumble trotted briskly ahead, Morning Dew took up the rear... for a meager two seconds. His breath came out in two lasting wheezes, and suddenly his body deflated.
The noise of his collapse startled Rumble. The little colt spun around. “Oh jeez!” he squeaked. Instead of running the rest of the way to safety, he turned around and desperately tugged at the stallion's mane with his hooves. “Mister, come on! You heard what they said!”
“Celestia help us—Morning!” Ambrosia shouted. Her eyes took in the ticking time bomb that was the hotel one last time before she bravely dashed forward... only to have something else dashing past her. The sheer velocity of the strange movement threw her off balance so that she collapsed to her chest and gazed helplessly up at the scene.
I was galloping fiercely towards the two ponies. I shrugged the saddlebag off my flanks in mid-sprint, kicking up soil and grass as I rocketed on the sheer fuel of my hyperventilating breaths. Cold sweat stained the corners of my hoodie as I slid past Rumble and Morning and dug my hooves solidly into the earth.
“Please, Miss!” A tearful Rumble was whimpering, begging. “You gotta help me move him—”
There's no time.
“Get behind me,” I said.
“And stay close!” I was already gritting my teeth, seething, facing angrily at the hotel as it threatened to spill thunder into my skull at any second. A green light pulsed, lighting up the flimsy ten feet between us and the impeding disaster. “Nnnngh...” I hissed as a tiny dome of emerald energy finally solidified above me.
Just as I erected Twilight's protection field, chaos broke loose. The charge went off in the center of the building. The hotel collapsed in a billowing cloud of mortar and sawdust. Then several explosions went off from deep within as the hulking weight forced the foundation to buckle in two dozen places at once. We were greeted with a sea of splinters and shrapnel splashing towards us.
Rumble shrieked and clung to Morning Dew.
Gnashing my teeth, I squatted before us and tilted my head forward. I took the brunt of the debris with my shield. The sheer force of the blasts were shoving me backwards, plowing four tiny ravines in the soil below. My head ached like a million vices were clamping down onto it all at once. Nevertheless, I held the bulk of the destruction away, so that only a few random specks of detritus flew past the translucent umbrella of energy.
There was a cry of horror from the ponies watching from a distance. I struggled to squint my aching eyes open. As the hotel's implosion consumed it, the front face of the building was performing a last act of stubbornness. It teetered forward—thick and heavy. I soon found two full stories of wooden paneling looming over me.
When it came down, a literal crater formed beneath the three of us. A cyclone of green energy fluctuated and danced about me as I poured all of my soul through my leylines in a last ditch attempt to preserve the protection spell. My legs buckled. My muscles quivered. I could hear Rumble's whimpers and Morning Dew's tiny breaths.
Somewhere, in the hazy clouds of time, a sickly young colt was marching out of bed. He graced the sunrise, and a golden pair of eyes beyond the window gazed back, lovingly, longingly, forbidden from embracing him.
“Nnnnngh...” I seethed. My world flashed a bright emerald as I leaned against the edge of my shield. My horn vibrated to the breaking point, but I reached beyond the pain, shoving a pulse of telekinetic energy straight into the protection buff. “Aaaaaaagh!” The green dome flew diagonally like a missile, plowing through the building face so that it split like a parting sea, both halves falling harmlessly to either side of us with a monumentous thud.
The next thing to fall was me—panting—to the sundered earth below. I wouldn't know it until later, but my heroics had lasted the space of five seconds. All I cared for at the time was...
“Mmmm... M... M-Morning...” I dragged myself back onto my hooves and crawled over towards him.
Rumble was shaking him furiously, all the while struggling to contain his sobs. “He's not moving! He's... he's...”
“He's alright, kid,” I said, gulping. I slid down and lifted his upper body until I cradled his soft head in my lap. “We're okay,” I murmured. My voice came out crookedly, and I realized that I was smiling. “We're all okay,” I squeaked.
“But... But...” Rumble glanced up at me. His eyes widened.
I was confused, until I felt a warm trickle of liquid rolling down my neck. I reached a hoof up and dipped it—wincing—into a thin gash below my left ear. I realized that my shield had saved the day, but it wasn't perfect. I was nicked and scratched in several tiny places. Rumble and Morning Dew were similarly grazed in a dozen spots, but I hardly feared the worst.
However, when Ambrosia and several other breathless ponies galloped up, the blood was the first thing they saw. “Good grief! Are y'all okay?”
“That was amazing!”
“Did you see what she just did?”
“Praise Celestia, that was close!”
“He... He's...” I gulped, suddenly aware of how much I was panting. “We're fine. We just... we just need...”
“You stay put!” Ambrosia gestured. I'd never seen her look so frightened. Her green eyes were locked on Morning Dew's unconscious figure alone. “We'll go fetch Nurse Redheart! Let's not take any chances, now!”
“I'm so sorry!” Rumble whimpered, his eyes misty as he sniffled and cried, “I didn't know about the building! I was flying all day and... and... I didn't know! Oh please tell me he'll be all right!”
“Let's worry about what could or couldn't have happened later, kid,” Ambrosia said. “You can fly, can't you?”
“Yes!” I flashed a look towards the colt. “You're the fastest one here! Help them fetch a doctor pronto!”
“Okay!” Rumble composed himself, fluttered his wings, and took off.
“Are... Are you...?” Ambrosia looked nervously at me.
“I'm fine. Go get Redheart!” I nodded towards her. “I'll... I'll watch over him.”
She nodded fervently. In a blur, she and her co-workers galloped towards the center of town.
I was left alone with Morning Dew in my forelimbs. The hotel site settled quietly around us like the aftermath of a terrible battle. I felt my breaths slowing to tranquil waves as I cradled his warm body and looked him over, carefully spotting the tiny cuts and bruises that blemished his otherwise perfect coat. I saw a tiny cut along his left cheek. Gently, I raised a hoof to his face.
As soon as my hoof touched his silken complexion, everything within me froze. The reality of the moment caught up with me on thundering wheels. I felt my heart pounding in my chest, and it was in perfect cadence with his. I had come to understand what I could or couldn't afford in life, but what of the both of us? The elegies may not have a divine purpose for me. But angelic moments such as this?
I brushed his mane hair aside. His golden face hung like a sleeping colt's in the noonday glow. Something so beautiful hardly deserved to be so alone. It was selfish of me to believe. But I didn't care. I no longer thought.
I was leaning over. I held him gently towards me until our foreheads made contact. I never felt like melting so much before. I nuzzled him, I cherished him. My limbs were shaking, buckling, but his presence was my anchor, pulling me closer towards him until I felt his tender breaths against my muzzle.
That was what broke the dam. With gentle sobs, I worshipped him, my tears christening his forehead like a holy river between us. He was so warm, so fragile, so alive. I wished that I could be alive too. Angels visit this earth sparingly for a reason. They need terribly blissful moments like this to remind them what's worth protecting, for it is all too often something incapable of possessing, unlike this moment—a memory that shall stay alive forever in the center of my wilting spirit, that I shall never allow to implode for as long as I'm alive to preserve it.
When Ambrosia, Rumble, and the others returned—and Nurse Redheart in tow—I was gone. Morning Dew awoke to their concerned voices, their careful ministrations and their gentle assertions. As he was bandaged back to health, he reached a hoof out and gently patted Rumble's and Ambrosia's shoulders in turn. He did so in a dazed fashion, his eyes and ears twitching in want of a warmth that was suddenly lacking. He brushed his hoof over his forehead and was only mildly surprised to feel it moist from a secret baptism. He gazed at the evaporating tears on his forelimb and glanced skyward, like a young colt waking to the golden dawn.
I sat on the park bench the following day, my lyre lying by my side. I didn't play it. I hardly breathed. I stared into the warm shades of late summer, my lungs slowly rising and falling. A few random bandages clung to my figure as my body mended from the previous day's debacle. I didn't feel proud. I didn't feel victorious. A guardian angel with no home to fly back to hardly has anything worth heralding.
When his hoofsteps came around the bend, it was like gentle thunder breaking the stillness of the afternoon. I saw Rumble trotting lonesomely along the path in my peripheral vision. He navigated a series of continual sighs, each one deeper and more somber than the one previous. Soon, his solemn gait brought him to the shadow of a tree on the crest of a hill. He slumped down beneath it, gazing at the thick soil beyond his hooves.
Eventually, I looked his way. I cleared the dryness from my throat and uttered, “Is there anything worse than a pegasus who doesn't have his head in the clouds?”
“Huh?” He glanced my way, then winced. “Oh. Hello there.”
“You... You're gonna yell at me too?” he grumbled. “Everypony else has.”
He toyed limply with the blades of grass around him. “I almost got a pony killed yesterday.”
“Really?” I smiled gently. “You don't strike me as a murdering type.”
“No. It's not that...” He groaned. “I did something stupid, and a pony nearly died trying to save me. An entire building practically fell on top of us. I still don't know how we both survived.”
“Perhaps we're lucky in this life for a reason,” I droned. “Perhaps it's fate's way of showing us that we have more to learn in our existence than just from our mistakes.”
“Whatever,” he blurted. “My older brother's forbidden me from flying around on my own for a while. I guess I don't blame him. It's just that...”
“I wanted to find some flowers. It's a lot easier to do from the air—to find the best places where they grow, at least.”
“Why flowers?” I obligatorily asked him.
“I...” He bit his lip. “I dunno, really. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
“You like flowers?”
“No,” Rumble grunted. “I don't.”
“It doesn't matter, okay?!” His voice cracked as he shook in frustration, covering his face with a pair of limp hooves. “I don't know. I just don't know.” He sighed lengthily. “All I know is that I'm a weirdo, just like my friends call me...”
I stared silently at him, but then my ears pricked. There was a melodic sound coming from the far hillside. A series of giggles lit the air, and one of them far more enchanting than the rest. I glanced to my left in time to spot the three foalish figures galloping through the tall grass. I looked briefly back at Rumble, took a deep breath, then narrowed my eyes in concentration. A dim green aura illuminated the bench upon which I was squatting.
“Heeheehee!” Apple Bloom's voice cackled. “Shucks, Scoots! Yer pullin' mah leg! Did you really?”
“Uh huh,” Scootaloo nodded with a devilish grin. She and the other two were garbed in their trademark burgundy cloaks. “Then, as he got back up, I told him 'You better stop insulting blank flanks, or else the next time I hit you, you'll cry every time you go to the outhouse!'”
“Well no wonder he had nothing mean to say this morning!” Sweetie Belle remarked, taking up the rear of the group as the three bounded over the grassy knoll. “You're the last pony anyone would want to mess with, Scootaloo—” Before she could finish this utterance, a burst of green light snapped her cloak off her shoulders. She gasped and spun around, only to see her crusader cape flying away in a magical wind. “Oh jeez! Hold up, guys!”
“Ugh! What, again, Sweetie Belle?” Scootaloo's voice groaned.
“You should fancy tyin' that thang to yer mane!” Apple Bloom added in a snicker.
“Very... funny...!” Sweetie Belle huffed and puffed as she galloped after the runaway scrap of cloth. “I mean it! Wait for me!” It came to a stop beneath a tree beside the park path. Catching up to the thing, she hoisted it up in her hoof and hissed like an angry fashionista. “Nnnnnn! This fabric! I wish there was something I could call it to make it feel bad—!” She stopped in mid-speech, realizing she wasn't alone.
Rumble realized he wasn't alone either. He jumped up with a gasp and backed into the tree as if he was being held at spear-point.
Sweetie Belle merely blinked at him. He stared just as blankly back. As the seconds melted away, she chewed on her bottom lip and took a few steps back.
Rumble fidgeted. Rumble shook. He lurched a two inches forward, anchored to a desperate grin. “H-Hi there.”
“Mmmm...” Sweetie Belle hid half her face behind the loose cape. “Hello...”
“You...” He briefly gnashed his teeth. “You're pretty—Uhhh... Uhhh—Your voice, I mean. You have a pretty singing voice.” He gulped. “That is, I've... I've heard it. You sing really well, and I think it's cool.”
Sweetie Belle's eyes fell to the grass. Her hooves toyed with the soil.
“Are you doing stuff with your friends?” Rumble scratched a hoof behind his slick mane. “Cuz I think it's pretty nifty how you three are always... uhm... going on adventures and—like—doing stuff for the village and all. Some ponies may think that you're annoying, but I think you're really helpful and stuff. I'm totally not one of those ponies who would think that you're annoying. I... nnngh... I don't even know why I said that...”
Sweetie Belle suddenly shook, quivered even.
Rumble squinted at her. “Are... Are you okay—?”
Sweetie Belle wretched, vomiting up a copious amount of fluid onto the grass between them.
“Whoah! Jeez!” Rumble hopped back.
“Mmmf... Urp...” Sweetie Belle fell on her haunches and rubbed a forelimb across her cheek. She grimaced, her face turning a furious shade of red. “Omigosh! I'm... urp... I'm so sorry! That... I-I don't even know why that happened!” She coughed a few times, sputtered, and hugged the fabric to herself. “Please, don't think I'm gross!”
“That...” Rumble's wide eyes blinked. “That...”
Sweetie Belle winced.
“That...” Rumble grinned brightly. “...was totally awesome!” His wings fluttered as he leaned forward. “I've never seen a pony upchuck like that!”
She smiled. “Really? You—urp—mean it?”
“Yeah! I bet even my big brother would be impressed!”
“Apple Bloom says it's because I'm always swallowing flies.”
“Really?” Rumble bounced towards her. “Wanna find some bigger bugs?”
“Uhm...” She bit her lip and hid behind the fabric once again. “N-Not really.”
“Oh.” Rumble instantly wilted. “Eheh... of course you wouldn't...”
“B-But... But the crusaders and I were about to go squirrel caging!” Sweetie Belle said. She appeared to light up as soon as she spotted his blank hind-quarters. “Wanna come with us?!” Her eyes sparkled as she beamed. “Maybe we can find you your super special talent!”
“Hey, yeah!” Rumble exclaimed. “It so happens I'm missing one of those!”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Sweetie Belle giggled and motioned him along. “Come on—Whoah!” She forgot about the cape in her grasp until she tripped on it.
“Heehee... Ahem. Here. Allow me.” Rumble walked over, and with very gentle movements he tied the cape to Sweetie Belle's back.
She stood still, her cheeks flushed. When he finished, she gave him a sweet smile. “Thanks.”
“We should get my big sister to make one for you.”
“Eh...” He smiled bashfully. “It wouldn't nearly look as good on me as it does on you.”
“Whatever. Squirrels are waiting. Let's go!”
The two scampered up the hill to join Apple Bloom and Scootaloo in waiting. I was watching the whole time, quiet as a mouse. I didn't want to disturb the moment, nor did I want to shatter the first warm pulse I felt in my heart since that day began.
“Now, if that ain't sweet as all get out.”
I turned to glance at my side.
Ambrosia was trotting down the path. She was out of uniform. Her exposed coat and snow-white mane were a sight to behold. I almost wondered if she hid such beauty and grace on purpose. As soon as she spoke again, I recognized the gruff construction worker instantly.
“The village was a bit too hard on the little scamp for what happened yesterday.”
“You'll have to enlighten me,” I spoke montonously. “Just what happened yesterday?”
She shuddered at the thought. “Something that was mostly my fault, which is why I talked the kid's older brother from layin' the guilt on too fiercely. Thunderlane's a popular stallion around these parts, but his brain is hardly the first organ he thinks with half the time.”
I chuckled. “You strike me as an observant mare.”
“Not observant enough, I reckon,” Ambrosia groaned. She sat momentarily on her haunches and ran a tired hoof through her mane. “I should have taken more precautions to keep ponies away from that hotel when we demolished it. I should have put up more signs. I should have spread the news to more pegasi. I shouldn't have used timed charges.”
“It's easy to pick apart an impossible situation after it's happened than before,” I said. “I don't see why you should be so hard on yourself. Everypony came out of it safely, right?”
“Just barely, and t'ain't none of my doin',” she grumbled. “I swear, it's as if I've been too terribly distracted these last few weeks. It's not the kind of professionalism I've been hankerin' to show.”
“Lemme guess?” I shrugged. “The Gala got your mind in the clouds?”
“Hah! As if!” She briefly guffawed, then rode the sloping crest of a sad sigh. “I wished life was that dag-blamed simple.”
“If it's not the Gala that's been distracting you, then what?” I asked her with a chuckle. Then it dawned on me. My smile left as sharply as the breath coming out of my mouth. “Who?”
She bit her lip as her face grew long. I've seen that look before, reflected in a charming stallion's blue eyes. “T'ain't no matter. I've prattled and rambled like a little foal, and it's just too late to make anything of it. Besides... heh... I was born to be a real brute. What he needs is somethang gentler, some filly with more grace.”
I gazed softly at her. I gulped and said, “What a pony needs, a pony often already has. I've learned that the ones who search the hardest are usually the souls who end up alone.”
“Hmmm. There are worse fates,” Ambrosia mused.
“Yes.” I slowly, coldly nodded. “There are.”
She fidgeted a final time, sighed the last layers of guilt off her shoulders, then produced a brave smile. “Well, no sense in fussin' the mistakes of yesteryear. I've got me an apartment to start buildin' tomorrow. I'd better go meet with my crew to begin plannin'. Have a good afternoon, ma'am. Here's hopin' you don't run into anymore pathetic mares bent on thinkin' their troubles aloud. Heheh...”
I waved as she trotted off. “It's... hardly a crime...” She was too far away to hear me, and I was too frozen in my place to try and make her.
“Tell me, Miss Heartstrings,” Rarity was saying. She sat across from me at the table in Sugarcube Corner as a rosy candle lit up our conversation. “If I may be so bold as to inquire: have you ever survived an impossible infatuation?”
I gazed up at her from my musical notes. I smiled.
“Nopony ever survives an impossible infatuation, Miss Rarity,” I said. “Whatever you were before the Gala, that mare's gone now. But, ask yourself, would you want that goofy, enchanted filly to come back and live in your body again?”
She blinked back at me, her face lighting up in the falling shade of evening. “No,” she gently breathed, shaking her head with a calm smile. “I imagine that I shan't be that mare ever again, and I am perfectly fine with that.”
“Still...” I pointed with the quill pen levitating in my grasp. “Memories.”
“Memories, Miss Heartstrings?”
“They're too delicious to give up entirely, so long as we know that they'll only remain what they flimsily are.” I gazed at the crown of golden tulip buds haloing the candle between us. “What better a place for a fantasy to exist than in the recesses of our minds? As for our hearts—however—it's up to us to prepare them for when the time comes that they'll be made or broken. No matter how extreme our fantasies are, we can never really anticipate the moment when true love comes, when we're transformed into something less starving... less lonely than the previous shades of us.”
Rarity took a deep breath. Her smile was a weathered thing, but it felt truer than any other expression she had graced me with previous. “I feel as though I have been starving for a terribly, terribly long time.”
I nodded quietly. “And some of us have even longer years left to remain hungry.” After a pause, I brushed a hoof gently over the golden petals and added, “Some of us. But not all.”
Quietly, Rarity finished her mug of coffee. She stood up, but before leaving she trotted over to my seat and rested a hoof on my shoulder.
“Just be sure starvation doesn't claim you, Miss Heartstrings. You are far too beautiful to expect nothing from this glorious world.”
“I know it, Miss Rarity.” I smiled peacefully up at her. “After all, everypony is made to be loved.”
Her lips pursed upon hearing that. She gave me a sweet smile, something that was strung halfway between proud and melancholic. On a moist breath, she carried herself out the door of Sugarcube Corner, and into the last waning light of day.
Alone, I sat with my elegies. I glanced at Morning Dew's gift of flowers. I thought about beautiful things, and how all too often they were hidden for fear of the unknown. I was the only cursed soul in Ponyville who had something legitimate to fear. More than that, it was my angelic duty to keep it that way.
Standing up, I blew out the rosy candle, and briskly hoisted the crown of flowers in my hoof.
The next morning, the noise of power saws and jackhammers filled the wooden framework of the skeletal apartment building with chaotic cacophony. On just any other day, Ambrosia would have been in complete control of the situation. Currently, however, she stumbled over equipment and bumped into wooden boards, all the while seething and rubbing her head as if afflicted with a terrible headache.
“No... no... no!” She barked over her shoulder. “I'm tellin' y'all, ya ain't lookin' at the blueprints correctly! The whole dang foundation is off by over twenty degrees! At this rate, I'm gonna get an earful once they try installin’ the windows!”
“Well excuse me, Amber!” Another worker shouted back over the bedlam. “I was only following your directions!”
“And how many times have I told you—When I'm comin' across as hare-brained, chew me a new one!”
“If you cared so much about your aching head this morning, then maybe you should be wearing your hard hat like a smart pony!”
“Don't preach to me!” Ambrosia rubbed her scalp again, sighed, and eventually grumbled, “Though reckon he's right. What am I doing, tryin' to kill myself?” Lethargically, she trudged across a stretch of concrete, squinting towards a wooden table. “Now where in tarnation did I put that stupid thang?” She grumbled, looking everywhere for her article in question. “I swear, I put it right there! Did somepony move it—?” She froze in place, her mouth agape.
The hard hat was lying atop a stack of toolboxes. What was more, it was upside down. What was even more, its hollow center was filled to the brim with golden, silken tulips—an entire crown of them.
She plopped her flanks down as she gazed limply at the thing. Her head shook with each pulsing heartbeat. Reaching a hoof over, she gently grazed the soft petals. “Why... Why that sissy little sap...” Her voice had lost its gruff edge, and she was cracking a gentle smile. “He didn't...?” Biting her lip, she gazed beyond the lengths of the construction site.
“Nnngh... Hey! Amber!” A co-worker barked from across the thundering scene. “Could you pass me the measuring tape while you're over there?” Several seconds limped by. He looked up and grumbled again, “Amber?”
Ambrosia was gone. So were the tulips.
Morning Dew finished planting a row of dandelions in the soft bed of a storefront. Standing up, he wiped the sweat from his brow and admired his hoofwork. Slowly, he turned around to grab a tool from his gardening wagon. It so happened that a familiar pony in orange stood in the way.
He jumped back briefly, then let loose an airy chuckle with a hoof planted over his bandaged chest. “For goodness' sake, Amber! Do you want me to collapse on a daily basis?” He shuffled past her and rummaged through the wooden cart full of plants and things. “What brings you here? I thought you were working on the other side of town this month.”
She stared after him. After a courageous breath, she muttered, “Are you fixin' to see me wear them? Is that it?”
“Uhhhh...” Morning Dew tilted his head up, blinking towards the horizon. He turned and squinted at her. “Huh? I don't read you...”
She slowly lifted the hard hat in her grasp. She chewed on her lip for the length of time it took for him to gaze down and see the tulips gathered in a circle within.
“Wow. Those are...” He narrowed his expert eyes. “Those are several days' old, but still remarkably fresh!”
“Only a pony like you can grow them flowers to last that long, Morning,” she said.
“Well, I guess, but—” He stopped in mid-sentence. Fidgeting, he cast her a look that was too confused to appear guilty.
She read the truth in his expression anyways. “You... You didn't send them, did you?”
He slowly, slowly shook his head. “No, Amber. I... I'm sorry, but I didn't. What...? I mean, how did you think—?”
“Heh...” Her breath squeaked out of her as she smiled painfully down at the hard hat and the treasures therein. “I know. It's silly.”
“No! I mean... it... it's not as silly as you think—”
“Of course it is, Morning. It always is.”
“Amber?” He gulped and gazed at her worriedly. “I... I don't understand...”
“You do. You just pretend that you don't, like I pretend that I don't.” She ran a hoof through her mane and cast a vulnerable gaze towards the remains of the crumbled hotel across the street. A deep breath escaped her lips. “I catch you lookin’, Morning.”
“At the likes of Caramel and Windy. At Thunderlane and Blossomforth as well. And I think... no... I know...” She choked on a soft breath and gazed back at him. “It's the same way you look at me.”
Morning Dew said nothing. He merely hung his head and dug his hoof into a loose piece of soil.
“Yes. Yes!” She chuckled bitterly, sitting down on her haunches finally and all-but-hugging the hard hat to her chest. “I'm always goin' off on you and teasin' and the like. It's stupid. We both know it, and we both know it's just to cover something stupider.”
“It's not stupid, Amber—”
“Don't you try to placate me none!” She briefly frowned, but her expression melted into a vulnerable glance as she leaned forward. “How come it feels like you're always searchin', and I'm always waitin', and the days just go by faster and faster and all we end up bein' is alone?”
“We... We're not exactly alone, Amber—”
“We are, Morning. We are and... and...” She winced as her eyes moistened. A sniffle came out of her, then, “I almost lost ya yesterday. I almost lost ya—and I feel mighty horrible. I feel horrible because I feel that way and yet I've never had you to begin with! And I'm so sorry...”
“Please.” Morning gazed warmly at her. “Don't be sorry. What happened with the demolition was hardly anypony's fault—”
“Morning, ya knucklehead!” She laughed and sobbed at once, a pitifully delicious sound. “That's not what I'm apologizin' for and you know it!” She reached a hoof over and boldly stroked his cheek. “I'm beginnin' to realize what I should have done a lot sooner, what a sweet stallion such as you was afraid to do himself.”
Morning Dew raised his hoof—hesitated—but ultimately grasped her forelimb. He didn't shove it away. He merely held it to his face, sighed, and eventually spoke in a somber voice, “I've been afraid for a reason, Amber. You know what I've always wanted to do in my life.” His tone wavered, a coltish quality he could never shake loose. “And you know that at this rate, with what I have to contend with, I'll never be able to do it.”
“You're so much stronger and more confident than me, Amber.” He looked at her painfully. “I... I would never be able to make you feel secure. I would never be able to protect you as I'd like to...”
She smiled as a tear rolled down her face. She caressed his cheek just the same. “You can protect me more than you think, ya sap. Trust me.” Her lungs heaved and her smile cracked even wider. “You really can...”
That broke something within him. He let loose a heavy breath, as if liberated by something even more golden than his memories. He looked down at the hard hat. Reaching with both hooves, he raised the yellow crown of tulips and looked them over. Without wasting too many seconds, he gently lifted them towards Ambrosia's head.
She tilted forward. Once the crown was in place, she let loose a childish giggle. “Uhm...” She sniffed and squirmed nervously under his gaze. “I... I reckon they don't m-match my eyes none.”
“No.” He slowly shook his head. He smiled. “But they do match your smile.”
She squeaked forth another chuckle, wiping her eyes with a forelimb. “Well... That's a start, hmm?”
Morning Dew shook his head again. “This is,” he said. He then leaned in and nuzzled her.
She nuzzled him back, then clung to him desperately, burying her face into his shoulder. He returned the gesture, and together the two blended warmly in the center of Ponyville, becoming one with the colorful canvas around them.
I stood beyond the nearby storefronts, appreciating the art of life. It was something best done at a distance, after all. Shuffling the weight of the lyre in my saddlebag, I turned around and marched towards the colder parts of town. The eighth elegy sprang back to life in my head, along with a burning speculation.
I couldn't stop thinking... that a true guardian angel's merit is not measured in what she holds onto, but in what she gives up.
That thought has occupied me all afternoon, to the point that I had to write about it, which is how I come to here, to this cabin, to this journal. The elegy calls to me. I know when it's best not to refuse a tender embrace, no matter how cold or pale. I must figure out its name, its purpose, it position in the symphony. Beyond that, I know what comes next. After all, what's left to stop me?
I won't be writing in this journal again, not until I've performed the eighth elegy, not until I've thrown myself full-force into the only purpose I have left, a moment that's hanging eternally before me like a great black beacon. If there are no more entries to follow, then that means I will have either frozen to death or been dragged to accursed depths hitherto inconceivable.
My one assurance—my one affirmative thought at this point—is that there is only one soul who will be burdened with mourning me once I am gone, and that same pony is no longer afraid to declare such.
Yours, as true as she is real,
I may or may not find an escape from this horrible curse of mine. Sometimes, more than anything, I just wish that somepony would love me.