“Stupid… dumb projects.” Scootaloo groaned.
She sighed and hung her head in defeat, flanked by both of her best friends who held somewhat more optimistic expressions.
Oh, who were they kidding? Projects like these sucked.
The three were in unanimous agreement as they put as much distance between themselves and their school as possible. The easiest walking route to blow off some steam always took them through Ponyville’s market street, though this time they actually did have a reason to visit the accursed, crowded lane.
“So, lemme get this straight,” Apple Bloom began weighing in and attempting to work through the logic of their assignment. “T'help us learn about math, Ms. Chrerilee wants us to make a flower arrangement? We were assigned this a couple’a days ago and I’m still not over that.”
Sweetie Belle nodded once solemnly.
Scootaloo huffed, her annoyance seeming to multiply at the mere mention of ‘flower arrangement.’
“This is so stupid!”
Annoyed at the world, Apple Bloom asked:
“You tryin’ to convince yerself or us?”
The pegasus pursed her lips.
“Ya know, I used to be all gung-ho about stuff like this before we got our cutie marks,” Scootaloo added, throwing a small glance of reverence to the marks on her haunches.
That didn’t prevent her expression from quickly souring once again.
“But now that we have them, what the hay’s the point?!”
“You know,” Sweetie Belle replied. “I think I have to agree with you in this case… and I even love the frou-frou stuff!”
Apple Bloom regarded her prim and proper friend with a cocked eyebrow.
“Yeah, I thought you’d be all over this, Sweets.”
Sweetie, herself, only shrugged.
“I just don’t like math, really.”
Scootaloo was more than keen on backing her up on that assertion, one of the few times she and Sweetie Belle agreed one hundred percent on something.
A brief moment of silence fell upon the trio as they thought of their predicament. Apparently the idea of the flower arrangement in such a specific format was to help them learn about fractals and geometry on a very introductory level, but they could not care less; the textbook was torture enough without having to get multi-colored entities involved.
Even so, an assignment was an assignment, so they had something to do. They had all the materials they needed, either provided by their school or some miscellaneous flowers and other accessories at home they could use in addition.
But even then, they felt a need to stand out. With some manner of obligation, the three sought out one final piece.
“So what do we need again?” Scootaloo asked, bringing the topic to the forefront once more as well as some semblance of focus to their trot town-ward.
“A ‘centerpiece,’” Apple Bloom answered.
Sweetie nodded, hoofing one of her coiffures from out of her vision.
“It sucks, but we’ve made good timing the last couple of days. Project’s due tomorrow so we just need to find something nice to go in the middle and we’re done. Let’s just get it over with now,” she explained.
The sporty filly nodded in concession, beating her wings a few times out of eagerness to finish this up once and for all.
“True! Alright, where do we start? Should we drop by Roseluck and her sisters’ place?” Scootaloo followed up.
Apple Bloom was deep in thought, hoof on chin as they entered into the market district.
“We could~...” she thought out loud. “But if we want something special, there’s this new flower mare in town a few houses down. Think she’s been here fer a few months, actually. From what Ah’ve seen, she sells rare and special flowers!”
Sweetie perked up immediately.
“That sounds interesting!”
“That sounds expensive,” Scootaloo said, her skepticism more than merited.
However, Bloom was quick to dismiss her concerns.
“Nuh uh! I haven’t met her, but others have shopped there and said her prices are very reasonable! She’s apparently super nice. Just… different, maybe?”
Suddenly, all this talk about the price of specialty floral items was of no concern to the other two anymore, especially Scootaloo, who hung on those last few words.
“Whaddya mean ‘different?’ Technically we’re different. We’re weird actually,” she questioned, gesturing to the three of them.
“Speak for yourself…” Sweetie mumbled, evoking a harsh bump from Scootaloo’s flank, as well as a mutual chuckle.
Apple Bloom shook her head.
“Nah, it’s not like that,” she countered. “Other ponies have said she c’n be… what’s the word… skittish? To the point where it’s weird. Nothin’ huge but, I honestly don’t know. Anywho, she may be our best bet for a flower ‘centerpiece’ or whatever in tarnation we need.”
And once again, the mention of the project spurred on each and everypony’s desire to just finish it.
“Nice, weird mare or not... whatever. Let’s just get this outta the way so we can go to Sugarcube corner for some ice cream,” Scootaloo suggested.
Again, Sweetie Belle backed that up wholeheartedly. Two full agreements today!
Not more than a five-minute walk later, the three fillies happened upon a rather unassuming house a bit further down the market corridor. A one-story abode painted perfectly white, there was a single front door and two windows flanking it on either side. In all honesty, it was the most plain looking house that they’d seen.
However, the word they were looking for was ‘practical.’
The house did not matter, though. What did let them know they were in the right place was the rather expansive garden out front. Buckets and pots of different flowers were on display, some strikingly gorgous arrangements and bouquets that none of the girls had ever seen before.
Once they made their approach and their entrance into the open yard that beckoned them forth, the three completely forgot that they were looking to purchase for a project. Even Scootaloo, who hated ‘frou-frou stuff,’ was taken by just the sheer complexity of how so many flowers could be arranged so beautifully, yet with such precision, such deliberateness!
Talk about a technicolor display.
The outdoor shelves and sectioned gardens blended in with the wooden awnings, all covered in vines and displaying their natural floral creations in different colors, colors that meshed, well… naturally. Each type appeared simultaneously sanctioned off from the rest, yet interspersed amongst each other.
Purposeful placement, yet seemingly random all the same.
“Whoa…” Apple Bloom breathed out.
“Okay, maybe flowers aren’t so lame…” Scootaloo admitted.
“‘So lame?’ Oh I should not think so!” a mysterious, smooth, thick-accented voice sounded through one of the many walls of flowers.
All sets of ears perked up straight as the three of them searched for the source of the voice. Soon enough, they had their answer as a white-coated mare—as pristine as the house itself—entered into their field of vision.
The newcomer bore a bright, welcoming smile, displaying two rows of perfect teeth in conjunction with her bright, lavender eyes. Her black mane, which fell freely to the middle of her neck, was maintained immaculately and precisely at a length between what would be considered ‘normal’ and ‘a little short.’ She wore a dark green gardening tool-pouch over her waist, just enough to cover her haunches, cutie mark, and lower abdomen.
Her walk was deliberate and precise, one hoof in front of the other with perfect, marching-like cadence. Said hooves, or at least, her two front hooves, were wrapped up in gardening gloves. To the girls, this mare radiated perfection and precision, and for some reason, none could form any words upon the former’s approach.
She was beautiful… but in a paralyzing, mildly frightening way; they could not place why that was.
Unaware of their temporary freeze, the mare spoke once more in that alluring, thick, yet fluent accent of hers that so elegantly rolled off her tongue:
“Flowers are the guides to a calm, peaceful mind. They are natural, aromatic, and just plain beautiful...” she proclaimed. “And my dear fillies, I firmly believe there is nothing ‘lame’ about natural beauty, hmm?”
She then extended her hoof forward.
“I am Schneeblume, but please, you may call me Schnee. May I help you lovely fillies?”
The Crusaders cast their glances between each other before internally shrugging. Apple Bloom stepped forward and shook the owner’s hoof.
“Ah’m Apple Bloom!”
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle quickly followed suit.
“Sweetie Belle!” the last of them introduced. “Nice to meet'cha!”
Schnee giggled all bubbly-like.
“Oh I assure you, the pleasure is all mine!”
So far, no one could figure out what others had meant when they said that Schnee was a bit… odd. After fifteen whole seconds, she seemed as normal and quirky as anypony in Ponyville. The only thing that was really different about her was her accent.
Apple Bloom, however, had other curiosities occupying her mind that were tangentially to do with just that.
“That’s a… different name. Are ya not from here?” she asked so bluntly, earning a harsh nudge from Sweetie Belle.
“Manners!” Sweetie hissed. “Were you raised in a barn?”
Schneeblume cut in, having cleared her throat.
“That is quite alright and a legitimate question!” she said with an accompanying chuckle. “And to answer, you’re right: I am not from here. I moved to Equestria and Ponyville about four and a half months ago from Alemaneia.”
The Cursaders’ eyes brightened at the mention, and simultaneously, they uttered:
“Really?!” Scootaloo asked. “But that’s so far away!”
Schneeblume was inclined to agree with that sentiment. Nodding while staring blankly elsewhere, she replied:
“It certainly is, little one.”
“And dangerous!” Apple Bloom noted pointedly.
Her elegant friend regarded her incredulously; Sweetie's rhetorical question was a figurative punch to Bloom's shoulder.
“You do know the Equidae Continental War is over, right?”
Bloom nudged Sweetie harshly for that comment as she looked on with a pursed, amused smile.
Yet all the while, none noticed the mildly despondent downturn of Schneeblume’s seemingly unwavering smile.
“It ended like, two months ago! Shut up!”
Sweetie opted to ignore her and turned back to Schnee.
“Why’d’ya come all the way here to sell flowers?” she followed up…
...but there was no forthcoming answer.
Instead, the three found Schnee staring blankly at Scootaloo, who she was paying attention to last. Her eyes were unblinking, pupils wide, and her breathing was steadily rising, as if she was in a trance. Her eyes peered into Scootaloo’s very existence, yet straight past her all the same... scrutinizing her in every imaginable way, it seemed.
Naturally, the orange filly blinked and cast her glance from side to side. Lifting a single hoof, unsettled, she uttered:
No response. Sweetie's turn:
The mare blinked thrice and turned her attention to Sweetie Belle at an instant.
“Oh! I… ehmm. I apologize for that. I have a bad habit of uhh, daydreaming,” Schneeblume quickly corrected herself. “But to answer your question, Alemaneia is not always a place that appreciates aesthetic beauty… well, at least in my hometown at the time.”
She flipped her mane to the other side of her neck and itched the side of her muzzle before continuing, though not without an incredibly awkward laugh.
“Heh, besides, I had naturally lived there my whole life, so I decided it was time for a change. Needed to travel more. ‘Out with the old and in with the new,’ as they say, ja?”
Despite that little oddity, which each of the girls duly noted, they couldn't really believe Schnee’s talk of no appreciation for the beauty around them.
“What?? Who wouldn’t appreciate all of this?” Apple Bloom asked, drawing her hoof over the entire, collective ensemble on display.
Schnee, once again, giggled into her hoof at the inquisitive filly’s mannerisms.
“Thank you, but you would be surprised…” she alluded vaguely.
She then waved her hoof dismissively and shook her head.
“But I have kept you three long enough with my boring words, is there anything I could help you with?”
Sweetie took the liberty of asking the fateful question.
“We’re making a flower arrangement as a project, and we’re gonna need a centerpiece. Something extra special,” she informed.
Schnee raised her head and tapped her right hoof against her chin as she stared off into space. A few moments later, however, her smile replaced that pensive visage and her entire form brightened in kind.
“Ah!” she exclaimed, then proudly skipped over to a very specific flower group, one that had dressed up a post of the awning.
The Crusaders joined her thereafter, and observed silently as Schneeblume seemed to know exactly what she was looking for.
Yet, in the mare's little canter, her gardening apron had a little bit of a wardrobe malfunction by her haunches, inadvertently revealing her cutie mark to Scootaloo.
To say that the filly was perplexed by what she saw would be an understatement.
Schnee, by way of reflex, refit her ‘uniform’ properly and added to her initial interjection with gusto:
“The center of an arrangement is often the most pivotal, so you will wish to draw everypony’s eyes at an instant! What better radiant, eye-catching beauty than a Skylily?” she suggested, and then proceeded to yank a single flower off the vine via her teeth.
Said flower held true to its namesake with its uncanny sky-blue color, but the peripheries of the petals—arranged almost like a combination of a rose and a pansy—held a subtle white color. The natural color arrangement and combination held a scene much like that of a partly-cloudy day. The center was bright yellow, personifying a luminous sun on such a gorgeous, depicted day.
It was beautiful.
But more importantly, it was perfect.
And just as Sweetie had posed the question, she would gladly make the executive decision... as the other two were just a tad too entranced to weigh in themselves.
Perhaps this would not be such a ‘lame’ journey after all.
“We’ll take it!” she declared. “How much?”
Schneeblume dropped the lone flower into the crook of her hoof, holding it by the stem as she brought it up to eye-level. With a nostalgic, far-off gaze, she silently twirled the beautiful creation of nature and made the petals dance and shimmy with her meandering thoughts.
“Such flowers are rarities in this part of the world… and can often go for twenty bits each,” she mused.
The three fillies cringed at that; there would be no trip to Sugarcube Corner after this… but whatever it took to pass and/or potentially ace this project would be well worth the price.
But, Schnee had one last thing to add with the tiniest huff of amusement.
“But… one cannot put a price on education. Therefore, I charge you three one return visit...” she proclaimed with that initial, bright, knowing smile of hers.
With some impressive sleight of hoof, she fetched a single glass vial from her multi-tool pack and placed the flower inside for safekeeping. She then capped it and hoofed the completed package over to the trio, to which Apple Bloom took it into her care with utmost gentility.
“...to tell me how you did on your project. I believe this is fair payment, ja?”
The sheer power of the smiles all around could practically be felt for hundreds of feet in all directions.
Scootaloo thrust her hoof into the air.
And both Bloom and Sweetie were more than happy to ‘pay the price,’ as it were.
“Okay, Miss Schneeblume! Thank ya kindly!” the former expressed, though the porcelain mare in question was quick to dismiss the title with great amusement.
“Please, ‘Schnee’ will do just fine, little ones,” she softly corrected, giggling at such formality.
“We’ll definitely be back! Thank you so much!” Sweetie Belle followed up, beaming.
Even Scootaloo had her own words to add.
“Heh, yeah, thanks a lot, Schnee! You're awesome!”
The black-maned mare waved her hoof in exaggerated dismissal.
“Bitte schön und macht nichts! T’was nothing at all! Now,” she began anew, quickly pointing to each of the fillies for reference and memory purposes. “Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and... Apple Bloom! Have a wonderful rest of your day, ja?”
“We will! And we’ll be back!” Sweetie shouted as the Crusaders made their way out.
Schneeblume waved as the trio of pleasant fillies exited her property and made their way towards the town center. She watched them with gentle eyes and the softest of smirks with her head held high. Yet such an innocuous, admittedly refreshing and cute few minutes could not stem the inevitable, and Schnee only just realized that the first rivulets of her warm tears had dripped onto her walkway.
She growled to herself, shaking her head as she hung it in shame. It was likely a miracle she was able to compose herself through her little ‘incident.’
What she wouldn’t give to live like those fillies once again, where all they had weighing upon their minds were simple projects, grades, and what shenanigans they would get themselves into the next day...
...and not what demons they would have to spontaneously face.
And in their faces, all she saw were three fillies that had a desire to grow up much too fast. Such a pity.
Schnee retreated deeper into her abode and stooped low to continue her flower-tending and purify her thoughts. All the while, she ruefully reflected on what she would willingly part with to never have to see her nightmares manifest themselves during the day through false daydreams.
Regardless, it wasn’t like she didn’t deserve it, in her eyes.
It was one thing to finish a project, but it was certainly worth celebrating that the three of fillies were able to completely top off their assignment with no extra burden on them.
Restrained cheers and mindless babbling were aplenty as the best friends enjoyed an afternoon milkshake, fresh from the hooves of Pinkie Pie to their glasses.
Sat around a small table and yucking it up about everything and nothing at all, the Crusaders could finally get back to normal activities without the horrific lien that such a grueling project had on their lives.
Well, at least two of them were. A certain Scootaloo still held a pensive expression etched on her face when conversation lulled, and she mindlessly twirled the straw within her chocolate malt. Much to the mild annoyance of her friends, she had something she had to get off her chest for around the fourth time today.
“I’m telling you, I think those ponies were onto something, Bloom…”
The collective sigh was telling.
“Will ya give it a rest already? Ah admitted Ah was wrong! Besides, ya weren’t complainin’ when she gave us the flower fer free,” Apple Bloom protested, rolling her eyes.
“Seriously Scoots,” Sweetie Belle weighed in between sips. “Schneeblume’s a super nice mare and you know it! She didn’t have to give us this gorgeous flower for nothing at all,” she also remarked, gently patting the vial that Bloom had given to her for safer keeping.
This was true, and Scootaloo found herself weighing those words yet again as she went in for another sip of her shake. Even as things were... even as all was right with the world as the creamy chocolatey goodness slid down her gullet, Scoots just could not shake the feeling that something was up with the enigmatic mare.
Yeah, she was nice and sweet and caring, but after all, Twilight not buying the ruse with Chrysalis as Princess Cadance likely saved the entire nation.
But even more than that, Scootaloo felt she had a right to be at least mildly off-put.
“Oh come on!” she protested. “Did you girls even see the way she looked at me?? She looked like I made a joke about her mom!”
Sweetie rolled her eyes.
“Alright, look…” she commanded the attention of her two other best friends. “I'll be the first to admit that was weird. But I don't think that was a big deal. How ‘bout we prove it? It’ll be super easy! When we go back after we get our grade, we’ll see if we can find anything weird about her. It’ll be like our old investigating as Gabby Gums... and we’re gonna show you that there’s nothing wrong with Schnee. Got it?” she proposed.
Apple Bloom seemed immediately on board, and Scootaloo nodded in consideration.
Modestly placated, she only had one last thing to add:
“Sounds good to me. And who knows, maybe I’ll be right! She could be an Alemaneian spy!”
“Hah! Fat chance!” Apple Bloom cut in, but then with a mischievous smirk, thought to put forth a wager.
“Tell ya what, Scoots: if she ends up being a spy or kidnappin' colts or whatever, we’ll each buy you a milkshake. If she’s perfectly normal, ya have to buy us both milkshakes. Whaddya say?”
Sweetie nodded wholeheartedly, and Scootaloo considered the option with a hoof to her chin before committing to it with equal vigor.
“Deal! And just for the record, for next week, I prefer malts,” she said, then punctuated her acceptance with an overconfident wink.
All three fillies participated in a hoofbump to seal the ultimate deal. At this point, they could care less about the end of the project or their ultimate grade on it. None of that mattered in hindsight, anymore.
By this time next week, somepony would be victoriously gorging on delicious, hoof-made milkshakes or malts.
[The Following Week…]
“Schnee!” Sweetie Belle bellowed as she and her friends approached the Alemaneian mare’s residence.
After a couple of seconds, the familiar, silky black locks and their associated pair of lavender eyes peered over the hedges of the expansive garden.
Schneeblume got completely to her hooves and beamed.
“You’ve returned, my little ones!” she exclaimed, then giddily waved them inside.
“Come in! Come in! I’ll fix us some tea and bread,” she beckoned, and the Crusaders filed in through the entrance in her fence.
Schnee then closed said fence and hung a ‘On Break’ sign before leading everypony inside her house.
Yet as the four of them entered into her humble abode, all three fillies silently, carefully noted that Schnee did not remove her gardening boots. They were clean by any standard once they were wiped, but…
...who kept those on after yard work?
Closing the front door behind them, the four stood in the little foyer, a spartan artery with a polished wooden floor that led to both the kitchen on the left side and a small living room on the right. Straight down the hall led to what the Crusaders presumed was her bedroom, the restrooms, et cetera.
“Well, Willkommen zu mine humble house! It’s not the biggest in the world, but it’s mine and it’s home,” Schneeblume introduced with placid, soft smirk.
“It’s nice and quaint!” Sweetie reassured, and her sentiments were genuine.
As were Scootaloo’s and Apple Bloom’s, who nodded in kind with bright smiles.
Schnee quickly turned to them, her mane flipping elegantly in the process. She appeared more excited than they were, if her lavender eyes were reflecting even a fraction of her glee!
“Danke! Anyway, I’ll prepare us some snacks and you can tell me all about your flower project, ja?” she tokenly suggested.
This was all planned, after all.
“So!” she added, pointing a hoof toward the empty living room. “Please make yourselves comfortable. At home, even! I’ll be done in just a few minutes!”
“Okay!” Sweetie replied energetically.
The Crusaders were, of course, excited at this, because Schnee was indeed such a generous heart and a nice all around mare… but they still had one last order of business to settle before they could settle down in kind.
But with that out of the way, Schneeblume beamed once again and tucked tail into the kitchen, her rummaging through glassware and plates creating more than enough noise.
The trio made their way into the living room, another plain section of the home that held a long, three-pony sofa in the center with a single arm-chair facing it from the front. There were only three cabinets lining the walls with the same amount of pictures filling in the comical amount of empty space.
Too much empty space.
Way too much empty space, actually… and so clean even by Sweetie Belle’s neurotic cleanliness standards.
A single coffee table lay between the sofa and Schnee’s chair, and on top lay perfectly assorted coasters and pristine, empty glasses.
Everything was just simply in perfect order, but then again, how messy could a single pony be living by themselves, the three wondered.
Also simultaneously, none wanted that question answered for them.
“Alright, we should be good right now,” Apple Bloom announced, glancing over her shoulder back towards the foyer and kitchen.
She then climbed onto the velvety sofa and made herself comfy on her haunches. Sweetie Belle followed suit on the farmer filly’s right, though Scootaloo remained diligently on her hooves.
It was time to put their plans into action.
Scootaloo spoke just above a whisper, though the general kitchen noises and Schneeblume’s soft, unsurprisingly beautiful singing in her native language permeated the quiet houeshold.
“Okay! I’ll do the searching so it’s easier to say I was looking for the bathroom if she asks… I’ll call you guys if I find anything weird, how’s that?”
Bloom and Sweetie angled their faces toward one another and shrugged, then nodded. That was fair enough, and it didn’t mean they’d have to be sneaking around for nothing when Scootaloo eventually found just that: nothing.
“Fine by me!” Sweetie Belle agreed.
Apple Bloom, however, had one stipulation that she levied with a single hoof pointed at her determined pegasus friend.
“We’ll be the judge of ‘weird!’ If you find somethin’ and call us over fer somethin’ stupid, ya owe us monster milkshakes instead!”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes, nodded, and waved them off dismissively as she turned on her hooves.
“Yeah yeah yeah, whatever. Just wait and I’m actually right!” she proposed.
She spared one last glance at her friends readying their innocent faces for presentation.
“Talk to you girls soon~!”
And with a little aid from her wings, she remained light on her tippy-hooves, advancing back towards the foyer to check on Schnee’s progress in preparing teatime drinks and edibles.
If, when peeking inside the kitchen, her back turned and humming never ceasing were any indications, then Scootaloo figured she had at least five minutes.
And yet, she furrowed her brow at one insignificant detail that still bothered her to absolutely no end.
She still hasn’t taken her gardening boots off?!
Scootaloo ducked back behind the doorframe and scurried down the hall, keeping an ever watchful eye trained back over her shoulder all the while. Like the sneaky filly she was, she peered inside each passing room, finding naught but a closet, an AC unit, a restroom…
...and then, a bedroom.
Scootaloo smirked and, after one last look over her shoulder to ensure no eyes on her, she slunk inside.
With a gentility one might show a newborn, she used her hoof to guide the door shut, and it latched with barely a noticeable click.
Satisfied at being alone at least for the next couple of minutes, she turned around and took a single, sweeping glance at Schneeblume’s room.
As with the rest of her house’s format, her room was the very definition of practical. Scootaloo spied a single bed resting against the opposite most wall and extending towards the center of the room. Either side of said bed contained identical, ebony-wood nightstands with their own reading lamps.
A lone alarm clock sat on the left nightstand.
At the foot of the bed lay a chest, as well as a dresser on the opposing wall. A singular, imposing, four-paned rectangular window served to facilitate the room being bathed in the afternoon sun. A closet was embedded within the wall right next to the dresser.
Stepping forward and fancying a closer look, Scootaloo found the bed immaculately made with naught a crease out of place. A set of pajamas were also neatly folded and placed on top of the gray comforter.
That left nothing to the imagination on the bed, so the pegasus opted to continue her investigation elsewhere. Scootaloo ducked low to check under the bed and found… absolutely nothing. The floor was as polished as the rest of the room, and she could see perfectly out the other side.
Hmph. No luck.
But of course, such a search would not come to an end just yet. Furrowing her brow, Scootaloo rightened her posture and took another look around the room.
She lay her eyes on the chest at the foot of the bed.
Treading lightly on her hooves, she kept her eyes fixed on the aforementioned storage and situated herself right in front. Hunching low, she found no lock preventing the latch from swinging upward, so she opened the chest up with little effort via her muzzle.
Inside was nothing of interest, as it held little more than spare linens. Each sheet was neatly folded and sectioned off from spare pillowcases and other bedding material. Sifting and flipping through each of the layers with her hooves revealed nothing noteworthy, either.
No secret letters, no espionage, no contraband.
Pouting, Scootaloo’s gaze steeled as she placed everything back in proper order. She was driven by never, in her wildest dreams, owing her best friends delicious milkshakes; she would not be giving up so easily in her endeavors.
By this point, around two minutes had passed. Her time waned, and she needed to figure out her next course of action that instant.
Scootaloo flicked her eyes in every-which direction in any other attempt to figure out where she may continue her search. The damnably clean room had broken to her the bad news that there was no illicit activity hiding in plain sight.
Which—as her eyes fell level with the final door in the wall—left only the closet to check.
Smirking to herself, The filly spared a single look over her shoulder and back towards the door.
None had come to look for her.
Just as planned.
She cautiously approached the closet door and hooked the door handle in the crook of her hoof and leg. With little effort, she handle gave way and allowed her to creak the door open.
Little by little, light entered into the closed that opened up into a sizable, rectangular area. A few simple garments, scarves, dresses, and other blouses greeted Scootaloo upon opening, but she brushed those off right away.
She was much more interested in the chest that lay against the rightmost wall.
Again, there was no lock on the latch, so with a flick of her hoof, Scootaloo flipped it up and opened up the top with the tiniest of squeaks from the older wood.
Peering in with a bright smile, she found naught but some personal jewelry, some pictures, and other family effects.
Groaning to herself, Scoots reached in and picked up a single picture out to view. Smiling back at her was a clearly younger Schnee with longer mane as well as an unidentified unicorn stallion.
Shrugging, Scootaloo placed the picture back in the chest and closed it.
There was nothing interesting on the top shelf of the closet, as it was completely barren. At this point, she was ready to accept the fact that she would be buying some tasty, ice-creamy goodness for her soon-to-be smug friends.
At least, until her rear left hood tapped against a metallic, flimsy handle curiously attached to a floorboard.
She blinked twice then glanced downward with a tentatively-lifted hoof.
“Huh?” Scoots questioned aloud.
Hunching low to investigate, there was indeed a single, thin, rotating pull handle attached to a series of floorboards.
Literally a trap door of sorts.
Her confidence rejuvenated at an instant, she wasted no time in taking the small handle in her teeth and hefting upward.
The door gave way with relative ease.
when sufficiently high enough, Scootaloo shifted the work to her front hooves, then the top of her head, all before gently tossing open the inconspicuous trap door.
Ever was she careful to ensure it did not slam against the wall; Scootaloo may have been brutish like Rainbow Dash, but she was by no means stupid.
Inside a perfect dugout was, to perhaps Scootaloo’s chagrin, another chest. Though curiously, this one was a bit smaller yet metallic, and engraved with the iconic Imperial Alemaneian cross. She was no history buff, but she would recognize that insignia anywhere.
She now had several, more pertinent questions. Multiple red flags had been raised.
Knowing she was essentially out of time, Scootaloo made one more effort to heft the box onto more level ground. Taking it's carrying handle in her mouth and employing the furious beating of her little wings, she scrounged up just enough strength to do just that.
Sliding the mystery box away from its hiding place, she fell to her haunches and, with little hesitation since it was unlocked, pushed its top open.
Then blinked again.
And each follicle on the back of her neck stood ramrod as her eyes went wide.
She even shook her head and rubbed them to make sure she was actually seeing what her eyes were showing her, and what her mind was processing.
Everything was still there, right where it was placed within its metallic confines.
Scootaloo, with a tentative hoof, reached in and pulled out what resembled a jewelry box, one that a necklace would be gifted in. Pulling off the top with extra gentility, her mouth went slightly agape when she saw military decorations sitting comfortably in their cloth enclaves, awaiting a uniform to be placed on.
Speaking of uniform...
Interest carrying more weight through her thoughts than outright fear, Scootaloo retrieved a steel, noticeably used, onyx black helmet. Its pristineness was marred by scuffs, scratches, peeling, and dents… but the iconic, slanted rear was wholly unmistakeable from the Alemaneian nation of the continent Equidae.
Even for somepony as less-versed as her. Perhaps Sweetie Belle would know more?
With a shaky hoof, Scootaloo set the helm aside and reached in to fetch another picture frame. This time, all her suspicions had been confirmed with the black and white, formal photograph that was cradled within:
Schneeblume in full uniform, helmet strapped to her head, with her omnipresent smile foregone for a fierce, stoic face in its stead. The Alemaneian Imperial Cross adorned her chest grandiosely along with other decorations and ranks that meant nothing to the sporty filly.
She… she was an Alemaneian soldier?!
But, if this were the case, it made absolutely no sense! Granted, Scootaloo and the girls knew little about Schnee, but from her demeanor, they never would have guessed. Perhaps a spy as she would have preferred… but this?
She wasn’t even sure what to make of this.
Glancing inside the metal box again, the reflective blade of a combat knife stood out to her, as well as a very familiar potato masher looking thing that she had seen on Schnee’s cutie mark.
But, narrowing her eyes, identifying the foreign language disclaimers on the object crushed her naive comprehension; that was no potato masher.
The bedroom door creaked open.
Scootaloo’s coat bristled, her pupils shrank to pinpricks, and she instantly turned on her hooves.
But instead of finding her worst nightmare at the moment, she found two familiar faces peeking from around the door.
Annoyed, anxious ones at that.
Nevertheless, Scoots could not remember a time when she had felt more relieved.
“What the hay is taking you so long?!” Sweetie Belle demanded in a whisper.
“Yer gonna get us all busted, stupid!” Apple Bloom followed up.
As for Scootaloo, there were much more pressing matters to tend to.
She waved the girls over frantically.
“Girls… get over here right now. You gotta see this.”
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle shared a single glance, rolled their eyes, and slunk into the room stealthily to take a gander at what Scootaloo was so wound up over.
“This better be good… we could miss some darn good tea!” Bloom mumbled.
Even through her uncertainty, Scootaloo would never pass up an opportunity to one-up her friends with a smugness she practically ‘inherited’ from Rainbow Dash.
“Forget the tea… I think you two owe me some malts!”
With some extra confidence afforded from showing off in front of her friends, she swung her right hoof over her head and gestured towards the mystery box that held all.
They never their collective attention away, Bloom and Sweetie blinking for seemingly a small eternity.
“Okay… that was unexpected…” the former voiced.
Sweetie Belle, however, had something else to add if her sheer astonishment with hoof over her mouth was anything to go by.
“An Imperial Alemaneian Stormtrooper?! She… she can’t be…”
That attracted her two friends’ collective attention quickly.
“Wait what?” Scootaloo questioned.
“A ‘storm-what-now?’” Apple Bloom voiced her bemusement.
“I’m glad to see I apparently do not fit the part,” a third, literally foreign voice chimed in.
All three fillies’ spines nearly broke with how hard they stiffened. Simultaneously, they turned on their hooves to find Schneeblume staring at them, the rest of her body behind the cover of her bedroom door. None were blind to how her face did not contort in any form of anger nor disappointment…
...but rather, the telltale sullenness of shame.
All three fillies’ eyes had comically widened, their pupils barely wider than a punctuating period. Jaws had slackened as they looked to one another for any way to explain their prying actions.
This time, it was Scootaloo who put on the braver face.
“Sch-Schnee! W-We… we didn’t…”
That was all she had before her mind became much too muddled in fear and sheer embarrassment. What would happen now? What would Schneeblume possibly react in the next few seconds to punish them for rummaging through her stuff and finding one of her undoubtedly darker secrets.
Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom were ready to take up the mantles to explain themselves…
...but Schnee blankly held up her right, glove-covered hoof, stifling any continued response.
And then, her look softened. Her eyelids fell, her eyes misted over the most miniscule bit, and her ears drooped.
“I was doing so well in burying that… but of all ponies, fillies were the ones to figure out what I wished to lay sleeping beneath my new home forever. Why though? I showed nothing but kindness to you.”
Schnee raised her head and allowed the Crusaders to peer into her profoundly hurt lavender eyes.
“Did I truly cause that much suspicion? Was I too forward? Was my episode too noticeable?” she pleaded for answers.
Which, brought on a whole new slew of questions for the three best friends.
Really, anything to draw the attention away from their actions; their inner-child instincts in trying to weasel out of trouble had taken a firm hold in the forefronts of their minds.
But, none could comprehend the sudden pang of guilt and sympathy in their hearts.
“Huh?” Apple Bloom asked, cocking her head to the right. “Episode?”
Sweetie Belle, surprisingly, asked the most profound, if less-than-sensitive question:
“Schnee… who are you?”
Schnee flinched, as if struck on the cheek. Her eyes began to tear up yet again, and after a single, harsh blink, she averted her gaze. Uncharacteristically on the defensive in a compromising situation which she wielded the high ground, she drew her hoof on the floor and meekly replied:
“I am Schneeblume… as you know me, little ones.”
Sweetie then only gestured toward the open box, without the heart to say that Alemaneian soldiers were not exactly the most respected ponies in Equestria.
Their innocent faces begged for answers to questions they did not even know how to phrase.
And in the end Schneeblume could not find it within her heart to be angry.
“Ja…” she nodded, understanding the implication. “And what will you do now? Run along out of here and tell all your friends? Your families?”
The thought crossed each of the Crusader’s minds. But, seeing Schnee in the state she was now, her genuinely fearful and shameful expression casting uncertain glances at all three of them… they made up their minds.
“No,” Scootaloo piped up resolutely, shaking her head.
“But, yer hidin’ somethin…’” Apple Bloom ventured to claim, earning more than her fair share of confused looks from everypony in the room.
As well as a deathglare from Sweetie Belle, who was not entirely a fan of getting into more trouble than they already were. She knew she was already grounded, after all. Apple Bloom knew she’d be getting a flank-whooping of a lifetime from Applejack for violating somepony’s privacy.
Schneeblume, to her credit, only stared the Apple down stoically, her inner thoughts in turmoil.
And yet, in the face of a determined filly, something broke.
Wordlessly, the former soldier trudged over to the closet, bypassed the Crusaders, and carefully organized everything back into her war chest. She shut it, and hefted the container via her mouth.
She then turned back towards the door.
“Come,” she quietly ordered, her words slightly muddled due to the handle.
The trio fell into step with her immediately.
Her steps were heavy and resounded with each and every hoof-fall, despite her front ones being still wrapped up.
“I do not know why you fillies are so determined to grow up so quickly…” Schneeblume mused out loud.
None of them had a proper response to that, and the mare took that as a cue to continue her cryptic mental ramblings.
“You will learn in time that some things should be left alone, not for your sake but the sake of others’... mental health.
“However, if you wish to be act like young mares, I shall treat you as such,” she added as they all entered into the common room.
She gestured for them to sit on the sofa whilst she placed her metal box on the coffee table, then scooted her armchair closer.
They all took their seats, and, after wiping her eyes and being oddly careful to specifically avoid Scootaloo’s innocent, deer-in-carriage-lights stare, Schnee pressed on.
And specifically called out Sweetie Belle.
“You wish to know who I am?” came her rhetorical, accented question.
She awaited no response, and spoke with a stern declaration.
“I am Schnee. Legal resident of Ponyville, Equestria. Occupation: Specialty Flower Vendor.
“Formerly: Gefreiter Schneeblume Herbstlicht, Sixth Stoßtruppe Division, Imperial Alemaneian Army.”
To ever-wide, somewhat fearful eyes, Schnee turned over the conversation.
“I trust you now have questions for me?” she asked, then chuckled to herself sardonically as her memories rematerialized, her tears pooling once again.
She was willing to endure. Especially if it meant her little secret not being publicized; whatever it took to placate these impressionable young mares.
“They say that if one knows not what to do with themselves, to ask children. They may not know much, but they know what is important. So. Ask away,” she concluded with a single, beckoning hoof.
Surprisingly, Sweetie Belle sprang forth with her first question.
“S-So…” she began awkwardly. “You’re an elite soldier?”
Schnee nodded solemnly, placing her hooves on her crossed hind legs.
“Was, yes. One of the best, actually… though there is little pride in that in hindsight.”
And that started the conversation in earnest. Scootaloo opened her mouth next, though treading extra carefully.
“Why did you come to Equestria? Were you trying to… do something? Hide something?” she asked, though a little more than afraid to phrase that question the way it was intended.
Nevertheless, Schneeblume understood entirely.
She cocked her head. Did these fillies really think so low of her?
Why was she letting herself get interrogated by fillies in the first place?
“Spy? Nein,” she shook her head. “I’m no spy. I just wanted to… get away from it all.”
Apple Bloom sensed absolutely no deception from her, as initially when they first met her. Internally, she derided herself for ever questioning this mare’s character, even in a moment when things did not seem right.
“So, you fought in the war?” she dared to ask.
“For nearly four years on the front lines, right in the trenches,” Schnee answered, though at her utterance of the word ‘trenches,’ she visibly shuddered and looked away.
The next question from Scootaloo was an obvious, almost obligatory one.
“Was it… was it that bad?”
Schneeblume finally dared to look her in the eyes, and Scootaloo only saw rue and reckoning in those lavender pools and that thousand-yard stare.
“Your news and teachers did well to keep you modestly educated on the events transpiring across the ocean.
“But, not everything in the slightest. There are simply… some things that ponies are not meant to see nor experience. We marched as naive children like you, only older. Off to fight a war for glory that was supposed to be over in two months to settle nothing more than some ‘disputes.’”
Such a simple question, yet as Schnee focused on a random floorboard, her mouth continued to field the words that her mind had kept locked away.
“Reality fell upon us like the hail of artillery and the storm of machine gun-fire,” her voice dropped to a shaky whisper.
“There was no glory.
“We all retreated like rats into our trenches, and there we stayed for years… wondering when a shell would drop right on our helmets. Wondering when a sharpshooter would put a hole in your head if you peeked over for too long… or when you’d die a sudden, yet slow, agonizing death from a g-gas attack.”
Schnee’s stammering on that last phrase was lost upon nopony, and the Crusader’s could only watch as such simple questions from them whittled away the seemingly carefree mare in front of them.
And then, she broke.
The tears flowed freely and she sniffled heavily as her cries flowed unbidden, bottlenecked purposefully and well-overdue.
“‘Bad’ doesn’t enter into it, my l-little ones.” She sniffled, wiping her face, yet the heavy rivulets under her eyes remained.
She whined painfully:
“Ponies said it was like Tartarus. It wasn’t… it was so much worse!”
No more questions could be asked, as Schneeblume lay years worth of horrible memories on the figurative table. The Crusaders glanced at each other, horrified, as none had the courage to admit that like her laughter, her other emotions were also just as contagious.
Did they truly trigger this episode with their actions and insensitivity? Their ignorance?
Her agonized ranting continued.
“I buried my entire class. All my friends are dead; my fiance who proposed to me in a destroyed trench was cut down… for nothing! Families will never see their sons, daughters, husbands, wives… ever again because of me!”
Suddenly, Schnee’s thoughts were flooded with images of that last, horrific battle, among other things.
She could feel as she felt that day, as the adrenaline coursed through her veins while she sprinted across no-pony’s land after a fierce barrage. She felt the firm resistance as she cleaved the edge of her spade into that seafoam-colored stallion’s neck… the squirting blood, the desperate screaming of one who knew they were dead.
As well as the seven others she killed that day with her bare hooves and weapons.
Countless acquaintances and the last of her friends died that day.
Schneeblume’s pupils irised wide open and her tears refused to relent. Through open mouth yet clenched teeth, she growled as she fought to get those images out of her head. She hyperventilated, her breathing staggered and adrenaline shooting through every nerve in her body as she saw herself on the Southern Front once again. That ethereal, profound void in her gut returned.
“How many times I wished I would just die!” she roared. “I prayed some nights that a sharpshooter would take me peacefully.”
She laughed. It was the most terrifying laugh that any of the girls had ever heard.
“I could’ve just lifted my head a little too long to end it all. Or a machine gun would mow me down. Those bullets, those magical charges never came! Why didn’t they come, goddamnit?!”
She pressed both of her front hooves to her head and strained, shaking her head harshly.
“No… nein… nein nein nein, jetzt nicht bitte jetzt nicht BITTE!” she pleaded in her native tongue to anyone who would listen.
Turns out, she had three ponies to listen right there in front of her.
And she had to be reminded of that when she felt the comforting touch of three hooves… ones that belonged to a trio of odd fillies that, by their cutie marks, knew how to spot somepony they knew clearly needed help.
With a weak command, Apple Bloom simply stated:
“Don’t hold it in.”
Schneeblume had calmed down (though panting heavily) just enough to question Apple Bloom’s words with her eyes, though the red-bowed filly continued on in earnest.
“Mah older sister bottled up her feelin’s when our parents died. Don’t hold in all of these.”
Were it so easy…
...or perhaps, it was, in a sense. Regardless, Schnee did not have a shred of heart to voice that four years of war may have been a far cry from losing one’s parents.
Sweetie Belle had something else a bit more overdue to get off of her chest on behalf of the three of them.
“Schnee… we’re so, so sorry. We were just being… stupid an-and letting our imaginations get the best of us,” she cautiously admitted to a much more calm, sniffling Schneeblume.
It wasn’t that she was insincere in her apology, quite the contrary. But Sweetie felt in her heart that any attempt to explain their way out of this mess that they inadvertently brought to light would only make matters worse.
The flower mare hung her head, shaking her head.
“Worry not, my little ones… all is forgiven. I think though…” she nodded. “I think I’ve needed this for a long time.”
Scootaloo, however, felt the absolute worst of them all. She hung her head low and to the side, refusing to make eye contact with Schnee just as Schnee did the same to her.
An action not unnoticed by the former soldier.
“You are forgiven too, Scootaloo…”
She then addressed all of them with a tenuous of a smile after a bout of uncomfortable silence, one the fillies had longed to see after such an intense few minutes.
“But I, too, am sorry if I was regarding you… oddly.”
Scootaloo (and to some extent, the others) were relieved that Schnee brought that up herself. That paved the way for the former to follow up and get an answer to a question. A question that served as a catalyst to all of this.
The pegasus cleared her throat into her hoof.
“Why did you look at me like that? You looked… afraid of me.”
Apple Bloom could not help but release a cough—masking her laughter—at such a scenario.
“Yeah! Who’d be afraid of her?” she joked, earning a stink-eye from the filly at the butt of it all.
Another weak, if contagious giggle from Schneeblume sounded, though her expression sullied as soon as her laughter faded.
She sighed deeply, running her covered hoof through her velvety mane in any effort to scrounge up the appropriate words.
“You…” her words evaded her. How could she possibly tell a filly what she was about to?
Scootaloo, however, reassured her with her hoof atop of Schnees. She was certain she could handle it.
“It’s okay. Tell us,” she said.
So be it.
“A soldier I ki—whose life I took in the final battle looked much like you.”
The Crusaders had their suspicions, but it did not make the somewhat expected revelation any less hard-hitting.
“R-Really?” the filly in question dared to ask.
Schnee began with a solemn, deep nod.
“Ja. She looked little older than you. Same mane, same coat. Young. A recruit. Naive to war.
And that was one of the worst scars that day… arguably worse than the physical one she received. She purposefully left her explanation at that; she had said enough. Schnee had more than enough sense to know that nothing good would come out of describing what happened.
Such as how she sunk the blade of her combat knife into the mare’s neck.
How she peered into her nightmarishly-wide eyes as the young life faded from them.
The sickening squelch of how, with such morbid grace, the blade passed through her coat and skin.
The revolting sound of her agonized, choked scream out of her slackened mouth.
And the fact that, in all likelihood, Schnee had killed a child that lied about their age in order to enlist.
“But, it was her life or mine that day,” she concluded.
Scootaloo nodded thoughtfully, though she could not stop her thoughts from wandering into dark places, such as placing herself in that position; the receiving end.
She decided not to think about that anymore.
Schneeblume saw in Apple Bloom’s eyes that she was about to apologize for her experiences.
They meant well, but she did not need their pity.
She was, however, thankful for their ears in a most unexpected turn of events, so she decided to preempt that with another revelation of sorts.
One that she knew would benefit her mental sanity as opposed to keeping the conversation going.
“There are many scars the War left us soldiers, but many fresh ones were dealt on the Seele Plains.”
Sweetie Belle’s ears perked up.
“You fought during the final offensive?!”
“Mm. Front line, first wave after the day-long opening artillery bombardments,” she said.
Schnee began undoing the harnesses on her hooves’ gloves, earning the Crusaders’ collective attention at an instant.
“When I said one of many scars, I earned more than one that day, as well as a souvenir—or punishment—for my actions that day,” she added cryptically.
She slid off the glove on her left hoof, revealing her normal, pristine-white hoof matted with some sweat and some soil that snuck in.
She removed the other glove…
...and the girls immediately noticed that at a mildly jagged angle, her hoof was ceramic up the center to just below her ankle.
All three pairs of eyes widened with varying degrees of shock. Sweetie Belle covered her mouth with her own, right hoof.
Schneeblume angled her appendage in the light and observed the abrupt transition between skin and coat to porcelain ceramic. It was crafted perfectly after she had been (with enormous luck) scraped off the bottom of an enemy trench and taken to a casualty clearing station.
She suddenly recalled memories of trying to bat away that enemy grenade, realizing that her luck had partially run out when it exploded at just the right amount of distance to not kill her… though clearly close enough to mangle and outright decimate half her hoof with shrapnel.
Scootaloo was quick to close in when she witnessed Schnee’s eyes begin tearing up again. Sweetie and Bloom followed suit and nuzzled up to the tensing mare.
But a new breakdown never came.
Though this time, Sweetie couldn’t help but say it:
“I’m sorry, Schnee. We can’t imagine what you’ve seen and been through,” she apologized, if a bit vaguely.
Schnee placed her hoof in her lap, letting the artificial part rest by her new little friends’ hooves. She allowed them to feel its cool, smooth touch.
“There is no need to apologize, my young ones. In all consideration, I was extremely lucky. In a battle of desperation, I survived where so many did not.”
She raised her head and bore that thousand-yard stare once more. She silently came to the conclusion that this was somewhat… therapeutic. So afraid had she been to express her emotions about this in the past, present, and future. Losing it completely in the trenches was seen as cowardice, and one would be discharged for such ‘foolery.’ In this new environment, she could trust nopony to listen to her sorrows in a land where prejudices against the ‘barbarism’ of Alemaneian soldiers ran high.
In a land of such friendliness in ignorance over her situation, Schneeblume never felt more alone in her life, compelled to live with nopony but her own flowers.
And to suffer in silence.
But not today. In one of the worst episodes she had ever experienced post-war, she felt a modicum of relief.
Perhaps talking about that experience in particular could finally lift that unknown weight inside her heart?
“W-What happened? In your point of view, as an Alemaneian?” Apple Bloom asked with trepidation, head cocked.
They read her mind.
Schneeblume held that stare for a few moments, then turned her attention back to each individual filly.
“The war was almost over. We knew it. The Prench knew it. The Anglomaneians knew it. In terrible battles before Seele, the Allies had managed to roll back our gains in Prance and push into our homeland… but just a little. We halted them just before the Seele River,” she explained in a slightly more lecturing tone.
Progress, however miniscule.
The Crusaders sat on their haunches, more than willing to give this wonderful mare the ears she deserved and needed for so long.
“The news of the battle was everywhere here,” Scootaloo recalled, seeing highlights in the newspapers.
Schnee nodded, then continued.
“So I became aware. After fighting on the defense for so long, the Allies managed to drive us past our borders; this would not stand for us. We’re… a prideful nation after all,” she added with the slightest hint of jest.
“Somehow… deep in all of our hearts, we knew this was the end. The war would be decided here, on this tactically useless bit of land that was part of our home, unrecognizable by artillery and death. Neither side could afford to lose.”
Sweetie Belle raised a hoof.
“The Prench and Anglomaneians had suffered unnaceptable losses in pushing us out of Prance. Public sentiment was growing much stronger against the war. For every one of our soldiers that fell, nearly three of theirs were lost. If we drove them out of Alemaneia, their governments would have collapsed.
“And for us? We had to reclaim what was ours… but this would be the last chance. Behind our lines, there were no more Alemaneian soldiers left to die. And we? We might as well have been dead already… we marched like them. The battle started, we advanced, I made progress, got badly wounded, and here I am.”
Apple Bloom piped up again with yet another follow-up question.
“Is that why you came to Equestria?”
Schnee took another deep breath.
“So close to what I considered a sweet gift of death, I did a lot of thinking as I lay in a medical cot behind friendly lines,” she spoke.
“One arbitrary day after the battle had ended, I decided I just…” she shook her head softly, letting her eyes shut momentarily. “I just could not do it anymore.
“I loved my country, and I still do. I’ll return some day… but during the chaos, I decided I would not be returning to the front lines to fight again. I would not kill for the Fatherland anymore. I was able to obtain a medical discharge and I made my way to Equestria.”
The Crusaders shared somber smiles all around, happy at her choice as they were able to ultimately meet Schnee because of her actions.
“And you came here to sell flowers?” Scootaloo questioned, to yet another nod from the soldier.
“Mhmm. I always loved flowers, but war… tends to sideline some guilty pleasures. One day though, during a rest after a particularly…” she shuddered again with gritted teeth. “Harsh engagement with the Prench, I found a quiet spot down our trench to rest.
“And I found a single flower. I’m not sure what it was, but it was beautiful… a gorgeous pink. I always wondered how something so innocent and beautiful could bloom in a trench on a battlefield?” she fielded, asking her question to nopony.
“From then, I knew that if I ever left the war alive, I would settle down into a peaceful life and sell beautiful flowers to ponies. Simple, but in the end, I think… I think that’s all I ever wanted to do.”
All seemed most pleased with that answer.
Schneeblume continued with her history lesson, one filled with so much emotion and many more tears. And yet, she never stopped talking. She waved both her unmarred and scarred hooves animatedly as she explained things from her perspective… one the girls would never have gotten about such an important world event.
The tears never stopped either, but that was okay.
After the earlier promised tea and snacks, Schneeblume worked up the courage to start looking through her chest; what she took back with her. She had expected to look eventually to remind herself where she came from, but never did she expect to speak of each individual item and its significance to some fillies she just met:
That helmet kept that thick head of hers safe for much too long. The knife had seen as much combat as she had. The decorations were those she earned in her service, and she was close to being promoted before the battle broke out. The last stick grenade she never had the chance to toss, she had hollowed out. The picture of her and her fiance was the last picture they had ever taken before he was killed in a gas attack; he didn’t put his mask on in time.
In the end, despite all the preconceived notions and fears, all parties realized that Schnee just needed somepony to listen.
And though she would never tell them this, those quirky ‘Crusaders’ probably saved her life. For even the feared, mighty Alemaneian Stormtroopers were not invincible.
Such a newfound, strong-as-steel friendship continued on, but had to be put on hold for a little while.
After a few years, Schneeblume decided to return to Alemaneia, and use her newfound talents and mental clarity to rebuild what was lost, as it were; to put into practice the lessons given to her by three special individuals in her life that had become unfathomably close to her.
And moreover, she went to face her figurative demons once and for all.
It was one of the most painful goodbyes for both the Crusaders and the mare alike, even if she was only leaving for a few months. All of Ponyville and Equestria would miss her bright smile dearly until she would return, as she promised to do when she had found what she was looking for.
But all knew that what she wanted, what she planned to do to settle a figurative score with her nightmares and her past… it would be much more important to her than anything.
It would allow her to get a full night’s sleep with regularity.
Schneeblume’s eyes fluttered shut as she inhaled a breath of cool, fresh, spring air.
Exhaling, she opened her eyes and let her lavender pools roam over the fields of Seele, the site of that fateful, horrific battle years ago. She stood exactly where her squad once stood, overlooking the Anglomaneian-Prench trench lines that were once a formidable barrier to her country’s plans for blunting the enemy advance, forcing a stalemate on the Southern Front, and driving them out of their homeland.
Instead of mountains of casualties from both sides interspersed amongst each other in no-pony’s land, there were instead rolling plains of thick, lush grass swaying in the wind for as far as the eye could see. What were once fortified trenches with barbed wire and concrete were filled in with earth and remained only as continuous divots in the ground, overgrown with grass and wild flowers.
Gone with the shell holes and other signs of death, replaced by lush green and miscellaneous colors of wildflowers.
There was no more backdrop of thick, black fog and the ambiance of constant artillery barrages, nor the perpetual moans, pleas, and cries of the mortally wounded to fall asleep to.
Only she and the earth existed. Only the partly cloudy sky that stretched forever and onward from the horizon to the firmament, as well as the sounds of nature on a quiet, lonely noon were present with her.
The weaves of the trenches could still be seen—veiled by nature’s work—as could the aforementioned shell holes. They would remain for decades to come.
As would the scars… on both the land, her body, and in her mind.
But of course, Schnee was not just here to reminisce.
Sighing out with a genuine smirk, she stooped low and unpotted a group of flowers, then placed them into the small hole she had made.
She gingerly shook off the few bits of metallic splinters and shreds of fabric that had gotten caught in the coat of her bare hooves. Schnee wiped off some dirt from the ceramic portion.
There, three sets of skylillies found their new homes, in the honor of three naive fillies back in Equestria who had taught her the meaning of letting it out and letting go… a lesson of forgiveness not to others, but to herself.
She smiled fondly once again.
“Danke sehr, girls… For everything. I’ll return soon.”
And in a few other places, she planted eight different flowers for the eight different lives that were snuffed out because of her actions that day.
Schneeblume did not cry, nor bow her head in shame. She instead held her head high and proud, as she should have. She did her duty to Kaiserin and Country, and likely paid a bigger price than death would have ever charged her.
But, it was of no concern to her anymore.
Because on those very plains of Seele, the place where so many fell for something so insignificant and stupid, Schnee found something that she had been looking for her entire life.
In a battle with not only the enemy, but with herself, she found purpose.
Like that lone flower that bloomed in her trench when she felt like naught but an empty husk of a pony, something beautiful bloomed out of the ugliest the world had to offer.
And as that cool, Alemaneian spring wind swept her mane and danced with her on an ethereal level, she graced the entire world with her brilliant, lavender eyes; her bright, beaming smile; and that accompanying, contagious laughter.
For the Flower Mare knew that she had finally found peace.