Streaking through the sky, a spectacular fireball came down over the morning blue skies of Whinnypeg. The object landed up north in the mountains, where for the last half hour a prospecting stallion named Gold Nugget had followed the river up a familiar mountain path. About a mile ahead he heard a dull boom – curious and a bit worried, he packed his gold pan and worked his way along the river toward where he guessed the sound came.
Sure hope it wasn’t some tourist yahoo, trying to get rich quick with a pile of dynamite Gold thought as he searched one hill then another before he found the crater. It was large and deep, but with no trace of what made it. Could be just a meteor after all. I remember Pa telling me they break up to nothing sometimes. Oh well, gold’s calling.
As he set his bags down by the nearby river and prepared to go to work, Gold spotted a beige lump of fur lying in a heap at the bank. At first he’d figured it was an unfortunate animal that had wandered in too close for a drink of water, but when Gold approached he felt his heart skipping beats. No bigger than a couple feet in diameter, the cream-colored mass had a stubby horn protruding from its forehead and a pearly off-white mane with a shimmering hint of violet.
It was a unicorn foal. A tiny, helpless little filly who couldn't have been more than five years old.
"Oh no," Gold muttered as he knelt down by the little unicorn. "You poor thing."
Tears of sympathy welled in his eyes as he gently scooped her up in his forelegs. A weak moan came from the child and one of her hooves moved just an inch, causing Gold’s heart to skip a few more beats.
“You’re alive? I’ve got to get you home!”
It was a miracle she lived. As cold as the mountain water was, Gold knew time wasn’t on the filly’s side so he carried her over to his bags, pulled out an emergency thermal blanket he’d packed and wrapped her tightly. Just for good measure, he added a backup blanket around the first then picked up his bags in his teeth, draped the filly across his back and sprinted for home.
Emerald Foliage hummed as she merrily finished watering her beloved plants. The greenhouse was her husband’s wedding gift to her, and Gold Nugget had never regretted all the work of hauling the glass in from Whinnypeg. She stopped a moment, admiring her forest-green mane in a glass pane’s reflection, before she removed her garden apron to reveal her two-leafed cutie mark.
It was an easy trot from the greenhouse to their modest cabin. Emerald, like her plants, enjoyed the warmth of a cozy interior. She moved to the kitchen to make herself a pot of her signature herbal tea. She had just added a bit of honey to the cup she poured when Gold came charging into the den.
“Back so soon, hun?” She poured her husband a cup of tea, her view of him blocked. “You’re out of breath. Did you run all the way back?” Her green eyes seemed to light up and her mouth opened in a smile. “You must have found something, eh?!”
“In a manner of speaking,” Gold panted as he entered the kitchen.
For a moment Emerald studied the grim disbelief on Gold’s face. Her smile melted into a look of confusion. “What is it?”
“Look what I found washed up on the bank of the river.” Gold Nugget turned his side to Emerald to show her the unconscious filly on his back.
Emerald gave a gasp of instant shock and dropped her teacup, covering her mouth with her now empty hoof. “Oh! The poor dear! Is she —”
“She’s alive, for now,” Gold answered, cutting off the words his wife dared not speak. “I knew if anyone would have the ability to help her, you would.”
“We’ll need more hot water!” Knowing how cold the mountain river water was, Emerald ran for the black potbelly stove against the den wall and began shoving in the wood stacked by its side. “Chills and weakness, we’ll need mountain honey and cayenne and —”
While Emerald raided her stores of dry herbs, Gold unwrapped the filly from the emergency blankets, already soaked. He grabbed a dry, heavy winter quilt from a storage closet and covered her with it instead, rubbing her with the blanket to dry her off. “What kind of monster would do something like this?” he asked.
Emerald lit a match, threw it into the stove and shut its little hinged door with a protesting squeak. “Now dear, let’s not immediately assume the worst. She could have fallen in by accident.”
“What should we do, eh?” Gold took a seat next to the stove so the shivering filly could share its radiating heat. “I haven’t heard of anypony having a child this age around here.”
“We look after her until we can find the parents.” Emerald dropped to her haunches and stroked the foal’s cheek, marveling at how such a delicate life had been spared. “Poor little thing. Oh, peppermint! And oil of oregano…”
“We’ll send out flyers to Whinnypeg and the surrounding villages,” Gold said, “and ask our neighbors if they know who she might belong to.”
A weak, guttural sound came from the filly, who began to move her tiny legs about. Her eyes opened a crack. They were a shade of indigo, bleary and tired.
“Where…” the filly moaned. She shut her eyes again, but still whispered, “Where am I? What happened?”
“Shh.” Gold stroked her pearly mane. “You’re going to be okay.”
The little unicorn opened her eyes again, looking up at Gold. Her eyes widened and she struggled away from his grip, wobbling on her legs. “Who – who are you?”
“Hey, take it easy, kiddo. I’m not going to hurt you.”
The filly ignored Gold and continued to back away in what little panic she could muster. “Stay away from me! You’re a stranger!”
“Calm down, or you’re going to pass out again.” Gold smiled, taking on a friendly tone. “My name’s Gold Nugget and this here’s my wife, Emerald Foliage. Can you tell us your name?”
Her eyes stopped quivering, suddenly becoming distant. “My name? I — I don’t know.”
“Don’t know your own name?” Gold asked.
The unicorn answered with a silent, negative shake of her head.
“How about where you’re from, dear?” Emerald asked. “Your parents?”
“I can’t remember! I can’t remember anything!” The filly must have decided that Gold and Emerald weren’t bad ponies, for she ran up to the stallion and threw her front legs around his neck. “I’m scared!”
“I know,” Gold said softly, cradling her gently.
“I can’t remember anything! It’s scary.” She shuddered and sniffled. “Please, help me.”
“You’re gonna be okay, child,” he whispered, gently rubbing the unicorn’s back. “We’ll find your parents. I promise.”
The doctor said she’s about five years old, as I thought.
Doctor’s fees, food, medicine, clothes, toys...
500 bits? This kid’s gonna break us!
Don’t worry. I’ve found a good bit of gold. We’ll manage.
I wonder who she belongs to.
Just look at that little face. She’s so cute.
Another nightmare? It’s two in the morning, sweetie. Go back to sleep.
No, you squirm in your sleep and it keeps us up.
Fine, you can come sleep with us.
Still no word from the parents.
And it’ll break my heart.
One year later...
Gold Nugget stepped through the front door of the cabin with a happy little filly following close behind. Emerald was sitting at the den coffee table, her attention on the pages of a botany book. She saw the two enter and smiled at them.
“Welcome home. What have you two been doing today?”
Gold walked over to Emerald, looking her deep in the eyes as he pulled a roll of parchment from his saddlebag.
“W-what?” Emerald asked. Her smile vanished. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Happy Mother’s Day, dear!” Gold set the scroll on the table in front of Emerald. She smoothed it out flat with her hooves and started to read the fine print.
“Mother’s Day? What are you talking about? I’m not a —” Emerald’s voice broke in mid-sentence, her eyes glittering with sudden tears. “Is… is this?”
“Mm-hm.” Gold nodded. “The adoption papers. She’s ours now.”
“What about her real parents?”
“It’s been a whole year, hun. I don’t think they’re coming. We can’t even be certain they’re alive.”
“A daughter,” Emerald said, her voice trailing off in wonder. There was a rare sort of starry-eyed smile on her face, the kind a pony could only wear at something so grand and life changing. Gold had only seen her with that smile twice, when he’d proposed to her and on their wedding day. “How we’ve tried to have children of our own. Our daughter. Oh, Gold, I — I don’t know what to say! This is the best Mother’s Day…” Emerald paused to sniff and wipe her face.
“On one condition,” Gold added. “As hard as it might be, if the real parents ever do come, we have to do the right thing.”
Emerald nodded. “Of course.”
Gold stroked the filly’s mane as he smiled down on her. “Guess I’m your daddy now, eh? I’ve found a lot of stuff in that river — gold flakes, gem dust, but this is most precious treasure I could imagine. Our little treasure.”
With tears in her own eyes, the filly embraced her adoptive dad.
“I don’t think she’ll argue with that,” Emerald said with a giggle.
“But what should we call you, eh?” Gold asked. “We can’t just keep calling you ‘sweetie’ or ‘the filly.’”
Emerald rubbed her chin in thought. “Hmmm. Our treasure. Treasure…” she repeated, going over a dozen different names to apply to the word. “The sheen of her beautiful mane looks just like the blush of a river oyster with a pearl in it.”
“Pearl Blush?” Gold beamed. “How does that sound, little treasure?”
Pearl smiled at the idea, hugging them both. “I love it, it’s perfect!”
Stop making such a fuss and eat your soup, Pearl. The garlic will make you feel better.
You trampled my flowers!
You tracked mud all over the cabin! How’d you get so messy?
Pearl, come back here! It’s time for your bath!
Don’t you use that tone of voice with me.
Go sit in the corner, young lady!
What are we going to do with this kid?
But we love you so much.
Our little treasure.
Six months later…
Gold Nugget lay with his belly on the floor, using a magnifying glass to inspect a glittering rock for traces of precious minerals. Absorbed as he was in his work, he jolted at the little hooves suddenly prancing across his back.“Hey there, little treasure,” he greeted without taking his eye off of the rock. He knew what had happened; Pearl did this on a daily basis.
Pearl flung herself against Gold’s back and threw her front legs around his neck, burying her face into his golden mane. “Daddy, when are you gonna teach me magic?”
Gold chuckled at the endearing naiveté. “I don’t think I can do that, kiddo,” he replied, glancing over his shoulder into that sweet little face.
“Because I’m an earth pony, Pearl. Only unicorns like you can do magic.”
Giving a little “hmph,” Pearl protruded her bottom lip and jumped off her daddy’s back. She’d just have to figure it out herself. The little filly squeezed her eyes shut, focusing her thoughts on magic. She tried to imagine the mana flowing through her horn, visualizing the spell in her mind.
Just a few sparks. That’s all she needed to prove to herself she could do it. She concentrated harder, thinking of magic and nothing but magic. She'd tried before, but this time she was sure she'd get it right.
A tiny spark at first — it should have been just a spark — then her eyes flung open at the sensation of overwhelming energy surging through her. A beam of magic three times her height and width blasted from her horn, launching the filly backwards head over hooves.
“Daddy!” Her world became a blur as she tumbled backwards from the recoil. She heard a loud bang, Gold Nugget’s shout of alarm and the sound of splintering wood. Pearl finally stopped, the wind knocked out of her and on her back. When she rose and saw what had happened, her ears drooped and her jaw hung open in awe, gripped by a wave of sudden numbness.
A long scorch mark on the floor trailed from where she’d been standing to what used to be the front door. It had been completely obliterated, blasted into smoldering bits of wood that littered the yard. Magic energy still snaked and crackled around Pearl’s horn like electric arcs, giving off thin, twisting wisps of smoke. She touched her hoof to her skull at the sharp, throbbing pain that felt like somepony stamping a hoof inside her head.
“How in the —” Gold wondered out loud. “My door! What did you do?!”
Pearl couldn’t even look him in the eye. She hung her head, sobbing and shivering, her nerves tingling with fear, her head still pounding. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”
Sighing, Gold dropped to his haunches and gave the filly a big hug, rubbing her back for comfort. “Oh Pearl, are you okay?”
“That scared me!” she cried, and buried her face into Gold’s chest, sniffling and sobbing. “I’m sorry about the door, Daddy. I didn’t mean to!”
“Shh.” Gold ran his hoof through the shimmering strands of Pearl’s mane, kissed her forehead and rocked her soothingly. “I know you didn’t. It’s okay. I’m just glad you’re not hurt.”
I’ve never heard of a little kid having that much magic power.
What’s wrong, sweetie?
Mom, all the unicorns at school were showing off their magic, and I… I just wanted to fit in, so I…
Did you lose control again?
Uh-huh. And now all the kids call me a freak and nopony wants to be my friend! They’re all scared of me.
Anypony get hurt? Anything broken?
No, I just threw a huge fireball into the sky and it blew up real loud.
Well then too bad for them! They have no idea what a wonderful girl they’re missing out on.
One year later…
Pearl always loved spending time in her mother’s greenhouse. Warm and humid, the inside was a pleasant change from the chilly mountain air, and it didn’t hurt that all the flowers made it a vault of brilliant colors and sweet aromas. The greenhouse was also her second school – Emerald taught her all about plants and herbs and how to use them.
Today she found her mother, dressed in a clean white lab coat with her leaf-green hair tied up in a bun. Emerald Foliage was watering a group of large pinkish flowers on a long table in the middle of the greenhouse. Pearl trotted over and put her hooves on the edge of the table to hoist herself up for a better look.
At a closer glance, Pearl realized they were actually clusters of dozens of tiny florets that gave off the illusion of bigger flowers.
“What are those, Mom?”
“Those are sedums, dear,” Emerald explained.
“They’re pretty.” Pearl quickly took her hooves off the table and backed up a step at the sight of dozens of fuzzy insects buzzing and crawling about, feasting on the nectar of the flowers. She’d only been stung by a bee once, but it had been a painful lesson to give them a respectable amount of space. “The bees sure like them.”
“Yes, they do, and that’s a good thing. They’ll help pollinate the rest of my plants.”
Emerald pulled a tape measure from one of the pockets of her coat and measured a nondescript green plant with long bladelike leaves. Replacing it, she then took a pen in her teeth and scribbled something down on a clipboard that rested on the table.
“Very good,” she said, “they’re growing nicely.” Emerald rolled up the sleeve of her lab coat to check her watch. “Noon already. You ready for lunch, sweetie?”
“Mm-hm!” Pearl licked her lips, her stomach growling at the mention of food.
“I’ll go make us some sandwiches. We’ll have a little picnic in here.”
Pearl decided to stay in the greenhouse while Emerald went in the cabin to prepare lunch. It would only take her mom a few minutes, and she’d rather be surrounded by all the pleasant colors and smells. An insect with white, petal-like wings much bigger than its body flew away from the sedum it had rested on and now fluttered in front of Pearl, forcing her to smile.
And Pearl loved the butterflies.
The little creature hovered in front of Pearl for a few more seconds then alighted upon her nose. Two antennae bobbed up and down across her snout to examine its new perch.
“Silly butterfly!” she said with a ticklish giggle. “I’m not a flower!”
The butterfly had apparently realized its mistake, for it lifted off from her nose and darted about in search of something edible.
“Hey! Come back, butterfly!” Pearl laughed again and gave chase.
Emerald finished putting two daffodil hay sandwiches together on a plate lined with baby carrots when a huge boom like a close thunderclap shook the cabin, sending tickling vibrations through the floor and rattling the pictures hanging on the walls. There was a fireball some distance beyond the kitchen window that overlooked the greenhouse, and then a hail of shattered glass tapped against the window.
“Pearl!” Emerald screamed. She felt her blood turn to ice, knowing it couldn’t have been caused by anything other than the filly’s magic.
Emerald dropped the plate to the floor and galloped outside. A thick plume of smoke rose up like a cloud of doom from behind the cabin where the greenhouse and Pearl were.
“No! Omigosh, Pearl!” Emerald ran around the side of the house and felt herself go numb with shock from the scene laid out before her.
There was nothing left where the greenhouse once stood but shards of pulverized glass and a huge, smoking charred circle with a filly curled up in fear at its center, shuddering and whimpering. Emerald ran to her side and dropped to her belly. Miraculously, Pearl didn’t appear to have a single scratch or singed hair.
“Pearl, dear! What happened?” Emerald asked.
“Mama, I saw a butterfly and just wanted to catch it, so I tried using magic and — I’m so sorry, Mom!”
Emerald sat down next to the filly and held her close, rubbing her lovingly as she kissed the filly’s forehead. “I thought I’d lost you,” she whispered, her voice cracking. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again.”
“But the greenhouse! Your pretty plants…”
“We can always build another greenhouse,” Emerald interrupted. “But we can never replace you.”
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Pearl persisted. “I promise, I’ll never use my magic again!”
Emerald let go of her adopted daughter so she could look her in the eye. “Oh sweetie, I don’t want you to give up.”
Pearl wiped the trails of tears from her cheeks, then held her hoof to her forehead. “Ow, my head! What’s wrong with me?”
Emerald pursed her lips as she tried to come up with the right words. It ached her heart to see Pearl like this. “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s what makes you special. You just have to find out what you’re meant to do with it.”
The filly’s only response was to shake her head in shame.
A sudden dull glow with a sparkle of magic lit Pearl’s flank at that moment. Emerald gasped in surprise. “Pearl!”
Pearl wiped the tears from her face and sniffed. “What?”
“Your cutie mark!”
After the light vanished, there was a fresh new mark on Pearl’s flank, a sort of magic seal written in a circle of pink runic markings that Emerald couldn’t begin to decipher.
“What is it, Mom? What’s it mean?” Pearl asked.
“I don’t know, but I’ll bet it has something to do with your —” Emerald paused, trying to think of a delicate way to put it.
“Losing control, blowing stuff up and scaring everypony?” Pearl answered bitterly.
“Your powerful magic,” Emerald corrected, then held her daughter’s face in her hooves. “Listen to me, Pearl Blush. You are a good pony. Never doubt that. No matter what happens, you stay the good pony you are, and I’ll always be proud of you.”
Mom, Dad, do you ever regret the day you brought me home?
Of course not.
Not for one second.
She’s growing up so fast.
First day of high school already.
Mom, the most amazing boy asked me out today!
Congratulations, sweetie! Treat him right.
I love him so much.
Mom, I can’t believe he cheated on me!
What a thoughtless, immature little colt. His loss.
I can’t believe she’s already graduating high school.
Fifteen years. All grown up. Feels like yesterday.
The first thing Pearl saw when she woke up was the packed bags on her bedroom floor. She sighed, feeling her heart go heavy. This was sure to be one of the hardest choices she’d ever have to make. Pearl climbed out bed, trudged out of her room and down the hallway that lead to the den. Gold and Emerald were sitting there between a frosted cake that rested on the coffee table.
“Surprise!” they both shouted.
Pearl smiled in spite of herself. “Oh, Mom, Dad, what a great surprise!”
“It was fifteen years ago today we took you in,” Gold said. “So Happy kinda Birthday, Pearl!”
Her heart felt like it was being wrenched into a knot. After the decision she was prepared to make, to see this from the two most important ponies in her life only made it harder.
“Thank you.” Pearl sniffled, fighting back tears.
Gold reached under the table and produced a small gift-wrapped box with a ribbon on top; more weight to add to Pearl’s already heavy heart.
“This is for you, Treasure,” Emerald said. “Go ahead, open it.”
Pear tore open the wrapping and removed the lid of the box. What lay within squeezed the tears from her eyes.
“Your mother made it for you,” Gold told her.
“Oh, wow,” Pearl whispered. Inside the box was a gold necklace with a single iridescent white orb set in the middle. “Is that a —”
“That’s a genuine pearl,” Gold Nugget confirmed. “I found that in the river while I was working.”
Pearl pulled the loop over her head, allowing it to rest on her shoulders. A quick glance in the living room mirror brought a sparkle into her indigo eyes. The pearl accented the sheen of her mane flawlessly. “Oh, Mom! It’s beautiful. Thank you so much!”
It still hadn’t brought a smile to her face. Nothing could, not with what she was prepared to tell her adoptive parents. With what she was about to do.
“What’s wrong, Pearl?” Gold asked. “I know that look in your eyes when I see it. Come on, out with it.”
Pearl choked down the tears. She sighed, knowing that Gold had her cornered. Her heart pulled in opposite directions like a fierce game of tug-of-war. She didn't want to leave her adoptive family, but her past, obscured by dark shadows, beckoned for answers.
“Dad, Mom, I just want to let you know how much you mean to me. I don’t know who my real parents are, but they couldn’t be better than you. Even so...” Pearl gulped again and found herself unable to look them in the face. Here came the hard part.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Emerald asked.
Pearl snapped her head up, looking at both of them with unblinking eyes. “Cat’s out of the bag, eh?”
“I peeked in your room last night,” Emerald said. “Saw you packing. I had a feeling why.”
The room went heavy with silence for a while, nopony able to form the right words.
“I want to find them,” Pearl continued when she could no longer bear the silence. “I want to find out what happened that day you found me in the river. And I want to know why my magic is the way it is.”
“The answers are out there, somewhere,” Gold said. He tightened his jaw, fighting tears himself. “You’re an adult now, Pearl. You can do as you choose. But are you sure this is what you want?”
“I’ve got to find the answers, Dad. I’ve got to find out who I am. They’re the only ones who can tell me.”
Wet trails on her face, Emerald’s green eyes glittered as she stroked Pearl’s cheek to dry her tears. “We know who you are. You’re Pearl Blush, a sweet, strong, talented and wonderful young mare. And whatever happens, whether you find your real parents or not, know that you’ll always have a home here and never forget you’ll always be our greatest treasure.”
Pearl sighed heavily as she embraced both her adoptive parents. Her mind had been made up. She knew, this would be the last time she'd see them for a while. “Dad, Mom, thank you for everything you did for me. I love you both so much.”
“We love you, too,” Gold whispered.
The three held their hug for a while, then Emerald let her go and looked her in the eyes. “At least stay for some cake before you leave.”
Pearl smiled and wiped her eyes. “I wouldn’t miss one of your cakes for the world."