“Golden Oaks Library.”
That's what the sign says.
It certainly matches the name that the innkeeper told me when I asked her for the town's information archive. Although, I'm surprised she found the time to dredge up the recollection. The crazy mare was too busy in the downstairs lobby, drooling over the photo album that she was sharing with her neighbors. Somepony in the family evidently took dozens if not hundreds of pictures of the Summer Sun Celebration last week.
Yeesh. Barely a week before I made my visit. Looks like I dodged the lightning bolt on that one. Celestia, do I hate busy crowds.
All the good for me. I need some peace and quiet or else I'll never get this article written.
Anyways... Golden Oaks...
Huh... they built their town library into an actual honest-to-goddess tree. Pretty impressive, if not a tad bit too naturalistic. Only in an earth pony town.
I march up and raise my hoof to knock on the door—
—but it opens suddenly on its own. A gray-maned unicorn exits, carrying a packed saddlebag full of personal belongings. There's a million years hanging off the wrinkles of his face, and his gaze is currently crossing the continent, cutting right through me.
“Oh—!” I hobble back, fetlocks shifting. “I beg your pardon, sir.” I crack a smile and wave with my right wingfeathers. “I didn't mean to get in your way.”
“Grfff. Nothing's in my way,” the elder grunts. “Not any longer.” There's a brief glimmer in his eyes, like a prisoner seeing freedom—but then it's replaced yet again by an irascible malaise. “You ask me—it's about dayum time.”
“Are...” I already feel myself wincing from the stupid question my brain's produced. “...you the librarian?”
“Was!” he barks, and it's the most energetic thing I'll see issued from him. “Not any longer.”
“Oh... well... uh...” I fidget in place. “...is this library... sh-shutting down?”
“Hardly.” He motions towards the still-open entrance behind him with his head. “Got a new set of hooves running the place. Pity it took this long. I've been meaning to retire since about four or five Dragon Migrations ago.”
“That certainly sounds like good news.”
“Mrfff... if you say so...” He rolls his eyes and then rolls past me, tail flicking with indignance. “Friggin' Canterlot snobster's fillin' the horseshoes. It'll be lucky if the place ain't burnt to a crisp by year's end...”
I can't tell if the conversation's ended or not. So I swivel halfway about if only to wave at his limping figure. “It was... … … quite snazzy meeting you! Best of luck with retirement!”
“Go float in a bowl!”
“... … ...'kay then!” And I turn back towards the door with a heavy-hearted exhale. As I enter, my nose is pleasantly tickled by the scent of dust, paper, canvas, and leather binding. I only wish my ears were just as gently teased.
Instead, the canals leading to my brain are practically gungulating with sonic reverberations. My editor back in Manehattan would likely tell me that that's not a real word. Fair enough, but nothing could accurately describe the sheer cacophony of what greeted me.
“Spike?! Spiiiiiiiiiiiiiike?! Where're my Daring Do bookmarks?!”
“Why are you looking at me?! I thought you packed them!”
“I told you to pack them! And mark them!”
“Mmmmmm... remind me. Was that under 'B' for bookmarks or 'D' for Daring Do?”
“Spike, we've been over this. Bookmarks fall under 'stationary.' As such, they fall under Primary Alphabetization.”
“But I thought all of your Daring Do stuff fell under 'collectibles,' and thus... uh... belonged under Tertiary Alphabetization?”
“Spike, there is no 'Tertiary Alphabetization.' Remember? Only 'Primary' packaging is alphabetized. Meanwhile Secondary packaging is numbered and Tertiary packaging is labeled by Old Equestrian Numerals.”
“So... … … you wanted me to package things by letters, numbers, and secondary numbers?”
“Oh Twilight, darling, be easy on your adorable little whelp! He's only trying to help!”
“Although I really dun blame him for bein' all confused-like. Reckon you over-complicated the move a mite, Twilight?”
“Applejack, this isn't like emptying some droll old barn. Twilight Sparkle is from the Stellar District of Canterlot! Her valuables are unique, highly fragile valuables that have no-doubt been kept in pristine condition by countless unicorn generations of her family before her!”
“Why you gotta be givin' barns a low-blow like that, Rarity?! Farm buildings have feelin's too, y'know. Besides... you can learn a lot about cleaning out an old warehouse! Why, shucks, I just divide everythang into boxes marked 'apples' and 'not apples!'”
“Then where—pray tell—do you put your bookmarks?”
“Pffft! Are ya joshin' me? We just use haystalks when we need to pause in page-turnin'! Just pluck nature's tools straight outta the earth!”
“Ghhhrghhhgrghhh... Twilight, darling, I do hope you don't pick up on Ponyville's dirtier habits while you get adjusted here.”
“Hey! T'ain't dirty! Just practical!”
“Spiiiiiiiike?!? Why are the Primary Boxes stacked with the Tertiary Boxes?!”
“I'll check the first moment I get back upstairs!”
“See that you do!”
I'm still here...
...much to my own chagrin.
There are at least four bodies clamoring about the treehouse's interior. Unfortunately, none of them are dead. Which is a shame. I suspect I'd get more research done in the town's graveyard. Nevertheless, I came here for a reason. Why these migraine-inducing mares are chatting up a storm, I couldn't be flanked to tell.
But never the matter. The quicker I get done with business, the quicker I'll be out of here and back into a calm, quiet hotel room.
But who's the librarian...?
Ah. It has to be this mare. The snow-white one with a fancy purple mane. Sleek, elegant, and blessed with permanent bedroom eyes. She's got “office clerk” embroidered all over her.
“Ahem...” I trot towards her, keeping my voice low. “Excuse me, miss...”
“Madame,” she corrects, painted eyelashes batting.
“Madame,” I state, bowing ever so slightly. An old Trot's Square habit. “My apologies.”
“Oh goodness...” She fluffs her mane, standing straight and sassy. “A gentlecolt with such manners! You mustn't be from around here—and I don't mean that as an insult. Ha ha ha!”
Oh goddess. She sounds like a vampire.
“I was hoping to check out a book,” I stammer. My wingfeathers slither into my saddlebag, opening it up so I can look over my well-prepared notepad hidden deep within. “You see, I'm with the Manehattan Gazette, and I'm writing an article on the local irrigation that contributes to the Central Equestrian Reservoirs—”
“Oh my my my! That debonair accent!” She bats her eyes some more. She has royal blue eyeshadow. I know this because she's trotted so close I can smell the expensive brand of her perfume. “I've always been an avid fan of Mid-Atlantrot accent. Always emulated it myself. What do you think? Does it sound like I could star on Broadwhinny? Hmmmm?”
“Uhhhh...” I lean back... then lean back some more. “...maybe... uhhh... about four d-decades ago?”
“HEY! TWILIGHT!” Something loud, blonde, and loud erupts behind me, filling the air with drawl and the musk of hayseed. “RECKON YOU'VE GOT YER FIRST GUEST DOWN HERE!”
“Guhhhh!” I flinch, dropping and then juggling my notepad before it could hit the ground and soil itself with the deafening blight of this place.
“Applejack!” The unicorn leaning into me frowns over my shoulder at the bumpkin. “Mind your manners! We've got ourselves a proper Manehattanite! Can't you tell?”
“HEY! TWILIGHT! RECKON HE'S A CITY SLICKER TOO!”
“Guhhhh!” I guhhh again, juggling the notepad some more, nearly bumping into the eye-rolling unicorn who's exasperated at her friend.
From high above, I hear a peckish voice echo: “Oh! Oh my gosh! My first library guest! I'll be right down!”
The blonde mare smiles proudly at me. “She'll be right down,” she parrots, and her rising dimples expose a sea of sinfully adorable freckles. I swear, they're like pearl islands awash in an orange sea of horsesweat. “Y'know... I've got an Aunt and an Uncle who live in Manehattan. The real Hoity Toity parts, too.”
“Well... uhm... nifty...” I crack a smile. A very awkward one. “I happen to have an editor who lives on... uhm... the corner of Hoity and Toity.”
“Hah hah hah hah!” The farm mare guffaws, sending my earlobes screaming even more. “Well, shucks, for all we know... we may be distant cousins! Ptooie!” She spits on her hoof and holds it out to me. “Put 'er there, cuzz!”
“Uhhhh...” I clutch the notepad to my chest and grimace. “D-do I have t-to...?”
“Okay! Okay! Okay!” Thump-Thump-Thump! Huffing. Puffing. Squeak-a-wheezing. A lavender unicorn gallops desperately down the winding staircase that follows the circumference of the treehouse interior. A veritable floating phalanx of notecards, planners, and more notecards glide after her, encased in a mesh of magic that matches her violet eyes. “O-kay!” She slides to a stop behind a podium and drops the murder of trees all around her in a victorious thump, forming an unwitting fort of elite librarianism. “Hello, I'm book!” She grimaces, shakes her head. “I-I mean—Books, I'm hello!” She grimaces again, shakes her head harder. “I-I-I-I mean—”
The unicorn waves her forelimb between us like a magician's showmare. “Twilight Sparkle, Ponyville's new Golden Oaks Librarian!”
“Ta-daaaaaaaaaaaaaaa—!” The unicorn in question leans—wheezing—over the podium. A few blinks later, and the frazzled mare is just about breathing straight. “So... uhm... what can I do you for, Mister?”
“Psssst...” The blonde one leans in. “Be easy on her. It's her first day.”
“I... got that impression...” I nevertheless clear my throat and step towards her. “Greetings, Ms Sparkle, I'm from the Manehattan Gazette, and I'm attempting to write a paper on—”
“Innnnnncomiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!” a raspy voice cracks from the heavens.
Miss Sparkle blinks too. “You're attempting to write a paper on 'incoming?'”
I didn't say that. “I-I didn't say that.”
The air picks up. Swirling and dramatic. Like a cyclone.
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa—!” the raspiness pierces the lower troposphere, funneling like sonic vomit through the window.
“GET DOWN, Y'ALL!” Blondie leaps across the wooden floor, her strong farm limbs somehow managing to shove us all to sea level.
With miraculous timing too...
...for within microseconds, a heated patch of blue fuzz with a prismatic streak crash lands into the space that my body was previously occupying.
Followed by a murderous avalanche of antique books spilling out of canvas bags.
Once the thunder from that onomatopoeia ceases, it gives way to a new rumbling.
“Rainbow Dash!!! Are you tryin' to kill somepony?!?”
“Guh! It's not my fault, Applejack!”
“Not your fault?! Yer the one who came blitzin' in here with a payload of paper!”
“Well, I was trying to transport the excess books from Baltimare like Twilight asked us to when suddenly my wingpony decided to get distracted by a flock of geese! Because of that, we totally lost balance and I had to shift the trajectory or else all this crud would have fallen on the hospital instead!”
“Rainbow Dash! That's some nerve of you to be placing the blame of this catastrophe on Fluttershy!”
“I'm not blaming anypony, Rarity! I'm just stating the truth! Look! You can ask her! See?”
Up above—through an open window frame whose hinges were still rattling—the tiniest sliver of a yellow pegasus' head could be seen peering guiltily through. The shivering soul managed the most adorable of squeaks.
“Uhm... err... I-I'm so sorry... everypony...”
“Fluttershy... guh...” Twilight Sparkle hobbles up to her hooves with the help of the one called Applejack. “Look... it's okay... really...” She straightens her mane and brushes a few open books off her neck and flank—all the while offering the window a forgiving smile. “We're not mad at you. Things could have gone waaaaaaaaay worse. And—besides! You and Rainbow... uhhhhh... g-got the books here! Like I asked!”
“It was Rainbow's idea to carry them all in one trip...” The mousey mare flaps her yellow wings, gliding through the window and down into the book-strewn lobby. “At first, I didn't think it was possible, but then the canvas bagging proved stronger than I thought. Everything was fine until we nearly ran into that flock of geese and—” This “Fluttershy” looks down and sees me, and instantly her pupils shrink like she's been stabbed in the heart by an arsenic-laced dagger. “Meeeep...!” In a yellow blur, she's hunched behind Applejack. “Ididn'tknowwehadcompany...!”
“Fluttershy, we were nowhere near that flock of geese!” scoffs the one called Rainbow Crash... wait. “Heck, we were way closer to Mount Canterlot than we'd ever would have been to brushing feathers with those stupid birds! You seriously gotta navigate with your brain and not with her heart!”
“Will you lay off her already, Rainbow Dash?!” Rarity uptilts her nose while trotting over to the wilting pegasus. “She's trying her best! You should be thankful you had somepony else to share such a laborious task with! Or else you'd be caught up all week trying to transport those donated books yourself!” She leans down and lovingly nuzzles Fluttershy's cheek. “You did wonderfully, darling!”
“Mmmmmmm-thankyouuuu...” she squeaks, eyes still locked on me.
“Hey! Twilight!” Just then, a baby purple dragon waddles into the bar—I mean library. “Check it out!” He carries a tiny cardboard box in his claws. “I think I found your Daring Do bookmarks!”
“Oh yeah?” Twilight is magically brushing her mane straight. “Where are they?”
“Why, they're—” The little dragon's muzzle locks in place. “Ehhhrr...” His eyelids twitch as his nose wrinkles. “Uhhh... Uhhhh...” His upper body launches forward, and I feel a burst of heat erupt across the room, accompanied by a flash of green. “AAAACHOOO!!!” Suddenly, he's no longer carrying a cardboard box. In its place, a coat of emerald cinders and green ashes stain his palms. “Uhhhhhhh... uhhhh...” Fidgeting, he hides his stubby arms behind his spines and smiles innocently. “They're in the Royal Palace!... … … hopefully.”
“Say, are ya okay, Mister?” Applejack tilts her hat back to get a better look at my dead cockroach impression. “Nothin' broken, I hope.”
“Oh my goodness!” Twilight Sparkle yelps. Within seconds, she's zapping me with her unicorn hocus pocus, and I'm plucked like a wriggling trout from the river of spilled books. “Sir, I am so... so sorry about all this!”
“I... uhm...” I'm floating. “I'm...” Upside down. “...quite alright.”
Rainbow Dash leans in, rasping: “Be easy on her. She's new here.”
“I already done said that,” somepony drawls.
“Allow me.” Twilight Sparkle spins me right-side up and delicately places me on the floor before the podium. “There. So sorry about that.” She looks to my sides and winces. “Oh no... your feathers!”
They are—in fact—all over the place.
“Not the end of Equestria...” I say, flexing and unflexing my frazzled wings. “...nothing that a little bit of preening won't fix.”
“Uhm...” Fluttershy squeaks from behind Applejack's flank. “...Rainbow Dash can help.”
“Sure.” Rainbow shrugs, cracking her neck joints. “Why not?” She licks her lips with a slobbering tongue and marches toward me. “Stand still, dude.”
“No thanks...” I hold up a hoof. “I just—”
“Here!” Rarity sing-songs, also trotting my way. “~I'll help~!”
I wave my forelimbs in a half-circle like I'm mowing grass. “I just wish to check out a book!”
The door bursts open behind me, accompanied by a salvo of party horns, buzzing, and confetti.
“Woohoo! Made it just in time for the First Book Checkout Party!” And something violently pink cartwheels in while playing fourteen bombastic musical instruments at once. “BA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
“~TWILIGHT TWILIGHT TWILIGHT! DON'T SIT THERE LOOKIN' GLUM!~” The band mare tosses her instruments off with a flurry of streamers, forward-flips across the lobby, and slides across a sea of books to strap a party hat atop the librarian's head. ““~YOU'VE COME TO GOLDEN OAKS TO CHASE AWAY THE DUMB!~”
“Pinkie—!” Twilight begins to protest, but a party favor is shoved deep into her mouth.
“Awwwwwww!” The fuzzy invader rubs the bookkeeper's mane, winking. “Don't be shy! Tell the whole room how many encyclopedias old you are!”
“Mrmmrmfff dff ffffk frr yufff ffllffigg affft, Ffffy Fffie?!”
“Close enough!” The aforemuttered Pinkie raises a giant dictionary smothered in icing with several planted candles flickering atop. “Now blow 'em out!”
“Pinkie!!!” Rarity yelped, leaning forward to zap the candles with extinguishing magic. “Are you insane?! You'll burn the whole library down!”
“Oh gosh...” Fluttershy shivers behind Applejack. “I hate fires!”
“Hah hah hah!” Rainbow Dash keels over, hugging her belly and kicking at the air. “Talk about a 'first day,' eh, Twi?!”
“You're not gonna somehow blame this all on me, are you?” the dragon whelp stammers.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaand as for you, randomly self-inserted masculine characterrrr!” Pinkie swivels towards me, eyes devilish and digging. “Who gets the honor of First Book Checkout Day Initiation?”
“I... er... uh...” What. “What?”
“What name am I gonna squirt onto the First Book Checkout Day Anniversary Celebration Cake a year from now?” She winks, whispering out the side of her pink pink muzzle. “Trade secret! I copy-paste it for the nine anniversaries to follow!”
She's already writing down notes with a pencil... … … that's somehow dangling from her bangs. What.
“Hmmmmmm... very plain title for a pegasus. You got a first name, Mister?”
“Well, Mister 'Stu Leaves'!” She slaps the notepad shut and winks at me yet again. “We'll have to work on that between now and your 'Super Fabulous Coming Out' party! A name like that's too small for such a cake!”
“I-I...” My ears are burning as I shrink inward. “I d-don't know what you're talking a-about!”
“Uh uh uhhhh!” Pinkie points at her shivering left rear fetlock, all the while winking a third time. “The Pinkie Sense doesn't liiiiiiie!”
Rarity beams at me. “So you are from Broadwhinny!”
“SILT!” I holler towards the ceiling, making all the ponies flinch once and Fluttershy flinch twice. “I JUST WANT A BOOK ABOUT SILT!”
“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...” Twilight's eyes travel towards the walls—then shoot back together with lightning purpose. “Oh! As in the sedimentary material that naturally gathers along the downstream banks of rivers and estuaries?”
“Yes...” I breathe more calmly. “Yes...” I flap most of my feathers straight and approach the podium again. “You see, I'm from the Manehattan Gazette and I'm writing an article on Central Equestrian reservoirs and—”
Twilight levitates a blue tome my way. “How about A Tribute to Tributaries by Professor Burrowhoof of Cloppiton University? Based on at least five geological foundations, he's considered the top-rated expert on irrigation and the developmental history of potamology!”
“That...” I reach out for the book, almost surprised that it's not a glaring figment of my imagination. As soon as my hoof makes contact, my breath leaves me. “...is exactly the kind of source of information that I need.” I gawk at her, muzzle agape. “How'd you find it so blasted quickly?” My eyes dart towards the other mares. “I... figured that you were new here.”
“Oh it's... not from the library.” She clears her throat, looking bashfully aside. “It's from my personal collection.” A coy smile. “Figured I'd need to know about streams and rivers—what, with moving into a country town and all. Soooooo... I brought it with me. Naturally, I just happened to know where I last put it.”
“Ah. I see.” I flip through the book, relieved to see a dense wealth of text for perusing and citing later. “This... this is just what I need.”
“Well, I'm happy I could help!”
“How long is the checkout period for?” I look up at her again. “I'm only in town for a short while.”
She waved a dismissive hoof. “Keep it as long as you like.”
“You can't be serious...”
“I am! It's from my collection—so it's not bound by the same rules as the rest of the archive!” Twilight smiles at me. Happy. Patient.
I blink in confusion... until I look at the other mares.
Mute and bright-eyed, they charade “laughing” while glancing insistently at the young, innocent librarian.
Oh. “Hah hah hah hah hah—!” I manage, sweating slightly. “That's a... f-funny joke, Miss Twilight!”
“Heeheehee... thanks...” Twilight breathed with relief. “Books have long been my life. But—learning to share books means learning to share time and conversation with other ponies. So... I-I'm trying to brush up on my wit and charm.”
“Well...” I slide the book into my saddlebag and manage an honest smile. “...you've certainly managed a fine start. Up until now, my article has been nothing but a mostly blank page with the words 'Silt is.' Well—thanks to you—I can actually get started on writing the rest of the blasted thing!”
“Hahahaha... ohhhhhhh I've been there before,” Twilight says.
“A rabid researcher yourself, I presume?”
“That's one way of putting it. But... I'm trying to get out of my study space more.” She waved at the others in the room. “That's why I've moved here. To get help with just that.”
I glance at the mares, then back at her. “With your friends?”
“With my—” Twilight stops in mid breath. Her eyes blink, and her ears droop behind a blushing smile. “Yes. With... my friends.”
Applejack trots over and rests a hoof on her shoulder. “And we'd be pleased as a peach if you were to come back again sometime!”
“I'll certainly think about it!” I wave, turn hoof, and get the Tartarus out of there. “Best of luck with the library, Miss Sparkle!”
“So long, Mister Leaves!”
“Fare travels, darling!”
“Y'all come back now, ya hear?!
“Don't let the door hit ya where your Momma split ya!”
“Mmmm... bye now...”
“Ohhhhhh! I get it!” the dragon whelp chirps. “'Bound' as in a book binding!”
“Ohhhhhhhhh Spike...” Pinkie pats his green scales. “You're a baby dragon! You're too young to talk about binding!”
“Uh huh. Whatever.” Pinkie waves at the others. “Now who's ready for a Help Twilight Finish Moving In Party?!”
“Ohhhh...” I hear Fluttershy's voice lifting up, raising in enthusiasm the further this stranger departs from that group's estrogenical presence. “I so do love cardboard. It's just... so soft. For... uhm... boxes, that is...”
The loudness finally deafens as the door to the Golden Oaks closes behind me.
I let out a sigh of relief, magnified by the blissful weight of the book hanging in my saddlebag.
...nice ponies, but boy am I glad to be rid of them.
Flexing my wings, I decide to fly the rest of the way back to the hotel. I'm feeling unburdened. Joyful, even.
Just a bunch of rowdy strangers.
Probably the last time anyone in Equestria ever hears from them.
It's good riddance, if you ask me.