This is the beginning of The Journey of Graves.
When the Man Comes Around
Ponyville was quite a wonderful place indeed.
Located in Equestria’s western countryside, you could say that this little community was the perfect example of small-town goodness. Far removed from the larger metropolitans, no big city problems ever intruded on Ponyville’s perpetually sunny weather and warm seasons, or on the equally sunny disposition of its inhabitants.
So when it’s said that the atmosphere of Ponyville had taken on a decidedly more festive air, one can only imagine the sheer magnitude of excitement present in that little town.
Just what had spurred on this sudden influx of cheer and goodwill? Well, some of the more dangerous wild creatures of Equestria’s bestiary had recently appeared on the country’s borders, near the Everfree Forest to be precise. Now while this in itself was no reason for celebration, the news that Princess Celestia had ordered a contingent of royal marshals to protect the town most definitely was.
The crimson garbed officers, recruited from the finest of the finest of all Equestria’s guardsmen, were heroes of the people. The simple fact that they were coming to Ponyville was reason enough to celebrate, and that the Princess had personally ordered them here was further reason still. Thus, the entire town prepared to welcome them in traditional Ponyville fashion, and that meant a party.
Everywhere you looked, people were hustling and bustling in busy activity. Streamers and banners were hung, tents and tables set, and from every house, the delicious smell of baking pastries and savory cooking wafted into the fresh spring air. Yet despite the rush of preparation, a smile could be seen on every face and a laugh on every lip as the townspeople seemed to enjoy preparing for a celebration almost as much as the festivities themselves. After all, the citizens had gotten quite good at throwing parties since you never needed much of an excuse to have one.
Amidst all the chaos and clamor, it’s no surprise that the arrival of a single traveler did not rouse much notice. Sure, the people who ran into him on the streets greeted him with a smile and warm hello, but with so much to be done, nobody could pay him much mind despite the oddity of his appearance. And indeed, his appearance was odd.
In Ponyville, bright colors were the norm as clothes tended to reflect the cheery atmosphere. Furthermore, having many farms and fields in close proximity never prevented the town from remaining by and large a very clean, well-kept place.
This traveler was neither. The broad, flat-brimmed hat and long coat he wore were made of leather, sturdy and serviceable, but dark brown in color and stained from travel. His entire person was coated in a layer of coarse dust, not the powdery kind you find indoors, but the gritty, almost sand-like dust that comes from long days on the road. Where this road came from, it was hard to say, because besides a small canvas knapsack, the only other item on the traveler was a long, wrapped bundle on his back. Though unusual enough in that it was almost the same height as him while only being about as broad as his leg, the plain cloth wrapping gave no hint of its contents.
Beyond the superficial difference in outward trappings though, there was a much deeper difference about the person himself. With his hat pulled low over his forehead, few clearly saw the traveler’s face, but those who did paused for a moment in surprise. Tall and well built, he would have been quite the good-looking fellow if his eyes hadn't been so startling. Gunmetal grey and almost unblinking, his eyes seemed strangely disconnected, as if he was always looking at something far off in the distance. Few understood the significance of that look, but even those who didn’t knew one thing: this young man had seen more of the world than most. A lot more.
Still, preparations were foremost on every mind and the thoughts of the lone traveler quickly faded under the hurry of things to do. Alone amidst the bustling crowd, the traveler weaved through traffic towards what looked to be a large bakery called Sugar Cube Corner. Not a place he’d usually frequent, but he was tired and wanted at least a bite to eat before he set out again.
Pushing open the swinging door, the traveler found himself in a clean, spacious room filled with bright spring sun. The simple wooden tables, which at this time of day would usually be packed by the breakfast rush, stood empty with chairs neatly stacked away. Understandable really, since everyone was out and running errands for the celebration. As it was, the only other person in the room was an aproned girl who stood behind the counter polishing away at a tray of glasses.
“Excuse me,” the traveler called out, his voice low and slightly gravelly as if it wasn’t used to getting used much. “Could I–”
The rest was cut off as the girl spun around, her veritable mane of curly pink hair flying about as she met him with the biggest grin he had ever seen.
“Why hello there! I didn’t expect to see anyone around today, not with the big party coming up and everyone rushing around like headless chickens getting ready. But then again, I guess you haven’t heard yet, since you just came into town and… wait,” she gasped, her already large sparkling eyes growing even larger and sparklier, if that was at all possible. “Are you new to town?”
“… Yeah,” the traveler replied. “I was–”
“WELL HELLO THERE!” she squealed, vaulting over the counter and giving him a very big - and rather unexpected - hug. “My name’s Pinkie Pie, probably 'cause of my hair, or maybe it’s because my favorite color’s pink, but that doesn’t matter: you’re new! I just love seeing new faces around here! Of course, I love seeing old faces too, and that’s just about everyone, since I know just about everyone in town, but new ones are also great, and so when I saw you, I thought, ‘Gee, I haven’t seen this person before; he must be new,’ and I was right!”
Somehow, through this nonstop tirade, Pinkie Pie had managed to usher the traveler in, gotten him seated, set his bags aside, and laid out his tableware, all the while keeping up an incessant stream of chatter.
“So where did you come from mister?” the bubbly girl asked, running in and out of the kitchen yet somehow remaining clearly audible the whole time. “I bet it was a long ways away, since your clothes are all pee-yew! And that must mean you’re hungry! I can’t even walk down to Applejack’s without wanting a snack, and you probably came from a lot further away than that. Ooh, I know! I still have some of the stuff I baked for the party today! By the way, you should stick around for the party! Can you believe Princess Celestia’s sending her royal marshals out here? Ooh, it’s all so exciting, I just can’t believe it!”
Unable to get a word in edgewise, the traveler could only watch as Pinkie stacked up enough baked goods to feed a family. There were pies and pasties, cakes and crumbles, tarts and turnovers, and more pastries that the traveler could only begin to guess at. It was as if Pinkie Pie had unloaded an entire bakery onto his table. Twice.
“Well anyways, that’s pretty much what’s going on around here today,” she concluded, finally beginning to wind down. “There’s still a lot to do, so I might have to pop out of here, but you go ahead and enjoy yourself, okay?”
“Yeah, about that–” the traveler began, only to be cut off again.
“What, is there a problem? Oh, I get it. Too many sugary things. Silly me, you probably want something more manly, right? Grr! I totally get you! Of course, I always like sweets, so I always forget. Don’t worry, I’ll go get something–”
“It’s not that,” the traveler interjected hastily, very much afraid Pinkie Pie would steamroll him with another unstoppable tirade. “It’s just… I can’t pay for so much…”
Pinkie Pie paused. And blinked. And then she just stared at him, her mental activities grinding to a halt like a hamster that tripped on its wheel. Then, the meaning of his comment dawned on her and the pink-haired girl burst into fresh peals of laughter.
“Whoo-wee, and I thought I was the silly one here,” Pinkie Pie gasped through her fit of giggling. “Don’t worry, it’s all party food, so you would have gotten it anyway. Just think of it as a little pre-party snack.”
The traveler could only eye Pinkie Pie with a mix of incredulity and disbelief. He’d been told people from Ponyville were neighborly, but this, well… this was just unexpected.
“You sure about this?” he asked yet again, an eyebrow raised in question.
“Sure,” Pinkie Pie beamed. “Dig in!”
With one last look at his unexpectedly generous host, the traveler picked up his fork and took a bite out of a nearby cherry turnover.
Now even for breakfast, this man would never have expected that he’d enjoy a meal consisting entirely of sugary treats. But after the first bite, the fresh, flaky crusts, juicy fruit fillings, and sweet, fluffy frosting made it really, really hard to stop. And so he ate with Pinkie Pie happily jabbering away about anything and everything that was happening in Ponyville. The traveler could barely make out half of her rapid fire comments and understood even less than that, but he did have to admit, good food and friendly – if overwhelming – company, made the meal a very pleasant change of pace.
“…and that’s why Derpy isn’t allowed to drive the mail wagon by herself anymore,” his chattery hostess concluded as the traveler polished off the remains of an entire apple pie. “But I never did ask, what brings you out to Ponyville anyway?”
“Ah, that.” The traveler set down his fork and he reached into his coat. “I’m supposed to find… Miss Twilight Sparkle,” he said, reading the name off a small piece of parchment. “Know where she might be?”
“Twilight, eh?” Pinkie Pie mused, brow furrowed in thought. “Well, she’s helping out with all the organizing, and I know that I’m supposed to get a big shipment of apples from the orchard. You could probably find her out at Applejack’s, just down the road there.”
“Say,” she said, her eyes brightening as her face stretched into an ear-to-ear grin, “Want me to go with you? I could totally show you where it is!”
“That’d be… nice,” the traveler began hesitantly, “but don’t more apples mean more baking?” When Pinkie Pie heard this, her smile disappeared as she slapped herself on the forehead. Hard.
“Shoot, you’re right!” she said, rubbing the spot she’d just struck: apparently, it had been a little too forceful, even for her. “That means I gotta stay here and you’ll be all alone.” She looked so genuinely forlorn, the traveler was afraid she might actually break out into tears.
However, just as quickly as the glum expression appeared, it vanished, replaced once again by a face-splitting grin.
“Wait, why am I being so silly? I was so busy feeling sad that I totally forgot about the party! You can go ahead to Applejack’s – it’s just straight down the road to your left; you can’t miss it – and I’ll stay here and bake the best goodies ever and meet you at the party later! That’s perfect! I’ll see you later then; I’ve got pies to bake!” And with one last smile, the excitable girl bounded off into the kitchen, looking for all the world like a pink hurricane on the run.
It took a moment for the traveler to figure out what had just happened, and considering the whirlwind pace of Pinkie Pie, who could blame him? But however it had come about, at least he now had directions to find Twilight Sparkle. So picking up his baggage, the traveler stepped out the door and down the road towards the orchard.