The Glimmering Gardener

by ArgonMatrix


In the convention hall full of plants and gardeners, Lilligold had never felt more alone. She sat against the back wall, staring at her abandoned station—a foal’s lemonade stand among industry titans. Her eyes briefly flicked up to the banner which proudly welcomed her to the 19th Annual World's Garden Faire. She sighed through her nose.

A sharp chirp grabbed her attention. She turned and saw a little potted flytrap looking up at her—well, it would’ve been looking, had it had eyes. It trilled and nudged her hoof with its pod. Despite herself, Lilligold smiled. She lifted the flytrap and hugged it against her chest. It stretched up and nibbled her chin, eliciting a giggle.

“Hey, cool!” somepony said. Lilligold startled. She turned her wide-eyed stare on a colt—strikingly blue, and approaching her at a quick trot. He beamed down at the flytrap and said, “I’ve never seen a plant like that before! Is it magic?!”

Lilligold shrank and clutched her plant tighter. The flytrap, for its part, hissed.

The colt blinked. “Oh! Uh… sorry. I get carried away sometimes. I’ve got a bit of a thing for magic and… er…” He rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry. Name’s Wispy Willow!” He extended a hoof to her.

Lilligold didn’t take it. Her eyes darted down to her flytrap and she mumbled, “Lilligold. Charmed.” She nodded for good measure.

Wispy’s hoof dangled awkwardly between them. He eventually withdrew it and cleared his throat. “Lilligold, huh? Weird name.” Lilligold bit her lip, but Wispy must not have noticed. “Sounds kinda foreign. You from around here?”

Lilligold shook her head. “I’m visiting from Elmshire.”

“Oh! I remember reading about Elmshire at the library a while back.” Wispy’s expression went quizzical. “Your parents dragged you all that way just for this?”

“My… parents?” Lilligold shook her head. “Oh, no. They paid my way, but I’m here alone.”

Wispy’s eyebrows rose, and Lilligold felt a pinch in her stomach. “Seriously? That’s cool, I guess. I just assumed, with you being a unicorn and all. Most gardeners are earth ponies.” He chuckled. “Then again, most paranormal enthusiasts are unicorns. Guess that makes us both oddballs!”

“Mhmm,” Lilligold mumbled. There was a pause, and Lilligold prayed the conversation would die to the background noise.

But it didn’t. “Mind if I sit?” Wispy asked. Lilligold shook her head. Wispy sat down, and Lilligold reflexively shied away. “I was looking for a place to hide for a bit. Get away from the boredom, y’know? My mom dragged me along to this thing. Total waste of my day off, honestly. She wants me to learn the tools of the trade ‘just in case.’” Wispy rolled his eyes.

“Hmm.” Lilligold nodded. Her flytrap growled, baring its teeth at Wispy.

“Oh, yeah!” Wispy grinned. “I forgot about that little guy. What’s the story with him?”

Lilligold looked at the plant and finally found a modicum of comfort. “This is Audrey,” she said. She stroked Audrey’s stem, and the plant purred. “I bred her just a few weeks ago. One of my more complex projects.”

“‘One of?’” Wispy said. “You mean you’ve got other plants like this?”

Again, Lilligold nodded. “It’s why I’m here.” She flicked her eyes up to her stall. Her odd specimens clashed outright with the greenery of the convention. Ponies strolled right by, sparing her plants queer glances. Lilligold frowned. “I’m trying to start my own business.”

“No kidding?” Wispy looked at the stall too. “Mind showing me?”

“You wouldn’t be interested,” Lilligold said. Heat gathered behind her eyes. “Nobody would,” she whispered, nigh inaudible.

“No way! I’m definitely interested!” Wispy stood. “Like I said, I’ve got a thing for magic. Granted, I’m more into ghosts and whatnot nowadays, but it’s still cool. I’m gonna go browse.” Without waiting for a reply, he trotted off and began perusing Lilligold’s station.

Still, Lilligold remained a wallflower. Audrey chirped again. Lilligold brushed her leaves absently.

“Hey, Lilligold!” Wispy called. “These are great! You gotta tell me about this one! Is it made of water? Ectoplasm? What?”

Her heart pitter-pattered. She felt a smile creeping up her face—she tried to fight it down, but couldn’t help it. She rose and trotted to her stall.


Hey, Lilligold!

Great news! You know that cross-country trip I’ve been planning for so long now? I finally saved up enough bits to make it happen! So I quit my job last night. No more dealing with Hardback or Dewey Decimal for me! I start my quest tomorrow morning!!
Sorry for going crazy with exclamation points there. I’ve just been planning this trip for so long, and I can’t believe it’s really happening. It’s my life’s dream. Thank you so much for supporting me in all of this. You’re like the only one who has. I mean, my family has too. Kind of. But no one’s ever believed in me as much as you. I plan to do us both proud and be the first pony to prove the existence of ghosts beyond a shadow of a doubt! I’m so excited!
My first stop tomorrow will be the museum in upper Manehattan. You know the one I wrote about a few months back? I’m gonna check it out again with my new equipment. There has to be something there. But if not, you know I’ve got more than enough other places to check out!
And don’t worry, I didn’t forget my promise. I’ve made plans for a trip down to Elmshire a bit later next year. I know I said it would be sooner, but there are so many places I need to visit first. The Manehattan Asylum, Glen Oaks Manor, the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, just to name a few. I hope you understand. It’s my calling!
Enough about me though. How have you been? Is business still good? Is Audrey doing okay? I want to hear everything!
I might not be able to write back for a while since I’m going to be on the move so often. I’ll definitely write when I can, though!

Your BFF,


Dearest Wisp,

Congratulations! I’m so happy for you! I know how long you’ve wanted to go on this excursion, and I couldn’t be prouder. You’ve earned this, Wisp, and I truly hope it yields everything you desire. I do wish you could come down to Elmshire sooner—I’ve missed you!—but I understand wholly.
I’m afraid I can’t say my life has been nearly as exciting. But I am quite content. Glimmering Gardens is doing better all the time. Just last month, in fact, I secured my largest order to date: the Duchess’s birthday celebration! That project has consumed most of my spare time. It’s turning out beautifully, though. I do wish you could be here to see it.
Audrey has been well. She’s grown quite a lot since you last saw her. She’s nearly as tall as I am now! And still growing! I can’t say I anticipated such growth, but nor am I disappointed. She’s the same lovable sweetheart as ever, only there’s much more of her to love now. I’ll need to transplant her to a larger pot soon.
This may surprise you. I’ve been doing some paranormal research of my own! I found a phenomenal book called “Nature’s Haunts,” and some of the descriptions of these places have me enamored. There’s one in particular… well, perhaps I’ll spare the details on that one for when you visit. You won’t be disappointed!
I’ve enclosed the book with this letter in case you were interested. I did tear out one page—to keep you in suspense, of course!—but I placed a clipping from Audrey’s leaves between the pages to make up for it. Now a little piece of me will be with you always!
At any rate, I must get back to work. Keep me informed, when you’re able. Again, I’m so very happy for you! Live your dream to the fullest!



In the evening’s first light, Lilligold flurried around her bedroom. She plucked things from all over and laid them carefully in her saddlebags. “Map? Check. Water bottles? Check. What else, what else…”

A deep groan sounded from the corner. A massive flytrap sat there—it reached nearly to the ceiling. Audrey reached across the room with a vine and pulled open Lilligold’s nightstand drawer. She pulled a small scrap of paper from within and offered it to Lilligold.

Lilligold grimaced. “No, Audrey, I’m not bringing that. This is not that kind of outing! Just two old friends enjoying each other’s company. Nothing more.” Even in her own ears, her words sounded hollow. She knew it really was more. She had been waiting for this night for years. This night, when she would reunite with the colt she’d spent just a scant few days with years ago. The colt to whom she’d written dozens, if not hundreds, of letters in the intervening time. Her best pony friend.

And nothing more. Lilligold’s eyes glazed over.

Audrey smirked. Her vine pressed against Lilligold’s chest, still clutching the paper. With a little sigh, Lilligold took the parchment in her magic and read the poem.

His face is naught but azure dream,
his voice a song of old.
Still, his presence, ream by ream,
makes warm what once was cold.
I long and scar and agonize,
he has my heart unfurled.
By earthly bonds and spirit ties,
he is my one true world.

♥ Lilligold + Wispy Willow ♥

Lilligold frowned. She’d rewritten it so many times, and still it failed to be perfect. “I do wish tonight could be something more,” she whispered. She bit her lip, then shook her head. “But I can’t, Audrey. I just can’t.” She set the parchment on her nightstand.

The vine wrapped gently around Lilligold and dragged her to Audrey’s corner. Audrey dipped down and nuzzled Lilligold. With a sad little smile, Lilligold nuzzled her back. “Thank you, darling. You’re such a sweetheart.”

A knock sounded through the building. The butterflies in Lilligold’s stomach fluttered to life. She patted Audrey’s pod and said, “Wish me luck!” Audrey smiled and uncoiled her vine, allowing Lilligold to trot away.

She paused as she passed her vanity, looking herself over one last time. She’d done her mane up in a ponytail and had a daisy behind her ear—a look she’d seldom worn in public, but tonight was a special occasion. She smiled at herself and continued downstairs into her store proper.

Weaving between her gardens, Lilligold nearly danced to the door and flung it open. On the other side stood a shock of white and blue—a face she’d only seen once outside her dreams. Wispy Willow stood there, suitcase at his side, smiling at her. “Miss me?” he said.

Lilligold bit her lip. “More than anything,” she said. Against her better judgment, she stepped out and wrapped him in a hug, one which he returned in full force.

“Hey now!” Wisp said. He patted Lilligold on the back. “I missed you too, but it’s not like we’ve been all that distant! What with all the letters.”

Pulling back, Lilligold shook her head and said, “This is different. And… well…” She averted her eyes and brushed a strand of mane from her face. “It has been over a month since your last letter. I was worried that maybe you’d forgotten…”

“Pfft, not in this lifetime!” Wisp said. He grabbed his suitcase and trotted past Lilligold into the store. “I was leg-deep in Mort’s Quagmire for the past month. Didn’t get a chance to write much of anything. Sorry about…”

Wisp blinked. As though suddenly realizing where he was, he looked around with dinner-plate eyes. The sunset trickling through the window cast the store in an ethereal glow. All manners of strange and beautiful flora moved and glowed and existed harmoniously, like one big, living imagination. “Whoa,” Wisp breathed.

“I hoped you’d love it,” Lilligold said. She walked up next to him and gazed wistfully across the plants herself. “It’s my life’s work! And it wouldn’t have been remotely possible without you.”

That tore Wisp’s attention back to her. “Without me?

Smiling brightly, Lilligold nodded. “Naturally! Had you not instilled me with confidence in my talents all that time ago, I would never have come this far. Your letters have inspired me greatly as well. So…” The tingling in her hooves grew too great to bear, and she threw them around Wisp again. “Thank you.”

A thick silence brewed, and Lilligold wondered whether she’d said too much too soon. Before long, though, Wisp returned the hug and said, “Yeah, don’t mention it.”

Lilligold pulled back and said, “Well! We’ve been delaying this for years—let’s not delay any longer! I’ll take your things upstairs, and then we’ll head out. I’ve got quite the week planned for us, and it all begins tonight.” Not giving Wisp a chance to reply, Lilligold levitated his suitcase and started up the stairs.

“Right on!” Wisp called. “Where’re we going? My Elmshire brochure said there’s this wicked haunted house out on Augur’s Aisle. We checking that out?”

“It’s on the agenda.” Lilligold settled the suitcase in her bedroom. She looked over and winked at Audrey. “First, though, I’ve got something special in mind.”


Only a scarce few needles of moonlight penetrated this deep into the forest. It bathed the surrounding flora an eerie, crepuscular hue. Brushing past yet another bush, Lilligold said, “It should be just around this bend.”

“I hope there’s some light at wherever-we’re-going,” Wisp said. “Don’t get me wrong. The mood is super creepy and everything, but I’d like to be able to see my own hooves.”

The path wound through a dense cluster of trees, then opened up. They came upon a small, moonlit clearing nestled against a cliff face. Thick moss carpeted the ground, and a few esoteric flowers with gnarled petals and thorny stems lined the edges. Just ahead, a jagged hole opened up in the rock. Moonlight reached in barely far enough to illuminate some stubby black liverwort hanging from the cave entrance—like the rotten teeth of some eldritch horror.

Lilligold smiled. “Welcome to Peak Grove.”

“Whoa.” Wisp’s eyes became wide and wonder-filled, like he’d walked in on a beautiful dream. “This place is amazing, Lilligold! How in the world did you find it?”

A coy smile played on Lilligold’s lips. “I read about it in a book once.” A sudden excitement grabbed her. “Apparently the Peak Grove Caverns are some of the most treacherous caves in the world. And also some of the most haunted.”

Wisp’s ears perked. He looked at her. “No fooling?”

Lilligold nodded. “They’re also said to be home to some very exotic, dangerous flora. That’s why I thought this would be the perfect place for us.” She blushed and averted her eyes, and her words came out in a flurry. “Perhaps this sounds a bit cheesy, but I wanted to bring you here because it’s the one place where our passions intersect: yours for the paranormal, and mine for peculiar plants. It… erm, seemed the perfect fit.” Her words sounded painfully stupid in her own ears. “A silly notion, I know.”

A hoof touched her shoulder. Lilligold looked up into Wisp’s warm, smiling face. “No,” he said, “it’s not silly at all. It’s… I dunno. Poetic, I guess.”

Lilligold matched his smile with a goofy one of her own. The silence between them lingered, but not uncomfortably. Cicadas and owls filled it with ambience. For a long moment, the two ponies just smiled at each other.

Eventually, Lilligold pulled out two water bottles and sat in the moss, folding her legs beneath herself. “Come,” she said. “We have so much catching up to do! I want to hear absolutely everything.”

Wisp sat close to her, and they talked. They talked and talked and talked, the moon tracing the time across the sky. They chatted and laughed and smiled, he about his many exciting—albeit fruitless—ghost hunts, and she about anything and everything to do with her plants. The feeling in Lilligold’s heart as they talked was a far cry from anything she’d felt reading Wisp’s letters. It was warmer. More profound. More real.

Swigging down the last of his water, Wisp nodded to the cave entrance and said, “So, that cave’s really haunted, huh?”

“Mmhmm!” Lilligold looked at it. “I considered exploring it on my own—if only to impress you—but I assumed you’d rather investigate yourself. That, and the fact that it’s extraordinarily dangerous.”

“I’m glad you waited. I’ll totally have to come back with my equipment while I’m here.” He turned to Lilligold. “Thanks for showing me this place. This has been one of the funnest nights ever!”

Lilligold beamed. “It truly has. I wish every night could be this wonderful.” Her smile faltered, and an uneasiness wormed into her voice. “Alas, I suppose one week will just have to do, for now.”

“Hey.” Wisp delicately put his hoof to her cheek, drawing her eyes up to his. “Don’t get all mopey on me. We’re gonna make the most of this week! Just you and me, okay? Don’t worry about what’s gonna happen in the future. Just think about… about here… and now…”

He had leaned closer—Lilligold was sure he had. Barely any space separated her face from his. A lump built in her throat, and she pursed her lips as he drew even closer. Everything around them faded, and for a brief eternity, Wispy Willow was all she knew.

He pecked her lips. Quickly—hardly there before he was gone again—but tenderly.

They stared blankly into each other. Fires had lit in Lilligold’s cheeks, and the lump in her throat stopped her from saying anything. Wisp just blinked a few times, the colour gone from his face. Subconsciously, Lilligold leaned towards him again.

Wisp wrenched his eyes shut. He scrambled to his hooves and took off into the forest at full gallop. It had happened so suddenly that Lilligold had to do a double-take. Everything inside her felt numb. The warmth from the kiss still lingered on her lips.

And then she started to crumble. Tears jumped to her eyes. She bolted after him. “Wisp!” she cried.


Audrey sat in the stillness of night, as plants are wont to do. Every so often a housefly would buzz through the window and she would snatch it up, but otherwise she simply waited. Waited for Lilligold to return.

A great crash rattled the building. Hooves thundered up the steps and into the room—Audrey sensed the hooffalls were too heavy to be Lilligold’s. She snarled in the attacker’s direction, but when she heard a zipper unzipping, she reasoned it must’ve been Wispy Willow, rummaging in his suitcase. She remained motionless.

More hooves shot up the steps—Lilligold’s for sure this time. “Wispy!” she cried. “Please, stop! Talk to me!”

The air went still. Audrey sensed nothing but the two ponies panting. “I can’t do this, Lilligold,” Wispy quavered. “I just can’t. I have to get out of here.”

“No! Please, Wispy. We need to talk this through!” Audrey heard the tears in Lilligold’s words. She bore her teeth, but didn’t move yet.

“Talk about what, Lilligold?!” Wispy shouted. “What happened back there was a stupid, stupid mistake! This… This can’t happen between us! This can’t happen to me!”

Lilligold sobbed hard before she spoke again. “How can you… What’s so awful about it?! About me?” Audrey’s vines were slowly slithering toward Wispy. Apparently, neither pony had noticed her yet.

“Nothing! You’re perfect! But… But…” Wispy roared in frustration. “But I just can’t, Lilligold! I can’t do this. I’m sorry.” Audrey’s vines lifted, preparing to coil around Wispy like bloodthirsty cobras.

Lilligold sniffled. In her weakest, quietest voice, she said, “But I love you.”

Audrey froze. There was a thick silence, and she reconsidered the situation. Her vines pulled away from Wispy and instead moved towards Lilligold’s nightstand.

“Listen, Lilligold,” Wispy said. The rage had faded from his voice. “My whole life—my whole life—has been dedicated to one thing: paranormal research. It’s my passion, my talent—the one thing I’m really, really good at. And if I want to keep doing it, I can’t focus on anything else. I have to stay on the move. I can’t commit to anything or anypony. Not even you.”

Audrey felt around and swiped the paper from the nightstand. Her vines shifted back in the other direction—toward Wispy’s suitcase, where she would place the poem.

“That’s why I put off coming here so long,” Wispy continued. “I was afraid something like… like this would happen. I didn’t want to have to choose between you and my special talent. Like, if you had to give up your plants, your store—all of it, just for me—could you do that?”

The question lingered for a long while, and even Audrey paused to listen.

“I…” Lilligold began. She swallowed hard, then moved and laid a hoof on Audrey’s vine. “…I don’t know that I could,” she said. Magic stole the parchment from Audrey—she didn’t resist. Instead, she coiled her vine gently over Lilligold’s hoof.

Wispy’s hoof joined Lilligold’s. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I have to leave.” His hoof stayed for a brief time. When he withdrew it, there was a little commotion as he gathered his suitcase. Lilligold’s hoof squeezed tighter on Audrey’s vine.

More hoofsteps sounded on the staircase, and Wispy Willow was gone.

Lilligold collapsed into a blubbering heap. Audrey reached all of her vines out and wrapped Lilligold in a hug.

They stayed that way for a long, long while. So long that Audrey could feel the sun on her leaves by the time Lilligold finally fell asleep. She placed her delicately upon the bed and went motionless once more.