• Published 17th Nov 2011
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Fallout: Equestria- The Last Sentinel - Adder1



It's hard to kill memories when you remember everything.

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Reflection Fifteen: Sunshine and Smiles

Reflection Fifteen: Sunshine and Smiles

Morning in Ponyville shimmerrrrrs!”

-ose three words
are said too mu-uch
but not enough.

If I lay here-
if I just laaaay here-
would you lie wiiith me
and just forget the world?”

I opened my eyes to the buzzing speaker of my alarm clock once more, blinking rapidly. I let out a misty sigh and rubbed my eyes with my hooves. I shut it off and sat up in bed, looking over to the pictures on my desk, to the one with me and Hummingbird.

She'd moved on. Of course she did. I couldn't expect her to suffer with me or anything like that. She had a new coltfriend. She was going to be happy. I should be happy- for her. But I wasn't. I know it's hard to picture me moping over something as “simple” as that in this day and age, folks, but... just bear in mind that things were different back then in those better days. Today, you have to worry about your special someone dying, not just breaking up with them. But none of that was really relevant back then. And so I sat there, staring off into the space just past that picture, feeling a great burden on my heart.

But eventually, as I always did, I sucked it up. No use dwelling on those things. I sprouted an ice arm to pull Silver Skean out from her pouch on my nightstand, dancing her around to keep my mind occupied as I made preparations to leave for Ponyville.

* * *

I clambered off of Zoleks' Hardy-Mason as he pulled up in front of Manehattan Grand Terminal, sprouting my ice arms to heft up my suitcase and my keyboard. I didn't need to bring many things- just my sheet music, my balisongs, some of my favorite books, and my portable terminal. Oh, and my trusty fedora, of course. And a few trinkets... everything else including toiletries could be purchased when I got there. Honestly, the keyboard was heavier than everything else combined.

“Thanks for the ride, Zoleks,” I said as I pulled everything onto my back, horn lighting up as I snaked ice muscles down my legs so I could shoulder the weight.

“You sure you don't want me to walk you to the platform?” he asked, eying me. “I have the time, you know.”

I paused, remembering the first time I said good-bye to him, heading off to a new place for the first time. It seemed so long ago, yet here we were all over again. We'd grown older. We led new lives. He was starting a family. I was... what was I doing? Secluding myself from my friends and family for time to think, a change of scenery. I suddenly felt selfish, hesitant to do it. But I'd already made plans, made purchases. I had to follow through, for better or for worse.

But thinking back to that time five years ago, I didn’t want another tearful good-bye. I already had enough on my mind. As I looked into those brown eyes seeing nothing but sincerity, though... how could I refuse? He was always there for me when I needed him most. I wouldn't be alive without him... I... wouldn't be the person I was then, nor the person I am today without him.

I felt my lip twitch and my eyes grow wet as I forced a smile and clasped him on the back. “Okay,” I said quietly to mask my shaky tone. “Let's go.”

* * *

I waved at him through the window as the train slowly pulled away from the platform, holding that soft smile until he slipped away out of view. Then my mask collapsed and I slumped back in my seat, overcome with a torrent of memories and emotions. Alone again, heading off into a new place without a friend. That feeling of nostalgia overwhelmed me, and I was left aching inside.

But the wound closed, as they all do in time. I took one look back at the retreating cityscape of Manehattan and looked beyond into the plains and rolling hills that encroached. It was time for me to lead a new life once more.

* * *

The storyteller flashed a postcard depicting a picturesque town with cottage-like houses and tile and thatched roofs, all painted in bright colors all under clear, sunny skies and a sparkling rainbow.

Pretty, isn’t it? To be truthful, I'd stopped by Ponyville several times before. It was a stop along the train ride between Manehattan and Canterlot, and that's why the town was my choice in a place to just take my mind off of things with a change of scenery. Granted, I'd never actually ventured into Ponyville itself, but that was going to change shortly. I stepped off onto the platform and was surrounded by family welcoming family, friends welcoming friends. I strode on alone just down the short few steps off of the station and into the Town of Sunshine and Smiles for the first time.

Unlike Appleloosa, it was just like what I saw in the pictures- a fact that comforted me greatly. There was not a paved road to be seen in the entire town, it seemed, and the homes and businesses were all built from wood, brick, and straw. Unlike Manehattan, everything seemed to be... radiant. All of the buildings were in bright colors- even pink. Stone archways and bridges connected various parts of town in a way that felt easy on the eyes. Ponies strode down the neatly-trimmed grass streets, chattering among themselves. They didn't just give a quick casual wave or hello- they actually stopped to chat or walked beside one another to hold a conversation- something you could never see or at least notice in Manehattan. The air was also pure and fresh like in Canterlot- which I noticed I could actually see way up high in the distance atop its mountain crest. It served to remind me that if I ever needed to discuss equinpology or history with anyone, Professor Egan was only a short train ride away. But looking around Ponyville, from its obvious stewardship to the environment what with using giant mushrooms for tables at outdoor restaurants to the bright, colorful architecture, the town just seemed so welcoming.

And I was about to find out just how welcoming the town really was.

I trotted down the streets leading to my apartment home after meeting with the landlady. The prices here were a real steal- less than five-hundred bits a month. Most apartments in Manehattan ran for close to double that, requiring either a decent income or a roommate to help cover the rent. I had enough from my own earnings and royalties from my work on the Hydronomicon to support me for a few months, but I had to get a job here, even if a minimum-wage one. Mortgage on my parents’ mansion in Manehattan finally emptied the coffer, and so I had to leave the rest to them so they could continue to enjoy their home. I was fine with that. They deserved it.

My thoughts were interrupted as a most peculiar pegasus mare descended in front of me. She had a gray coat and a butter-yellow mane and tail, and she was wearing a courier bag and cap. Her cutie-mark appeared to be a stream of bubbles. Most peculiar, however, were her eyes. Yellow wasn't a shade out of the norm, but it was the way that one of her eyes seemed to aim wherever it pleased independent of the other that surprised me. I was caught off-guard, but her friendly smile was infectious- I could only return it.

“Hi there,” she greeted in a high, slightly squeaky tone, using one of her wings to pull out a clipboard. “You're Frostbane Hok...kaydo Windchill, right?”

“Hokkaido,” I corrected as politely as I could. “And just call me Frost. Ah... are you alright, ma'am?”

“Hm, oh, you mean the eye?” she asked, using her mouth to remove a pen and mark off something on the clipboard. “It's just my lazy eye. Always had it. Anyway, you're new to town, right?”

“Yeah, I'm actually in the process of moving in right now,” I answered, shrugging a shoulder up to indicate my belongings.

“Oh, right, right!” She smiled and offered a hoof, which I shook. “I'm Ditzy Doo, by the way. I'm a courier for the town.” She stashed her clipboard away and dug into her bag, offering me an envelope. "This letter's for you. It's your official welcome to Ponyville.”

“Thanks,” I said, sprouting an ice arm to tip my hat to her. “I'll open it once I get settled in.”

“Whoa, uh, what's that you have there?” she asked, indicating my arm. Then she pointed at the tendrils around my legs. “Moreover, what're those?”

“Hm?” I blinked and followed her gaze- no, wait, that was the wrong eye. I followed her other gaze to- “Oh, you mean this. It's just an ice arm. It's how I grab and move things since I can't use another other magic outside of hydromancy or cryomancy.” Then I motioned to the tendrils. “Ice muscles here help me lift heavier stuff.”

“Hydro, cryo...” Ditzy murmured. “So, like, water and ice magic?”

I nodded. “Pretty much.”

“Oh, well that's pretty... cool,” she giggled at her own pun. “Anyway, I'd... really suggest opening it now.” She looked at me with a worrying expression. “Preferably after setting your stuff down.”

“Well, can't it wait until after I move in?” I inquired, my smile disappearing with hers.

“IIIIIII'd really suggest opening it out here,” she said with an almost apologetic smile, backing away. “I really should get to back to my deliveries. Sorry in advance!” She took off... straight into a streetlamp. She made this strange- albeit cute- “Derp!” And then she flew off.

Huh. I looked down at the envelope. It just read “Frostbane Hokkaido Windchill”. There were no return address or stamps, but otherwise, nothing about seemed out of the ordinary. Shrugging to myself, I set down my belongings, careful to stand up my keyboard to prevent it from getting wet from the grass. Sublimating my ice muscles and sprouting another arm, I dragged a finger under the flap to break the seal and opened it up.

And the head of a pink pony with an outrageously puffy, messy hot-pink mane and bright-blue eyes burst from the envelope with a spray of confetti and the sound of kazoos. “Surpriiiiiiiise!” she exclaimed in an even higher-pitched and squeakier voice than Ditzy.

I cried out in surprise, falling flat on my back and dropping the envelope and my ice arms. Goddesses Almighty, she almost gave me a heart attack! I only watched baffled as the rest of the pink earth pony popped out of the envelope and started bouncing up and down around me. My heart was still beating in a frenzy as she starting singing, zipping around me faster than the eye could track and handling the entire musical accompaniment by herself with a wagon she pulled from... I don't know!

Welcome welcome welcome!
A fine welcome to you!
Welcome welcome welcome!
I say how do you do?”

“Well-” I started.

Welcome welcome welcome!
I say hip-hip-hooray! Wheee!
Welcome welcome welcome-
to Ponyville today!”

She paused, reared up on her hindlegs as if to display the town around us. I blinked awkwardly, looking around.

“Wait for it...” she murmured.

We waited for it... whatever “it” was.

“Waaaaait for it...” the outrageously pink pony murmured again.

Again we waited. Nothing happened.

She settled back down on all fours and darted over to her music-playing wagon, opening a compartment on it. “Oh gosh darn it, there's no more confetti!” She tapped her chin in deep thought and then smiled far wider than should be physically possible. “Ooh!” She plucked a feather from... somewhere and tickled her nose. Her eye twitched and she took a series of deep breaths... and finally sneezed out a jet of confetti complete with a kazoo sound-off. Then she slid forward on her hindlegs while again displaying the town around us with a great, big smile.

Braeburn, you've been one-upped.

“Uh, I'm... welcomed?” I offered, unsure just what on Equestria I'd witnessed.

“You bet you are!” she exclaimed, righting herself and helping me back up to my hooves. Now that I was standing again, I realized why Ditzy had made me set down my belongings and apologized in advance. I also realized just how appropriate the set of three party balloons adorning the flanks of the mare in front of me were. “I'm Pinkie Pie! Hope you enjoyed your official welcome welcome welcome to Ponyville, even if I had to improvise a little at the end!”

Yes, folks. Pinkie Pie. The Pinkie Pie.

“Ah... do you... normally do this for newcomers to town?” I inquired, quite possibly still in shock.

Pinkie Pie snorted and giggled, “Of course I do! I make it a habit to meet and greet and greet and meet everypony new to town! So where're you from, huh?” And now she started hopping up and down. Good Goddesses, how much caffeine did she have in her system?

Well, at least it all seemed to be in good nature. She wasn't distracting me from a pickpocket or anything- all of my belongings were still next to me in any case. “I'm from Manehattan,” I answered, finally letting out a smile. “You know, City of Lights and Legends?”

“Ooh, big-city buck, huh?” Pinkie smiled, standing still and wagging her puffy tail excitedly. She wrapped a foreleg around my shoulders and displayed Ponyville to me. “Then welcome to the Town of Sunshine and Smiles! I hope I've put a little bit of both in your day today! Now come on! I gotta show you around town!”

“Eheh... sorry, but I really just want to settle down in my new home for a bit,” I said, prying her foreleg away and distancing myself with a smile turned apologetic. “Ah, maybe tomorrow?”

The upbeat mare literally seemed to deflate as I said it and pouted, “Awwww, are you sure? I planned the whole thing out...”

“I'm really sorry, Miss Pie,” I said as sympathetically as I could, approaching and patting her on the back. “I-”

“Oh, just call me Pinkie,” she spoke with a light smile. “Everypony here does!”

“Ah, I'm really sorry, Pinkie. Just want to settle down first is all. There's always time for the grand tour tomorrow, right?” I pulled away and started gathering my things back together.

“Aw, but everything was planned just for today!” she sighed. “I was going to show you the Golden Oaks Library, the day spa, Carousel Boutique, Sugarcube Corner, Sweet Apple Acres, Rainbow Dash's epically awesome and awesomely epic cloud house, Fluttershy's cottage, and our local nightclub...”

I paused with my ears perked up and turned back to her. “I'm sorry, did you say 'nightclub'?”

* * *

I ended up taking the tour after hastily setting my belongings just inside my apartment home. With an offer as tantalizing as an actual nightclub in a town like this, I couldn't pass it by. I mean, come on, folks- when I left Manehattan, I full-on expected to go cold turkey on the clubs! So after what seemed like the longest tour ever, where I was trying- I really was- my best to pay attention to Pinkie Pie's lightning-speed introductions and explanations, there we were.

Blaring Beats, that's what it was called. It was originally called Hoofbeats, but the similarity to a music magazine and the legal guillotine swinging overhead prompted the owner and DJ, Vinyl Scratch, to change the name. As the only nightclub in town, it was widely popular among the more rambunctious night owls of Ponyville- Pinkie Pie included.

Now, The Lazy Dog will always hold a special place in my heart. There's no denying that. But then, so will Blaring Beats. It was everything I could hope for in a nightclub in such a rural area. The place was pitch black with dance floor, turntables, walls, and bar counter were lit by stripes of light in subdued shades of blue, purple, and pink. I still lean towards Silva’s music, but this DJ knew just how to work those lights with her magic. The sound system was phenomenal. I could feel that bass beating my chest along with my heart. Then there was Vinyl Scratch herself, the ori-gi-nal DJ Pon3, folks. She was a white unicorn mare with a spiky mane and tail of electric blue, wearing a snazzy set of violet-tinted shades. And her music was hot. Every night, she would hold a “Beat Heat” hour and ask everypony to turn in music requests and would pick them out random.

I loved the place. It was a like my little slice of home away from home. Everypony was swinging and swaying away to the music, beam talismans and strobe lights creating a cascade of color accented by the glowrings everypony seemed to have.

And there I was, reveling in it all.

“Whoa, you've got some moves!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed. “I didn't know you were the partying type!”

“You kidding me?” I laughed. “You think these are moves? Lemme show you how a Manehattaner rocks it hard!”

* * *

“Heyyyyy, morning, buck! How're you doing?”

“Great, great! Zoleks, you won't believe it- they've got a nightclub here!”

“... heh, and here I was, thinking you'd hate it in Ponyville. Guessing you're cool with it now?”

“Yeah, yeah, definitely! I mean... wow! It was great in there! If it weren't for Pinkie, I wouldn't have even known about it!”

“Pinkie?”

“Oh, Pinkie Pie. She's the one-mare welcoming committee around here, apparently. She's kinda hyperactive and pulls all these... really weird stunts, but she-”

“Buck, did you just say you met Pinkie Pie?”

“Uh... yeah.”

“Don't you remember who Pinkie Pie is?”

Pause.

“Frost?”

“One sec.”

* * *

I slammed open the door of the gingerbread house-like Sugarcube Corner, catching Pinkie Pie just as she, a lanky mustard-yellow earth pony stallion, and a pudgy light-blue earth pony mare started setting up shop. She didn't act the least bit surprised, however, and merely looked at me with that impossibly wide smile of hers. “Oh, hi, Frost! What's up? Didja want some baked goods for breakfast?”

You're Pinkie Pie?!” I exclaimed with the most baffled expression.

“Well, duhhhh!” the outrageously pink mare giggled. “That's how I introduced myself to you with your welcome welcome welcome to Ponyville!”

“I mean... you're the Element of Laughter?!”

She promptly snorted and giggled, “Yeah, it's pretty easy to tell, isn't it? The rest of the Bearers live here in Ponyville too, you know! And they're my bestest friends! I introduced them to you yesterday! Don’tcha remember?” Pinkie started hopping up and down as she said this. Did she ever run out of energy? I was surprised her cutie-mark wasn't a cup of coffee!

“All of you... here... Ponyville...” I retained my baffled expression.

Pinkie Pie hopped over to me and tapped me on the snout, to which I scrunched it up in response. “Try not to let it get to you. Sure, it's a huge responsibility- and believe me, I've had plenty of lessons in responsibility...” She looked back at the two other earth ponies with a soft, knowing smile to which they returned, “and it's extremely, extremely, extremely important, but really,” She turned to face me with a surprisingly earnest expression, “we just want to be treated like normal ponies.”

My baffled expression gradually turned to a more thoughtful one as she spoke. Back in Manehattan, celebrities were often left alone in a similar manner. I'd happened upon a few of them myself and treated them as I would any other decent folk. But Pinkie Pie and the others were heroines. Yet...

“So, you want a chocolate croissant?” she asked with a radiant smile. “I think it's time to introduce you to the Cake family, too!

I smiled back, burying those thoughts and deciding- just like back home- to take her as who she was in front of me. “Yeah. Thanks.”

* * *

I... liked Ponyville. The ponies were friendly, the air was fresh, the scenery was great, and the community was genuinely closely-knit. It only took a few days for word of the new stallion in town and his unique quirks to spread around. That came with some upsides... and some downsides.

I was at the aptly named Toadstool Tabletop, briefly intrigued by the gigantic, spotted, purple mushroom that served as my table. I was using an ice arm to look over the lunch menu, and I eventually decided that the Haysian Oriental Salad would do and set it down.

“Gah!” I exclaimed, reeling back as I found a minty-green unicorn with white streaks in her mane and amber eyes sitting across from me with a wide smile. Did everypony do that here?!

“Hi there!” she greeted excitedly. “You're Frost, huh?”

“Uh... yeah...” I blinked, resting a hoof on the barrel of my chest and taking deep breaths to decelerate my heart rate. Hold on... I knew this mare from somewhere... wasn't she that one musician from Canterlot? “Wait, are you-”

“I'm Lyra Heartstrings,” she answered my question preemptively. “Hey, can I see your hand?”

“My-” I looked at my ice arm, then back up at her. “You mean-”

“Yes, yes!” She again cut me off. “Pleeeeeeease, let me see iiiiiiit!”

At this rate, I was questioning the sanity of the unicorn across from me, vibrating in her seat in anticipation as I meekly- and literally- gave her a hand. She immediately grasped it in her hooves, tracing it over with an odd twinkle to her eyes. She tried to turn it over and flex its fingers, and I played along more out of concern for my personal safety rather than to sate her curiosity.

“It's made of ice...” Lyra remarked, looking back up at me in awe and noting the glow to my horn. “And it's a spell! Tell me how to do it! Tell me tell me tell me tell me!”

“Well-” I started.

There you are!” an ivory earth pony mare with a pink-purple mane exclaimed, pulling Lyra away. “I'm so, so sorry, mister. She's so excitable sometimes, I swear, swear...”

“Nooooooo!” Lyra shouted in protest, flailing her forelegs and breaking free, zipping back to the seat across from me. “I must know! I must know! Tell meeeeeheeheeheeee!”

I glanced at the other mare, who only motioned to Lyra with a sheepish smile. I let out a chilly sigh and explained, “Well, you see, I'm a hydromancer and cryomancer. I was born with an elemental affinity for water- ice specifically. For you to be capable of performing Mancer magic, you have to be born with the affinity for said element.”

“Mm-hm, mm-hm.” The minty-green mare nodded throughout my explanation. “How do you find out if you have this affinity?”

“You have to try the magic out for yourself,” I replied, still a little cautious about the mare across from me. “There are spell tomes availab-”

“Kay, thanks, bye!” Lyra exclaimed and zipped over to the ivory earth pony mare, wrapping a foreleg around her shoulders and pointing with the other. “Bonbon, to the library!” Then she sped off.

The other mare, apparently Bonbon, smiled apologetically to me and then raced after Lyra with a sigh and a shake of the head.

Meanwhile, I just sat there, still in shock. Dear Goddesses! Everypony in this town was crazy!

* * *

I fiddled with my portable terminal's web-cam and microphone, furrowing my brow and looking around to make sure all the wires were properly hooked up. “Okay... Song, can you hear me now?”

“Yeah, I can see you now, too,” she replied, her video feed turning on. The black pegasus mare backed away from her camera, revealing her apartment and her piano. “Sounds fine, looks fine. How's the audio quality on your end? Any crackling, any lag?”

“No, seems to be good,” I answered. “So, how are things back in Manehattan?”

“Things are going pretty good,” Song Spinner said, sitting down at her piano and lifting the lid. “Oh, I hear Hummingbird's gearing up to release her EP, though. Anyways, how's Ponyville?”

“There's... been ups and downs,” I replied, “but I've been more or less alright. So Hummingbird's stepping up in the world, huh?

“Yeah...” Song nodded lightly. “So, let's get started?”

“Sure, sure.” I sprouted my ice arms. “So what should we start with?”

“Show me Cherokee,” she said. “Don't worry about improvising yet. I just want to see where you are in technique of the original.”

I nodded... and played.

* * *

“Hi, this is Hummingbird. I'm away at the moment, but if you leave your name and phone number, I'll try to call back as soon as I can. No solicitors please.” Beep.

“Hi, Hummingbird. Frost here. Just, uh, wanted to say that I saw that your EP went up for sale and I got it as soon as I could. I, uh... saw the last track on the list. I just wanted to... well, say thank you for including-”

Click. “Frost?”

“Oh, hey, Hummingbird! How are you?”

“Great, just great...”

“So... just... yeah, wanted to thank you for including the piece we did together.”

“O-Okay, I... I wasn't sure whether or not you were okay with it. I meant to ask, but... I kind of wanted it to be a surprise.”

Soft chuckle. “Well, it was. I'm okay with it, don't worry. I'll be listening to all of your music in my free time. You can count on that.”

Soft, wan chuckle. “Looks like the uncultured Manehattaner isn't so uncultured anymore...”

“Heh... keep it up, Hummingbird. I'm glad you can channel all that inspiration into music.”

“Thanks, Frost. So how's Ponyville? Everything going okay?”

“Yeah, everything's going alright. Made some friends already. A couple of them are a little... eccentric, but they're good folk.”

“Eccentric how?”

“Heh, well let's start with Lyra Heartstrings...”

Gasp. "Wait wait wait. Lyra Heartstrings? The Lyra Heartstrings?"

Husky chuckle. "Heh, yep... and let me tell you..."

* * *

I'd settled into Ponyville in no time. Thanks to the kind folk and the nightclub especially, I'd adjusted far quicker than I thought I would've been able to. Of course, I needed to find work. Even though I saved more than a few bucks by opting out of graduate school and earned some bits from royalties thanks to my update to the Hydronomicon- hardly much, really, considering only libraries, academia, and enthusiasts would be purchasing it at all- I still needed to get a job by the end of the month in order to pay for rent.

The storyteller chuckled.

I ended up being town watercolt, providing water and ice on demand for competitive rates, usually for the Toadstool Tabletop. Some ponies were skeptical at first, but after comparing it to importing or purifying water from the Royal River flowing from Canterlot, they eventually gave me a go. I didn't disappoint. With the air so clean, I could strain pure water easily enough from it, maybe drawing it through minerals to give it some taste.

Of course, that isn't to say I set aside equinpology or even history. After word of the new pony in town spread, the local schoolteacher Cheerilee occasionally came to me with questions about instruction and teaching curriculum regarding that subject area. She asked me if I was willing to stop by as a guest teacher sometime, but I didn't quite yet feel comfortable with instruction at the time.

In terms of equinpology, though... well, one time I was making my weekly stop at the market square and I had a chance encounter with an unexpected towngoer.

“No competition at all?” I asked the orange earth pony mare in front of me as I looked over her cart of apples. “Really?”

“Yup,” Applejack- yes, the Applejack- said with a nod. “Ponyville's a bit out o' the way for most other produce companies. Plus, even if t'were that way, Sweet Apple Acres has plenty o' customer loyalty. Go ahead, try one. You'll see why! So yer from Manehattan, right, Frost? Ever meet a young mare named Applebloom? She's mah little sis', an' she moved over to Manehattan a while ago.”

“Don't think so,” I responded. “Sorry, it's a big city, after all.”

He let out a cool, misty sigh.

Haven't had an apple that juicy or that sweet since I was in Ponyville. As I handed over enough bits for a bushel, a zebra mare of all people approached the cart. She wore dzilla neck rings and a pair of large, golden earrings. Her eyes were a soft turquoise, and her mane was done up in a Mohawk. She was dressed in a fine brown cloak.

“Good morning to you, my friend Applejack,” she greeted in a low, exotic tone- a Zebrican accent. “A batch of apples, please- enough to fill a sack.”

“Sure thing, Zecora,” she said with a smile, shucking the apples over. “Just a bit.”

The zebra- Zecora, apparently- deftly procured a shiny bit, knocked it into the air, and then tapped it so that it landed in the coin box. She turned to me “It is not custom to stare, if I may, if I might. Is a zebra here such an unexpected sight?”

“Well... yes,” I replied with a sheepish smile. “I only though there were ponies here. You're a welcome sight, though, don't get me wrong!”

“Ah, yes- the student of equinpology,” Zecora huffed softly, nodding.“Good, then. Too many are quick to judge in this country.”

“Heh, then you haven't seen Manehattan,” I chuckled huskily, offering a hoof with my foreleg bent at the elbow. “Frost Windchill. Pleased to meet you.”

We grasped forelegs and pulled into one another's shoulders. “Oh, so you know our way! Expected, maybe, but comforting still, I must say.”

“I'd be a poor excuse for an equinpologist if I didn't,” I huffed softly, then watched as a cream-colored earth pony mare with a rosy mane approach Applejack's card. “May we walk and talk?”

“Absolutely, Frost Windchill,” Zecora answered as we started off. “My abode is a ways away, so ask what you will.”

* * *

And so I grew accustomed to Ponyville and its many wonderful ponies and lone zebra, the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony notwithstanding. Time passed. Weeks became months became-

One of the ponies in the audience raised a hoof and asked if the storyteller could talk more about the Bearers. He smiled softly.

I wouldn't be able to tell you too much. I only really knew Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Twilight Sparkle in passing- as an animal caretaker, the town weather manager, a masterful seamstress, and a kindly librarian and occasional schoolteacher respectively. Applejack? Truthfully, I only met her by market. We never became anything more than acquaintances. Now, Pinkie Pie... we actually became good friends if not just for the fact that we enjoyed a similar pastime. (He chuckled huskily,) I think you already have enough of an impression of just exactly who she was back then. They're not the point of this- the point is for you all to hear and visualize just how amazing the world and its people were way back when. Sure, they were heroines in my time, but they were people all the same.

And so weeks became months became years. While I hadn't acquired enough knowledge from Zecora and zebras I knew in Manehattan, I had enough information to start planning a book and run it by a few publishers. In the meantime, I had some of my work published as articles in multiple academic magazines in equinpology. I wasn't given much of a spotlight since I didn't have a doctorate or master's degree, but for those who read it, my studies did earn me some helpful critique and commentary- and valuable advice for eventually putting a book together on the subject.

The storyteller inhaled softly.

That was a proud moment for me. “Moving Forward- Or Backward?: A Study on the Effects of Industrialization and Commercialization on the Griffins of Avalon”. Remember smiling to myself when I visited Professor Egan one day and he gave me a copy of that magazine with a contented grin from professor to student.

And so time passed. Twenty-five years old became twenty-six, then twenty-seven. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine...

Thirty.

* * *

“So yeah, we're going to wait a while. That's just how the Denipulo work, Frost. Courting takes a while, birthing foals take a while. Might not owe responsibility to Zebrica anymore, but we still owe it to one another. Wanna solidify it, you know?”

“So how long do you think before you try for a foal?”

“Maybe... jeez, maybe seven more years?”

“You're waiting until thirty-seven? Really now?”

“Hey, don't think I'm gonna be senile raising my foal up! So, how's things over there? You doing alright?”

“Yeah, I'm just fine. I think I really like this place, Zoleks. I don't think I'll stay here forever, but I'll at least keep like a rental home or apartment or something.”

“Well, don't stay too long! We're gonna need you for Winter Wrap-Up here in Manehattan!”

“Heh... I'll be there. You can count on that.”

* * *

So, I thought to myself as I set my phone down. Here I am. Thirty years old, virgin, without a chance at a successful relationship. And yet... no hard feelings, no hatred, no frustration. I felt oddly at ease, oddly content. Maybe it was because I'd accepted who I was. I felt a subtle tug on my heart whenever I saw a couple displaying their affection and especially when talking to Hummingbird again. I stopped meeting her in person three years ago. She had a loving husband now. Maybe a foal on the way. Best not let her think too much of me and how we could have had it all. She was happier that way, and if the interview on MTV- ah, music television, folks- was any indication, she'd found her purpose in life and reaped immense joy from it.

It felt sort of surreal, severing that tie. It was like I was a colt again, small fry in a big ocean. No concerns for relationships, just handling things as they come. I felt a sense of release in it, peace of mind. Even if I longed for that kind of closeness, it was only briefly.

My, how far I've come since....

A rapid knocking at the door shook me from my ruminations. I blinked as I realized I'd been dancing around my balisongs the whole time just out of habit. I pouched them quickly and trotted to the door, already having a feeling I knew who was on the other side. It was just shy of nine-o'clock, which meant...

“Do you know what time it is?” Pinkie Pie asked excitedly as soon as I opened the door, crouched down with her puffy tail swishing behind her. She already had her glowrings on, as did Lyra and Bonbon behind her. They were visible even past the scarves and earmuffs they wore for the chilly night.

“IIIIIIIIIIt's Party Time!” Pinkie and I exclaimed in unison, the outrageously pink mare hopping up and down, sending out a small splash of snow with each bounce.

“One sec, just let me get my things,” I said with a husky chuckle. We'd been doing this for years now. Old habits die hard, and I couldn't quite kick this one.

Little did I know that wintry night, I would meet someone, somepony who would void all those lonely thoughts of mine.

Somepony who would change my life and the lives of so many others forever.

* * *

The storyteller smiled softly, eyes half-lidded as if lost in the memory.

Powerful, deep, bone-shaking beats rattled at my eardrums as I danced to the tune, my legs ringed with colorful, glowing bands. I was thumping alone amongst a crowd of partygoers, feeling absolutely energized by the electro and rocking it hard in the sea of ponies. It was all as it should be that night, just the beating of my heart matching the beat of the bass. Unfortunately, I wasn't quite as young as I used to be. I needed to take a breather, giving a subtle nod to the bar at Pinkie Pie to which she... nod...nod...nodnodnodded to me in turn, almost in bobblehead fashion. And so I weaved past my fellow night owls toward the bar, a sleek black counter with a subtle backlight from below, where couples drank, chatted, and kissed with bliss... save one, not a common sight. My eyes fell on...

He let out a soft sigh.

Her.

She was a unicorn mare with a coat black as midnight and a mane and tail silvery as the stars, neatly cut short in a manner I could only describe as: cute. She looked oddly alone, three empty seats over from anypony else, head nodding lightly to the beat, watching over the crowd with a tinny smile, watching with those soft, blue eyes.

Our eyes locked- only for a moment.

The ancient unicorn spoke quietly.

Those eyes, eyes full of everything.

He broke eye contact for a few seconds.

It's tough to explain... just what went through my head at that moment. Maybe I was having a flashback of Hummingbird or Ditzy or Pinkie Pie, but it seemed odd for somepony to be alone- especially in such a tight-knit community. Blaring Beats was a place where ponies often came in pair, trios- hay, I came with Pinkie, Lyra, and Bonbon. Or maybe there was something else in those light-cyan eyes of hers. The rest of the crowd seemed to fade into a blur, the music into a slurry as I made my way to the bar and sat down beside her. She'd noticed me moving toward her and smiled politely.

“Hi there,” I greeted, raising my voice slightly over the music.

“Hello,” she said back to me in a crisp, high tone. Baby steps, I remembered... baby steps. Just make friends.

“Frost Windchill,” I introduced myself, extending a hoof. I suddenly had the feeling that I was being very, very stupid for some reason. It disappeared in a moment. I mean, what was I thinking? I'd greeted plenty of ponies and people bef-

She met my hoof, eyebrows raising for a moment from my cold touch. Just a moment. “Nightingale.”

Or maybe not so stupid. “Lovely name,” I remarked. No, stupid. Nice job. That didn't sound creepy at all. She looked like she was about to say something before I continued, “You look a little lonely by yourself. Have anyone to dance?” (Well that wasn't being invasive, Frost. Ugh, Pinkie must have been rubbing off on me...)

“Mm?” She canted her head in brief confusion as if taking a moment to decipher what I was trying to say over the music. “Oh! No no no, I'm just here to enjoy the music! Yes, just the music!”

… what?

Okay, forget being invasive/creepy/Pinkie-ish. The Manehattaner inside me was insulted. “Just the music?” I eyed her.

She smiled uneasily as if wondering if she'd said something wrong. “Well, it's... my first time here, actually... you know, at a nightclub.”

I huffed and declared without realizing, “Well, you can't enjoy the music without a little dancing.”

… oh boy. The buck did I do. Music makes me a different pony, folks. All I can say.

Nightingale widened her eyes at me, and for a moment, I'd felt that I'd overstepped my bounds and that my cheek was about to get very friendly with her hoof. But then she flashed me a sly smirk and raised an eyebrow. It was... this... challenging, almost suggestive expression that made my heart flutter and my ears to perk up with subtle heat.

“Is that an offer?” she asked.

I found myself grinning and bent in a theatrical bow, sweeping a hoof aside. “Only if madam wishes.”

She smiled wide and offered her hoof to me. “Madam wishes.”

I took her hoof in mine and led her back to the dance floor, leading her along and taking a moment to glance at her flank. Mind you, I wasn't peeking- merely looking at her cutie-mark.

Some members of the audience glanced at him dubiously.

I'm serious. In any case, her cutie-mark was a connected constellation of stars depicting Corvus, The Crow. Not quite a nightingale, but it was as close as a fitting cutie-mark could get. Again, it was lonely a brief glance and I turned forward to lead her to the dance floor. Instead, I received my daily dose of Pinkie Pie in my face. By now, I'd gotten used to this happening, so I merely flinched.

“Hey, who's your new friend?” she asked excitably, bouncing up and down. “What's her name? Did you meet just-” She suddenly froze mid-bounce and let out a great, big gasp that I swore must have overinflated her lungs. “I don't know her name!” She zipped to Nightingale, who reared her head back at the sudden invasion of privacy. “Who are you? Are you new to Ponyville? Did you just move in today without me noticing? You actually seem pretty familiar! I don't know why! Do you know why?”

I coughed loudly.

Pinkie giggled, “Oh, sorry! I get carried away sometimes! Okay, a lot of the time!” She giggled again. “So what's your name? I'm Pinkie Pie! I see you've already met Frost! Oh, wowie! You've been holding his hoof since we started talking, which has been nineteen, now twenty seconds!”

I blinked and looked down between us. We... we were still holding hooves. Well, at least up until that moment. Nightingale pulled away out of reflex and smiled sheepishly. “Yes... Pinkie Pie... mind if we chat in private, Frost? We won't be long.”

“Uh, yeah, go on ahead,” I replied. “I'll wait back over near the bar?”

“That'll do nicely,” she said with a patient smile, heading off to the restrooms with Pinkie Pie bouncing along after her.

I looked on from a distance at the bar, waving a dismissive hoof to the barpony as she passed by to offer a drink. They wouldn't be long after all, even as tempting as that strawberry daiquiri looked. As I watched them chatter inaudibly over the music, I couldn't help but furrow my brow in thought. She didn't seem bothered by my touch. It couldn't have been her just failing to notice it either. She definitely noticed the first time we shook hooves. Anypony else would have pulled away out of reflex- certainly after the second time. Nightingale was no normal unicorn by that alone, but that meant... could she possibly...

Whoa, Frost. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Don't just label the only mare you've met who seemingly tolerates your coldness as your mate for life! Show some tact!

I looked over to where Pinkie and Nightingale were talk... were previously talking. I must have spaced out from my thoughts or something. The outrageously pink mare giggled, “Have fun, you two!” And then she... winked... at Nightingale. Don't get your hopes up, Frost. That could've been for an entirely different reason...

The silver-maned mare cleared her throat and I shifted my focus back to her. “Now, you wanted to dance?”

The lights suddenly took an orange hue, the spotlights swiveling toward the DJ. The crowd fell silent and still all at once... except for the quivering bundle of joy and energy that was Pinkie Pie. Vinyl reared up and announced, “It's that time of the night, everypony! IIIIIIIIIIt's Beat Heat! Let's see who's got the first track!” She shuffled up a bin of paper slips and removed one using her magic with all the showmareship she could muster. “AAAAAAnd it's Frost with Drive Hard by Prototype Raptor!” She murmured, “Huh, Manehattan mix... been a while since...” She connected wires to her portable terminal and set on the track.

“Well lucky me...” I grinned wide, turning to Nightingale. “Let a Manehattaner show you how it's done.” She appeared puzzled as the light, anthem-like opening echoed in. Vinyl set the lights accordingly, darkening the dance floor again and flashing slowly to send us in trances. Everypony- myself included- swayed lightly to it. Nightingale looked about, hesitantly doing as the Roamans did while the soft beat trickled in. “Just take it easy,” I said to her with a grin, giving my hooves a shake. “It's nice and calm until a minute-twenty in- perfect for beginners.”

“Alright... alright...” She furrowed her brow as the tune grew louder. “And after?”

I grinned wider and paused as the sound fell away and Vinyl plunged the dance floor into darkness. Oh, Frost, you musical maniac, you. You timed it just right.

Drive hard. Drive mustang.”

The floor was alight in flashes of color as the music pounded back in. Nightingale let out a cry of surprise as we kicked it into high gear, and I rocked it hard. My eyes met hers as she stood there, looking about in wonder and amazement, letting out a laugh lost to the sound and sight.

“Well don't just stand there!” I shouted. “Get those hooves shaking!”

The storyteller was positively beaming.

And she gradually did. It was comical seeing her trying to match my pace and footwork, brow furrowed and eyes cast down as she studied my movements. “Don't play copycat, babe!” I laughed (Babe? Smooth, Frost.). “Feel it! Move with it! Don't hold back!” As I said this, I hopped in the air, crossed my hooves as I came down and spun around, flashing her a smirk. A hint of red glinted on her cheeks, but then she flashed her own- that sly smirk with the raised eyebrow.

She had a lovely smirk.

She danced now- perhaps not as good as a Manehattaner or any of the frequent flingers at Blaring Beats, but I wouldn't go so far as to say she had four left hooves. It was as if my infectious energy and everypony else's breathed new life into her. I could tell as she stopped looking down at my legs and up at the dancing lights and swaying bodies around her- mine as well- that she was having the time of her life. As our eyes met, I saw that look in hers that told me this was the first time in a long time that she was able to just let herself go like this. She was liberated, a Nightingale flying free to revel the nocturnal splendor. I couldn't help but dial it back a bit so I could watch the way her cute mane bobbed as she whipped it back and forth, the swing of her flank (Don't do that.)... I was reminded of a time years ago as another pony swayed past us. For a moment, I saw green on green replace her blue and silver, a flash of inspiration taking the place of the dotted starscape, wings tucked to her side. I blinked and it was gone, jolted out of my reverie just as the song lulled into a soft trance, trickled in with new chiptune beats with the lights glittering overhead.

“Hoo... hah...” Nightingale panted, eyes half-lidded. “Most wond- ahhh, I mean, that was wonderful...”

“Hey now, I hope you're not too tuckered out,” I chuckled, getting back in rhythm. “It's not over yet!”

“It's... it's not?” She stared at me.

I sneered. “Hay no. This is just a break! Don't tell me you're already tuckered out!”

The opening tune trickled back in and Nightingale paused in realization. I just laughed as a the music dropped away.

Drive hard. Drive mustang.”

And we were back to rocking it hard, at least for a brief dozen seconds or so. A classy trickle of piano broke in and I tweaked and kicked, moving my forelegs as if flipping about my trusty fedora. I caught Nightingale's smile and returned it, making one last toss of my imaginary hat and reeling back...

Drive mustang.”

And then one last burst of energy, swishing and swaying, jerking and working, heartbeat and hard beat. Finally, the song came down from its high, and everypony was once again bathed in orange.

“Not bad, not bad,” Vinyl said, waving her forehoof in a 'so-so' motion. “For the newbies here, I guess. Let's see if the next one turns up the heat!” She floated up another slip from the bin. “AAAAnd it's Roseluck with Leto by Archie! Heh, you know, you should come here more often...”

I turned back to Nightingale and grinned. “Up for more?”

The midnight-black mare just grinned right back.

* * *

“Ahhhh, another great night as always,” I breathed out a misty sigh as my little group- plus one more- headed back out into the snowy night. “Same time tomorrow?”

“Abso-doodley-lutely!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, jumping into the air and kicking her hooves around before plopping back into the snow. “G'night, Frost! G'night Bonbon and Lyra! And night-night-night Nightingale!”

“Maybe, maybe.” Bonbon tapped her chin. “Tomorrow's Saturday, and that means prepping for Sweet Sunday. I'll have to do inventory.”

“Bonbooooon,” Lyra whined. “Please? We get to spend more time with Frost!”

“You mean you get to spent more time with Frost.” The custard-colored mare bumped Lyra's muzzle with her forehoof, causing her to scrunch it up. Bonbon rolled her eyes. “Maybe, we'll see, see? Night, Frost. Catch you later!”

“Byeeeee!” Lyra waved enthusiastically as they trotted off. And so I was left alone with Nightingale amidst the soft streetlight and the gentle snowfall.

“She really seems to like you, doesn't she?” the silver-maned mare chuckled.

“It's the whole 'hands' thing,” I said to her with a husky chuckle of my own, sprouting an ice arm and waving to her.

“Oh!” She widened her eyes. “You're... you're a Mancer! There hasn't been a new one for hundreds of years...”

“You know of them?” I asked, my smile disappearing as my arm sublimated.

“Well... only in passing,” Nightingale replied. “I dabbled into a bit of archeoarcane sciences in my studies. I, ah, only recently graduated from Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot, so it's still fresh in my mind.”

“Oh, you went there?” I smiled easy again. “Two-hundred-fifty-seventh class.”

“Two-hundred-sixty-second.” Nightingale smiled. “Astronomy. You?”

“Equinpology and history. Chance meeting we've got here.” I chuckled softly, if not a bit uncomfortably. Standing alone with her in the streets of Ponyville... I had the oddest sensation that we were being watched- that I was being watched. I looked over my shoulder, but saw nothing but night and shadow (Now I remember. I missed that one, just over the rooftop. Classic.). I turned back to her and nevertheless smiled softly at her. “Anyway, it's getting late. I should let you get going now.” Still... I wanted to sate at least one curiosity of mine. “Aren't you cold, standing out here, though? Here you are, standing out here in the snow without a shred of clothing!”

“I could ask the same of you,” she huffed, “though your reason is all too clear, cryomancer. I cannot tell you, Frost, because I honestly don't know myself.” She chuckled softly, looking off in the distance. “I should get going though. Tonight was... fun.”

I grinned, lowering my head to peek up at her. “Just 'fun'?”

Nightingale chuckled softly in a way that made my heart flutter. “I had a wonderful first time tonight here.” She paused, then looked at me and smiled. “Thank you.”

“Sorry if I was a bit much,” I chuckled sheepishly. “I'm a different buck with music involved. So, uh, are you new to town by chance? I've lived here for a few years by now and I haven't seen you before.”

“Oh, I'm just stopping by in Canterlot,” she answered. “I'm on a business trip from Neighples, but it's still a little too expensive in Canterlot. I'm sure you understand, having been there yourself.”

“Heh... yeah... yeah... too bad I never picked up Itailian.” Neighples... that was a long ways away. “When do you think you're going to head back?”

Nightingale pursed her lips and shook her head. “Whenever the seal is dealed. Oh! Deal is sealed! Sorry, still learning the sayings of the Equestrian Heartland.”

“Any ideas how long that'll take?” I inquired.

“Could be just another day,” she replied. “Could be a week.” The midnight-black mare appeared to be regarding me. “Was there something you wanted to ask of me, Frost?”

You know the drill, Frost... right words, right way. “I just wanted to know if you were maybe up for another night of clubbing tomorrow,” I answered. “You seemed like you had a lot of fun for your first time, and you weren't half-bad at dancing.”

The silver-maned mare arced an eyebrow for a moment. She... might have picked up what I was really suggesting. “Tell you what,” Nightingale said with a... smile. What on Equestria... “I'll consider it. But look at the time.” Her smile changed, quick as can be. “I said I should get going, and here I am still chatting away with you. Good night, Frost. Sleep well.”

“Good Nighting... good night, Nightingale,” I said after getting hold of myself. As I watched her trot toward the only inn in Ponyville, I turned away and furrowed my brow in thought. That smile... I'd never had that specific kind of smile used against me before. It was unsettling yet at the same time... thrilling. I trotted back home, still feeling that odd sense of being watched until I shut the door behind me.

And yet, even after I put away my glowrings, even after I washed up and settled in for bed, I couldn't take my mind off of her. Nightingale... she was the only pony, the only person I've ever met that didn't flinch or make a remark on how cold I was save for Little Strongheart. She was being polite though. Nightingale... even in a calmer state of mind, lying down in bed without a hint of music, I couldn't stop thinking about her. I felt hopeful that... if... she could bear how cold I was... maybe...

Frost, here you are, losing sight of things. Be rational. You've only held hooves. That's not the same thing as bodily contact. And why should you be thinking of that, even? She's an astronomer from Neighples, hundreds of miles away. She has her life, you have yours. You hardly even know her. Don't jump on something like this with nothing more than puppy love.

But even as I turned over in bed, I found myself less and less willing to listen to that rational voice in my head. My heart was still fluttering, brimming with hope.

The storyteller chuckled softly.

I seem to have a knack for self-fulfilling prophecies, don't I?

* * *

Footnote: Frost- Level Up! Level 15 Reached!
Perk added: Musical Mayhem- Music soothes the savage beast- or unleashes it. While music is playing, your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. is randomized and you get different dialogue options depending on the type of music audible.

Unlockables added: Soundtrack- Sunshine and Smiles

Soundtrack- Theme of the Courier, Ditzy Doo (Special Thanks to Stormy Sunrise)

Soundtrack- Theme of the- WHAT THE BUCK?!, Pinkie Pie

Soundtrack- Blaring Beats

Soundtrack- Can I See Your Hand?

Soundtrack- Drive Hard by Prototype Raptor

Soundtrack- Theme of the Nocturnal Beauty, Nightingale

Author's Note:

Phew... took a while, but here we are. My thanks to Kkat, the FoE community, and my wonderful pre-reader Lazer726. Thanks for looking over what I had on such short notice. ^^ Next, I thank you for reading. If it's not too much trouble, please leave some feedback. Things are going to start picking up after this reflection...

Of course, don't forget about the Ask Frost Windchill tumblr (www.askfrostwindchill.tumblr.com), if you're interested.

Until next time,
Adder1

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