• Published 21st May 2012
  • 4,733 Views, 410 Comments

Mantles - Ponky



Studying in Canterlot, Apple Bloom dons a mask of her youth to counter the city's rising crime.

  • ...
6
 410
 4,733

2 - A Sweet Reunion

CHAPTER TWO
A SWEET REUNION

Apple Bloom had never been particularly musical. She was a decent singer, and she often caught herself whistling the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ theme song or "Hearts as Strong as Horses" while working alone in the middle of the orchards, but her art was primarily visual. Even so, she appreciated a good musician, and Harper certainly took the cake.

Quite unlike his mother’s more classical style, Harper moved to the beat of his own drum… which was almost always very fast. Mere minutes into the train ride, Apple Bloom noticed that Harper started to tap his hoof along with the steady rhythm of the locomotive.

Chicka-chicka, chicka-chicka, chicka-chicka, chicka-chicka…

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Chicka-chicka, chicka-chicka, chicka-chicka, chicka-chicka…

Tap, tap, tap… tap-tap.

“Fancy hoofwork,” Apple Bloom noted with an amused expression.

Harper winked at her. “Just wait ‘til I get going.”

She watched with fascination as his hoofs began to beat out complicated rhythms, always falling back into play with the beat of the tracks. Other ponies took note as well, smiling or gawking at the stallion’s talent.

Suddenly, after a particularly quick shuffle of his hooves, Harper added a melody to the beat. He hummed four long notes over and over, giving Apple Bloom a meaningful glance that suggested he wanted her to add on. Blushing, she hummed a harmony above the tenor’s line, delighting their growing audience even more.

“Join in when you can, everypony!” Harper called out to them, returning to his melodic hmms.

An excited unicorn took up the invitation immediately, working his own hooves against the window pane to add a metallic ring to the beat.

“That’s it!” encouraged Harper. His lake-blue eyes shone nearly as bright as his snare drum Cutie Mark. Apple Bloom grinned at his contagious enthusiasm; anyone who loved music this much certainly deserved a spot in Canterlot’s School. She wondered if her eyes sparkled like that when she painted.

One by one, the ponies in their passenger car added rhythms with their hooves and descants with their mouths, creating a swirling chorus of beautiful, driving music that wiped all worry from Apple Bloom’s mind.

And then a small, tan pony started to sing from nowhere. It fit perfectly with the established accompaniment and Apple Bloom had to concentrate on her humming to keep from dropping her jaw.

Just another train ride, just another trip,

Woke up thinking this day would be another drip,

But something special happened and brightened up my day.

And now I know exactly what my mom was tryin’ to say…

His voice was so crisp, so pure and piercing. He had stepped into the aisle for his solo but looked as though he wasn’t going to continue, shying away from the wide eyes of admiring ponyfolk. Harper nearly shrieked over the continuing music.

“Don’t stop, kid! What did she tell you?” he asked in a voice brimming with pride. This was exactly what he was after, Apple Bloom realized: trying to make someone’s day with an impromptu song. Trying to help somepony else find their special talent.

The light brown colt beamed at Harper’s approval, just as Scootaloo used to look on Rainbow Dash. With a gulp of air large enough to fuel his song, that beautiful tone graced the pulsing air once more.

She said: cheer – up – Charlie Horse,

Don’t let your face stay twisting,

Just look – for – something good,

You’ll find what you are missing!

As he repeated the stanza, Harper loudly sang along, continuing to stomp against the chickas of the train. More and more of the listening ponies joined the chorus, even Apple Bloom, until adorable little Charlie stood on his hind legs and sang at the top of his lungs:

You’ll never see a cloudy day

Whose clouds you cannot clear away

As long as you recall to saaaaaay:

Cheer – up – Charlie!

With a resounding stomp, every pony involved in the song stopped on a bit and broke into tremendous cheers of sheerest joy. Many grateful hooves found their way to pat Harper’s back. He humbly acknowledged them all, complimenting them with surprising specifics on their individual contributions. When all had settled down, Apple Bloom gawked at her winded friend.

“Harper, that was incredible!” she whispered, bumping her flank against his. “I haven’t had that much fun since I was a foal!”

He offered her a tired smile of thanks before hanging his head.

Apple Bloom raised a concerned eyebrow. “All that stompin’ tire ya right out?”

He nodded.

“All that happy screamin’ wear away your voice?”

He nodded.

“Want me to go findja a glass of water?”

He nodded.

With a flick of her tail, Apple Bloom was off, singing softly to herself as she cantered down the central aisle.

She stopped by the little tan pony’s seat on her way to the refreshment car. He was sitting by a middle-aged, light grey mare with a straight mane of much darker grey. Her purple eyes were resting on what Apple Bloom assumed was her son fondly.

“Charlie, is it?” Apple Bloom asked the surprisingly timid colt. “I’m Apple Bloom. That was some mighty impressive singin’ you did there. Thanks for sharin’ yer talent!”

Charlie blushed and nodded. Apple Bloom tilted her head.

“What’s wrong? Y’ain’t gotta be scared o’ me. Why, I’m an artist just like you. Well, I cain’t sing quite as strong, but I draw and I paint pretty good. So I’m movin’ up to Canterlot to go to the School of Art with my friend, Sweetie Belle!”

The boy’s grey mother perked up at the name. “You know Sweetie Belle?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am, known her almost my whole life. We were the best of friends back in Ponyville. Haven’t seen her in a whole year, but now I’m gonna be livin’ with her, and we’ll be schoolmates all over again!” She closed her eyes in a proud smile before realizing.... “Wait a minute, do you know Sweetie Belle?”

Charlie’s face cracked into a smile while his mother nodded and answered. “Oh yes, we love Sweetie Belle. She takes care of Charlie sometimes while his father is busy.”

“That’s great!” Apple Bloom exclaimed. “What a slice o’ luck! Why, I reckon we’ll be seein’ each other often, then, won’t we?”

The grey mare winced slightly. “Well, you see, I live with my parents on the outskirts of Ponyville. Charlie’s father lives in Canterlot. He visits me from time to time, but I’m making sure he gets back to his father safely.”

Apple Bloom’s eyes widened. She wanted to ask, “Y’all don’t live together?” but thought better of it. Instead, she continued on the topic at hoof. “So how did y’all meet Sweetie Belle, then?”

“Well, you see, my sister used to live in Ponyville. You may have known her, actually. I understand she was quite popular.”

“Oh? Who’s that?”

“Her name was Pinkamena. Pinkamena Pie.”

Apple Bloom’s smile vanished as she listened.

“I understand that Sweetie Belle was walking through the streets of Canterlot one afternoon singing a song my sister had taught her. Something about smiling.”

Pinkie's maniacal smile threatened to rip around her teeth in Apple Bloom's mind.

“Charlie overheard her and recognized the song. Didn’t you, Charlie?”

The foal nodded, finally gathering the courage to speak. “I-I-I asked her if sh-she knew my Great Aunt Pin… Pink…” He squinted with effort, making Apple Bloom’s heart ache with sympathy. “Great Aunt Pinkie. She said y-y-yes and came to my house. My d-d-d-dad made her leave, though.”

The bitter ending left him with a frown.

“But she comes and visits often now,” Miss Pie assured. “She’s been helping Charlie find his own voice.”

“Well, I daresay she’s doin’ a mighty fine job if I ever saw one!” Apple Bloom said, struggling to suppress the mess of emotions boiling between her ribs. “I gotta go grab some water fer my friend, but it was sure a pleasure meetin’ y’all. Hopefully I get to come visit ya with Sweetie Belle sometime, Charlie!”

The colt smiled without making eye contact while his mother nodded.

“Nice to meet you, too, young lady. What was your name?”

“Apple Bloom,” she repeated hastily. She flashed the pair a smile and hurried toward the refreshment cab, flexing her lower eyelids to stop unwanted tears.

After galloping through two more passenger cars, ignoring annoyed glances from their startled ponies, she found herself serendipitously alone among colorful baskets of snacks and large containers of chilled water. She allowed a few warm tears to stream down her muzzle, wiping them away with a quivering hoof.

Pinkie’s sister? And Charlie… he was her nephew. Apple Bloom choked out a laugh as she realized how much sense that made. Who else but a Pie could burst into an event-centered song like that? Apple Bloom hadn’t realized Pinkie was still close with her family since moving away from the rock farm, but if Charlie had recognized the Smile Song, they must have spent some quality time together. That only made the pit in Apple Bloom’s stomach sink deeper.

It also made her imagine Sweetie Belle singing through the streets of Canterlot. She latched onto that thought, trying to muscle away the bittersweet memories of Ponyville’s party pony. More bitter than sweet… Sweetie… focus on Sweetie Belle.

Apple Bloom painted a picture of her friend in her mind, more excited than ever to see her again. She wondered if she’d done anything new to that curly mane since moving to Canterlot. Through her teenage years, and to Rarity’s horror, Sweetie Belle had adopted a unique, messy style. Her sister’s disapproval was all part of the fun, and Sweetie Belle had always loved finding new ways to have fun.

Had it really been a whole year since they’d spoken face to face? After Sweetie Belle had finally recognized her special talent and received three silver bells on her flank, she had done little other than study music under Harper’s mother. The magnitude of her talent was the main buzz of Ponyville for several months. Everypony knew Sweetie Belle was going places, including the singer herself. With Lyra’s help, she sent her application to the Canterlot School of Arts as soon as she met the age requirement. Her acceptance, though far from a surprise, was the cause for much celebration among Sweetie’s friends and family.

That had been two years ago. Saying goodbye to their dear friend was one of the hardest things Apple Bloom and Scootaloo had ever done, but Sweetie was perfect for Canterlot. She and Rarity shared few similarities, but one of them was their love for big cities. Though frequent letters kept them in contact, Apple Bloom had only seen her once when Sweetie visited on Hearth’s Warming Eve. It was a short visit: between studying under the most acclaimed singers in Canterlot and performing at the most prestigious venues, Sweetie Belle kept a tight schedule.

But now Apple Bloom was joining the musical mare for good! She and Sweetie Belle would room together with two other mares in a flat near the School. Apple Bloom couldn’t remember being more excited for anything, except maybe getting her Cutie Mark after so much diligent crusading.

Apple Bloom felt cold water rush over her hoof and she yelped in surprise, dropping the overflowing paper cup. It spilled over the refreshment car’s wooden floor and soaked a part of the green carpet running down its middle. Face flushing, Apple Bloom grabbed several napkins with her mouth and started to wipe up the mess. To her surprise, another wad of napkins floated down to help her, surrounded by a lake blue glow of magic.

Apple Bloom’s head whipped up and around to see what helpful unicorn had entered the car. Unfortunately she turned in the wrong direction, smacking the top of her head against the table’s edge.

“Ow!” she shouted, dropping the soggy napkins.

A dry laugh met her flattened ears. “Sorry,” somepony croaked. Head pounding, Apple Bloom popped one eye open to see Harper’s apologetic smirk.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said between gritted teeth, trying to shake away the sting in her skull. “Sorry I wasn’t faster bringin’ yer water.”

Harper shook his head, magically tossing every wet napkin into the nearby trash while filling another paper cup with his hooves. After a long drink, he spoke. “No problem at all. I decided to follow you up, anyway. Needed to stretch out these friends.”

He wiggled his front legs, making Apple Bloom giggle.

“I saw you stop to talk to the little singer,” Harper continued after another swig. “I assume he’s the Charlie of his song.”

Apple Bloom nodded before pulling a concerned face. “My question is, who names their kid Charlie Horse?” She remembered Granny Smith’s painful spasms while Harper laughed at her expression.

“It’s probably just a nickname,” he offered with a shrug. “I’ve definitely heard stranger.”

Apple Bloom had to agree with that.

Harper took another drink. “What did he say?”

“Not much. He stutters.” Harper raised his eyebrows. Apple Bloom nodded honestly. “Yeah, I thought the same thing. Guess singin’ takes it away.”

“That’s fantastic!” the unicorn cried. “Isn’t music amazing? Powerful stuff.”

Apple Bloom considered telling Harper about the foal’s relation to Pinkie Pie, but just the thought of saying her name sent shivers up her spine. Harper didn’t notice, drinking the last of his water with closed eyes.

Ahhhh!” he breathed, tossing the cup in the garbage. “Well, let’s get back to our car. We should reach Canterlot within the hour. Are you excited to see Sweetie Belle?”

Her nod was genuine. Grateful for the distraction, she began to relay some of her favorite memories of her foalhood days. Harper cackled at her detailed account of the disastrous talent show, heartily agreeing with the judges’ bestowal of the award for Best Comedy Act.

“I can’t believe I don’t remember that,” he said as they resumed their places.

“You were real young. Not even in school yet,” she reminded him. “You know, Sweetie Belle was your age when she first moved to Canterlot.”

Harper nodded. “That I do remember. Mom was so proud to have a student of hers enter the School that young.”

“She must be real proud of you, then. Her own son at the Canterlot School of Art fer… hmm. Say, what are you studyin’ there, anyway? Voice? Percussion?”

“Harp, actually,” the stallion said with a humble grin. “That’s what I applied with.”

Apple Bloom raised an eyebrow. “But… yer Cutie Mark is a drum. And you’re so good at all that, ya know, tippity-tappin’ with your hooves!”

Harper shrugged again, glancing away from Apple Bloom. “Yeah, well… thanks,” he mumbled. Apple Bloom wanted to press him, but his discomfort was clear. Silently, they watched out the window as the train wound up the mountain to Canterlot’s depot, far larger than Ponyville’s modest equivalent.

Apple Bloom’s heart rate climbed with the train. Her new life was about to start. Any minute now, she and Sweetie Belle would begin a new and promising chapter, together again at long last!

The train began to slow. Apple Bloom caught herself squealing. Harper laughed, but she noticed his hooves pattering anxiously against the floorboards.

“We are now arriving in Canterlot,” a pleasant voice drifted from the trumpet-like speakers along the ceiling. “Welcome to the Canterlot Train Station. Please wait until the train is at a complete stop before removing your luggage from the overhead compartments. Please note that your items may have shifted during the ride…”

The voice continued to give directions while Harper and Apple Bloom tried to calm their lungs. As soon as they felt the lurch of the train, both young ponies sprung from their seats and snatched up their belongings. Harper led the way to the nearest exit, balancing his harp-case on his back with magic; Apple Bloom carried her suitcase in her teeth, stuck in an elated beam.

Suddenly, Harper skidded to a stop. Apple Bloom did the same, nearly colliding with his hind end as he smiled down at a familiar tan foal.

“Charlie,” he stated, extending his hoof, “it was an honor making music with you. You’re quite the talented little colt. Keep singing.”

Charlie shook the offered hoof limply, his jaw hanging open in a lopsided smile. Once again, Apple Bloom recognized the admiration in his eyes.

Harper lifted his gaze to the grey pony on Charlie’s other side. “He’s got real potential, ma’am. Make sure he gets the training he needs and before you know it, we’ll see his name in lights.”

Charlie made a little squeak of delight as his mother nodded. “I Pinkie Promise,” she told Harper with a wink. The mint-green stallion’s brow lifted in surprise and he opened his mouth to question the pony, but Apple Bloom slammed into him from behind and together they resumed their race for the exit.

A blue-coated stallion with a similarly hued vest waited for them at the train’s open doors. “Welcome to Canterlot,” he said as they approached, offering a courteous smile. “Watch your step. They've been redesigning the station to accommodate for growth. There’s a little gap between the train and platform.”

“Thank you, sir!” Harper chirped, turning to Apple Bloom. “Just a hop, skip, and a jump, am I right?”

Why!? Apple Bloom pleaded inwardly, but flashed her friend an agreeable smile. Taking a deep breath, both ponies leapt through a wall of billowing steam and passed through the other side into the thick, murky air of Canterlot.

“Wait… what?” Apple Bloom asked aloud. Sure enough, the clean, colorful train station she had been expecting was nonexistent. In its place was a dark, smoggy, sullen platform, dotted with angry-looking ponies darting this way and that toward their respective trains.

“What in Equestria…” Harper muttered. “Are we in the right place?”

“Apple Bloom!” A bright, crackly voice smashed the otherwise dismal scene and reminded the farm pony of her purpose.

“Sweetie Belle?” she called out, glancing around the expansive station for the source of the happy shout. “Where are you?”

An impressive, pale unicorn burst through a pocket of grumbling passengers trotting toward the ticket office. Apple Bloom gasped at the sight of her friend and rushed toward her, leaving her suitcase with a still bewildered Harper.

The two grown members of the Cutie Mark Crusaders galloped nearer to one another at full speed, laughing and crying and yelping the whole way. Finally the ponies collided in a mess of hair, hoots, and hugs. To the newcomer’s surprise, Sweetie Belle was practically sobbing into her bright red mane.

“Sweetie Belle, don’t cry!” she said with concern, trying to quell tears of her own threatening to emerge.

“Oh, Apple Bloom!” Sweetie exclaimed. Though her voice had deepened slightly it kept its familiar crackle, spiking into a higher register every now and then. Apple Bloom’s heart melted to hear it. “I’m sorry, Apple Bloom, I’m just so happy to see you! Oh, Apple Bloom, Apple Bloom, Apple Bloom!”

“I’m here, Sweetie! No need to call for me,” Apple Bloom said with a chuckle, nuzzling the back of her friend’s mane.

“It’s just… so good to say your name again,” Sweetie Belle said between gasps. “To have you here and... hear it... ha!” She started to laugh as she backed out of the embrace, a loud laugh that seemed to snap Harper out of his trance.

“Sweetie Belle!” he shouted, taking Apple Bloom’s suitcase with his tail and trotting to the happy duo.

Sweetie’s eyes widened as she frantically tried to tame her hug-damaged mane with one hoof, using the other to brush her tears away. Apple Bloom squinted and smirked.

“Hi, Harper!” Sweetie squeaked, turning her shoulder as she smiled. The pose made her relation to Rarity even more apparent. “I’m so glad you made it safely!”

“Well, I had to keep a close eye on your friend here,” he teased, tossing Apple Bloom her luggage. “She was so excited to see you she nearly jumped the train halfway up the mountain.”

“Did not!” Apple Bloom retorted, quickly adding, “but I was so excited to see you. I still am!”

They laughed together while Apple Bloom got a firm hold on her case, rolling it behind her as Sweetie Belle led them to the large station’s entrance beneath a giant clock. The Ponyvilleans pupils’ shrunk at the state of Canterlot as they entered its once regal streets, cringing at the obscene graffiti covering most of the eye-level bricks.

“Sweetie Belle…” Apple Bloom muttered. “Wha… what happened to this place?”

Sweetie pulled a too-happy smile and glared at her companions meaningfully. “What are you talking about, Apple Bloom? Don’t you just love Canterlot? Are you two hungry at all?”

They blinked. Without breaking her smile, Sweetie Belle grunted. “Because I’m hungry,” she continued, “and I just finished baking a cauliflower casserole back at my apartment! And now your apartment, Apple Bloom! Care to join us for dinner, Harper?”

“What’re you talkin’ about, Sweetie Belle? You’re a terrible cook.”

Sweetie Belle’s laugh was shrill and unnatural. “Oh, don’t be silly! I’ve gotten much better since I moved here. Come on, let’s hurry! I think I left it in the oven.”

“But you said you just finished bak—”

“I’m starving, let’s go!” Sweetie nearly shrieked, hurrying behind her friends and pushing them forward.

The trio weaved through the murky streets of the city at a quick trot. Sweetie was careful to avoid the unusually prevalent Canterlot guards stationed on nearly every corner. Their armor was darker than Apple Bloom remembered. All nerves were tense by the time they reached a winding street with a familiar name: Quarterhorse Lane. Despite Sweetie Belle’s strange behavior, Apple Bloom felt a twinge of excitement as they turned onto the street she had been imagining for months.

Though far from the bright, shiny street of Sweetie’s letters, Quarterhorse Lane was admittedly better maintained than the Canterlot behind them. They made their way to Building 4 and climbed a set of metal stairs to the second story, following Sweetie Belle to door 8. She used her magic to pull a key from the fashionable saddlebag hanging at her side. With it she opened the dull green door and ushered her friends inside. Once all three were the through, she slammed it shut and expelled a huge sigh of relief.

“Be. More. CAREFUL!” she shouted at Apple Bloom, catching the earth pony off guard. “You can’t go insulting the city like that! You never know when a guard is listening.” She shuddered as she leaned against the wall, exhausted from their relatively short walk.

Apple Bloom was still confused, and now slightly offended. “Honestly, Sweetie, what in the world are you talkin’ about? Why should I care if the guards hear me er not?”

Sweetie groaned sadly as her ears dropped. “I’m sorry, Apple Bloom. I shouldn’t have shouted. I forget you don’t know about the… changes.”

Visibly shaken, Harper planted his flank on Sweetie’s light purple couch and sat back in his unusual manner. “What changes, Sweetie Belle? What happened to Canterlot?”

With a heavy sight, Sweetie Belle dropped her saddlebag on the front rug and walked to Apple Bloom’s side, rubbing the top of her forlorn head against her thick red mane.

“Sweetie,” Apple Bloom asked tenderly, noticing the tears in her soft green eyes, “when did all this happen? Your letters never said nothin’ about Canterlot fallin’ to pieces.”

“They check the mail sometimes,” Sweetie explained in a whimper. “I couldn’t risk it.”

Harper shook his head in bafflement. “Come on Sweetie, I need some answers! This doesn’t make any sense. Who checks the mail? What do they check for? What would they do if someone ‘insulted the city’? Why would the Princesses let this happen?”

Sweetie Belle’s eyes were full of fear as she looked at the ruffled unicorn.

“The Princesses are gone, Harper,” she managed to say. “Twilight sent them to the Moon.”