• Published 21st Dec 2015
  • 239 Views, 6 Comments

The Glimmering Gardener - ArgonMatrix



Life is told not in one great story, but in many smaller ones. Here are a few from the life of the magical plant breeder, Lilligold.

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Bonus: Lockstep

Author's Note:

An early, scrapped attempt at a story for the Quarterfinals—Luster Lock vs. Lilligold. Abandoned the idea because it wasn't working out how I'd intended.

“Come on.”

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“It’ll make you feel better!”

“Unlikely.”

“It’ll make me feel better.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“We could kiss instead.”

Trixie shot Luster a look that could slay a cockatrice. “”You could leave instead.”

Luster’s smile only faltered a little. She tucked the tickets away and reclined over the back of the bench. A cool night breeze rolled by. “Yeesh,” she said, “who got your horn in a twist? You’re acting like we’ve never had a bum show before.”

‘Scowl’ didn’t do Trixie’s expression justice—it was more like a momma bear’s leave-my-cubs-alone glower. “The Great and Powerful Trixie did not put on a ‘bum show.’ Trixie’s performance was astronomical! The most astounding magical display anypony in this city has ever witnessed!”

Luster shrugged. “We got upstaged by a flower.”

Trixie’s mouth hung open, her tongue working uselessly. She settled on a feral shout through gritted teeth and slumped back on the bench, fuming more than a volcano-bound coal train. Both ponies looked ahead in silence.

They sat in the dark stillness of a park that Luster was fairly sure was actually somepony’s front lawn. Just across the street though, a giant, opulent manor lit up the surrounding burg like a second sun. It bounced with music too rambunctious for royalty, but a sparkle-soggy banner hanging between balconies seemed to disagree, stating that it was The Duchess’ 18th Birthday Bash. Crowds of ponies milled about the grounds in everything from the latest Calvin Clydesdale vogue masterpiece to complete starkers. The breeze carried an odd cocktail of fresh-cut grass, too much perfume, and alcohol.

It was a strange sight, but Elmshire was a strange city. Luster had known it from the moment she and Trixie had stepped off the train two weeks prior. Elmshire was the kind of city that could chomp up the Hoofingtons and Ponyvilles of the world and spit them out as shiny, cultural hotspots with a side of tourist trap. A real melting pot.

Luster pulled the tickets from beneath her wing again: two for the ‘Living Illusion Tour’ at the Elmshire Museum of Modern Magic, dated for tomorrow. She’d snagged them from a couple after one of Trixie’s street shows—the stallion had used them as payment for Luster unlocking his girlfriend’s horn cage, whatever that was supposed to be. She’d meant to surprise Trixie with them after their big show at the Duchess’ party.

It could’ve gone better. But then, Trixie hadn’t set the tickets on fire yet, so it could’ve gone worse too.

“So,” Luster said, “seriously, we oughta do this tour, Trix. It’ll be rad! Word is they’ve got this thing where they recreate the Battle of Tambelon and—”

“Trixie has more important business to attend to than wasting her day in a showcase of inferiority.” Trixie was still watching the manor. Her gaze had gone analytic—still bitter, but analytic, like she really hated math or something.

The tickets fell to Luster’s side with her hoof. “That’s it, then? We’re in the most cultured place in the world, and all we’re gonna do is hop from show to show like we always do?”

“Yes.” Apparently Trixie found whatever she’d been looking for as she rose from the bench and set off cantering. Luster sighed through her nose, folded the tickets away, and followed.

When she saw where Trixie was bee-lining, Luster’s stomach knotted a little. A pony had exited the manor’s side door hauling a giant carriage. Even by the moonlight alone it was easy to tell what the carriage held—a massive, magical lotus that had been the biggest talking point of the evening. The one that had stolen most of the attention away from their magic act, even.

And Trixie was dead set on crossing this pony’s path. “Here we go,” Luster mumbled.

“You there!” Trixie cried. If she was trying to hide the dagger in her voice, she was failing spectacularly. “Hold! Trixie would like a word.”

The mare stopped on a dime. She looked over, her face half-hidden by a curtain of silver mane. “Oh, terribly sorry,” she said. “I fear I’ve lingered too long already. The dynasty lotus is quite exhausted, and—”

“Ha!” Trixie barked. “A likely excuse. How can a flower get tired?”

As if in response, the lotus spat a few sparks into the air. “Well—” the mare tried.

“Trixie isn’t interested in your glorified salad, anyway. The only thing Trixie cares about—” Trixie’s hat lifted from her head, revealing her horn glowing like a loaded weapon “—is getting even.”

The mare shrank away. “Pardon?” she whispered,

Luster looked around. Most, if not all, of the nearby partygoers had turned to look at them. Least we finally got our audience, Luster mused. “Uh, Trix, I don’t think—”

“Don’t play dumb with Trixie!” Trixie bellowed. “You think you can show up Trixie with your cheap parlor tricks and get away with it? You think your little weed is any match for the Great and Powerful Trixie?!”

“And the Radium Maiden!” Luster blurted. “Who in no way endorses what’s about to happen!”

Trixie growled. “Let’s see how you like your limelight getting stolen out from under you!” Trixie leveled her horn at the lotus and shot a firework into its core. Colours whizzed and popped from the flower in sporadic bursts, like the most zen firecracker ever.

Then it caught fire.

The mare shrieked. Her eyes were manic globes as she wrapped the flower in her own magic. Little clusters of flame were smothered, but other popped up in their place faster than the magic could handle. Trixie stood by, giggling like a schoolfilly. Luster just looked on, bemused.

“Enough!” somepony boomed. Grey magic clamped around the lotus like a cast-iron glove and extinguished each flame. Luster snapped her head sideways and nearly smacked the Duchess of Elmshire with her muzzle. The mare certainly commanded attention—her mane was done up in bedazzled pigtails, and her dress was a sharp, avant-garde thing. Luster might think her name was Femme Fatale if she didn’t know any better—and she really didn’t, actually.

Femme Fatale approached the lotus, which the florist pony buzzed around faster than she seemed capable of. “How badly is it damaged, Lilligold?” the duchess asked.

Despite the tears lighting her eyes, the mare—Lilligold, apparently—managed a smile. “I think she’ll be okay. The magic wasn’t powerful enough to do any real damage.”

Trixie shoved towards Lilligold, her face so red that Luster half-expected steam to blast from her ears. “Why you snide little—”

The duchess held her with a hoof. Her eyes never left Lilligold, though. “Thank goodness. Now I suggest you run home before there’s any more fuss. We’ll catch up tomorrow.”

Her smile weak and her voice still trembling, Lilligold dipped her head and said, “Thank you, Debonnaire.” She harnessed herself back to her carriage and scurried off into the lamplit streets.

“This is not over!” Trixie cried. She tried and failed to push Debonnaire’s hoof away. “The Great and Powerful Trixie will have justice!”

“Enough out of you,” Debonnaire said. She turned and started towards the manor. “Come. I have a few choice words for you I’d not like my subjects to hear.”

At Trixie’s withering stare, Luster said, “Uh, me too, Duchess-lady?”

“I suggest you make yourself scarce, lest I define you by the company you keep.”

With a shrug, Luster gave Trixie a ‘what-can-ya-do?’ kind of look and whispered, “Sorry. Meet you back at the hotel.”

Before she could make a move, though, Trixie’s magic gripped her and pulled her close until their muzzles were touching. “Follow her,” Trixie growled, glaring daggers out the corner of her eye.

Luster blinked—confused mostly because she’d been so enamored by Trixie’s nose against hers that she’d forgotten to listen. “Huh?”

“You follow that mare,” Trixie murmured. “Follow her and destroy that flower. Do that, and I’ll indulge your silly little tour tomorrow.”

Luster smirked. “Unless you’re in prison tomorrow.”

Trixie pressed a hoof hard against Luster’s chest. “I will not be made a fool of and let her off scot-free. Now go!” She shoved Luster towards the street and set off at a slow trot to meet the duchess.

A bit dumbstruck, Luster just stood there for the moment. She mulled over her options. On the one hoof she could do Trixie’s dirty work again—breaking and entering and breaking, no big deal there—and actually get to indulge her artsy side some way other than wiggling out of an itchy straightjacket between Trixie’s light shows. And on the other hoof, she could go back to the hotel and… wait. Wait for Trixie to come back and get mad, then they’d probably leave Elmshire without so much as a souvenir snowglobe.

Luster looked into the darkened streets. Even amid the eldritch shadows of the residential district, the giant lotus was easy enough to spot. She glanced over her shoulder once—Trixie and the duchess were gone—and took off after Lilligold.

***

After nearly an hour of stalking, Luster was about ready to quit. Her hooves were beat, her eyelids felt like sandbags, and she was pretty sure being this hungry could be tantamount to attempted suicide. She pressed on, though, if only because the city kept her interest. Lilligold had led her from the trimmed lawns of high society, through a sleeping market cluster whose roads seemed designed with centipedes in mind, and finally into the city’s outer fringe, where no building seemed to acknowledge another and the silhouetted country rolled away like a throbbing black ocean.

At long last, Luster saw Lilligold approach a building—a greenhouse, which Luster realized she probably should’ve seen coming. It glowed from the inside out like a barn-sized firefly, but she was too far away to make out anything within. Hidden in the tall, untamed grass held barely at bay by the roads, Luster watched as Lilligold pulled open a pair of double doors and carted the lotus inside.

So, Luster watched and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And… wait for it… waited.

A good five minutes went by with no activity from the greenhouse. Two yawns wrenched from Luster’s mouth at once, and she sprawled out on the grass. She relished in the earth’s gentle cool flowing through her—she spread out her wings and felt the tension drain from them like water from faucets. A blade of grass tickled her nose, and she chomped it. Pretty tasty, for wild stuff.

The night stole her away, and she didn’t even notice her eyes closing. Light and sound fell away behind the veil of sleep, growing more and more distant with each second. She was on the cusp of the dream world, ready to leap headlong in.

A cricket chose that moment to screech right in Luster’s ear. “Huh? Who?” Luster said, blinking the blear out of her eyes. She snorted and shook her head, scrambling her exhaustion to bits. She looked ahead and scowled at the greenhouse, where there was still no sign of Lilligold.

Luster groaned. “What is she doing in there?” she grumbled. Moving with all the stealth of a bear fresh from hibernation, she approached the greenhouse wall and peered inside.

It was hard to focus on any one thing as a tsunami of light and colour drowned Luster’s senses. Flowers and fruits and plants she couldn’t classify grew with no semblance of order but a powerful sense of harmony. Red evergreens here, dandelion clusters crowding a well over there, blue mushrooms boasting great, translucent wings farther yonder. Sunflowers were scattered at frequent intervals, lighting the scene like little streetlamps.

Luster scanned her eyes through it all, looking for any sign of a pony. She found the lotus quickly enough—in meandered around on a little pond as its charred petals sparkled dimly. But Lilligold didn’t seem to be anywhere nearby. Luster was about to call it and just break in when Lilligold pranced out from behind a giant watermelon made of clouds. Luster crouched a bit lower but kept her focus on the mare.

It looked like Lilligold… wasn’t doing much of anything, really. Not watering, not feeding, not pruning. She just seemed to be dancing from plant to plant, smiling at each one with the same, unwavering glee. Luster quirked an eyebrow when Lilligold actually talked to one of the flowers. There was a sparkle in Lilligold’s eye that Luster had seldom seen in anypony before—if ever. “Huh,” she said.

Lilligold approached the lotus, and her smile faltered only a bit. She adjusted some of its petals with her magic, then reached out a hoof and stroked it. A mist of light gathered around the lotus, and an illusion of a tiny, beating heart materialized amid its petals. Lilligold smiled and patted the flower. She turned away, headed for the greenhouse entrance.

Luster hid low to the ground and listened. A few oddly tense seconds later, the door squeaked open. It was shortly followed by a soft click, then a very familiar second click. Luster could practically envision the lock by the sound alone—whether that was sad or impressive, she couldn’t decide.

Once another minute or so had passed, Luster poked her head up, like a groundhog judging its predator. She spotted Lilligold a good distance down the path leading back into Elmshire proper.

She stood, shook her sleepy legs loose, and trotted around to the front of the greenhouse. Just as she’d suspected, an incredibly basic padlock held the doors shut. Probably only one ward. It hung sadly between the door handles, like it just wanted to break free and go guard some kid’s bicycle instead.

Luster clicked her tongue. “Just begging for it,” she muttered. She slipped a lockpick from between her feathers—a handy leftover from her performance, but Luster imagined she could’ve made do with a sliver of wood, or a firm enough lick of grass, even. The pick slid into the keyhole, and it was barely three seconds before the lock clicked open. Luster knocked the lock to the ground and traipsed into the greenhouse.

From the inside, the greenhouse was even more bizarre. Sounds and smells joined the cacophony of light and colour, and Luster nearly choked on the sheer freshness of it all—like falling face first into the bouquet dimension or something. There were so many sights to take in; hundreds, if not thousands, of different plants filled up every square inch of the greenhouse. From mundane mycelia to magical marigolds, it was an esoteric treasure trove.

Putting her mission out of mind for the moment, Luster steered from her path. The lotus wasn’t going anywhere soon, and it’s not like she had anything else to do tonight. Might as well indulge some curiosity.

A radically strange display caught her attention immediately. Past a nearby golden apple tree sat a glass case on an ornate display stand. The casing housed dozens of tiny metal shards. They floated aimlessly around the box, twisting and bouncing and reflecting the weird world around them. Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t look like a plant of any kind.

Luster approached and put her hoof to the glass. The shards all instantly froze midair. A cold stone dropped in Luster’s gut, and she tried to pull her hoof back, but she seemed frozen on the spot just as much as the metal shards. Little beams of yellow light suddenly shot from the shards, forming an intricate web between all of them—and her hoof, Luster realized. It reminded her of a dreamcatcher.

All at once the shards grouped together. They became a complete blur for a moment, and settled in the form of a small vine. Luster stood hypnotized as the chrome vine swam through the air, bending and flowing in random but natural-looking directions. It suddenly stopped and dissolved into sand-sized specks that tumbled to the bottom of the case. Nothing happened for a good few seconds, then another vine grew from the particles. For whatever reason, watching it happen made Luster frown.

“Sandsnare, huh?”

Luster yelped and damn near lost control of her bladder. She threw her gaze everywhere, looking for the source of the deep, baritone voice. There was neither hide nor hair of anypony, though. Just more plants as far as she could see. A sunflower here, a patch of ghostly, translucent pumpkins there, a bulbous pitcher plant taller than herself—

“Bingo, kid,” said the pitcher plant. Luster retreated a few steps. The plant turned towards her, and its opening folded up in a kind of smile. “Don’t shy out now. Y’already came this far.”

Still reeling and trying to catch her breath, Luster stared at the plant and said, “I didn’t… I wasn’t going to… What in Equestria are you?”

The pitcher tipped forward, almost like it was bowing. “Name’s Nepenthes Cid—y’all can just call me Cid, though. Bass in the Pitcher Perfects by day, guidepost for wayward souls by night. Least if you’re any indication.”

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