• Published 21st Dec 2015
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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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What Doesn't Kill Us

Author's Note:

My story for the Third Place Run-Off of the OC Slamjam—Lilligold vs. Evergreen. You can find the original story over here.

April 2nd, 1004
8:02 a.m.
Home

I received a letter from Princess Celestia of Equestria today. I wonder how many journal entries in the world start with that. I know that this will be my seventh that starts that way, but it may in fact be the last, for this letter is different! I’ve photographed the letter for posterity, and I’ll allow it to speak for itself:

FROM THE DESK OF PRINCESS CELESTIA

Dear Lilligold of Elmshire,

I am writing in regards to your recent request for Royal Permission allowing for an independent expedition up Mount Draggle, specifically an expedition to locate, study, and sample the plant known as the phlume. I would like to start by thanking you for your letter. It was professional and extremely heartfelt, both qualities I value. I would also like to say that your sheenflower arrived safely, and I appreciate the gift.

Your qualifications are impressive, your determination is admirable (it hasn’t escaped me that this is the seventh time you’ve written in two years), and your recommendation from Duchess Debonnaire goes a long way. In light of all this, as well as in thanks for your services during my niece’s wedding and towards the Equestrian New Year’s Foundation, I am willing to grant you full access to Mount Draggle and the surrounding forest. Furthermore, should you encounter the phlume, I will permit as extensive a study of the plant as you see fit, so long as you make no attempts to breed it, harvest its seeds, or modify its structure in any way that may enhance its destructive capabilities. You are also prohibited from harming or killing the plant, unless in self-defense.

I must, however, put my hoof down in regards to an independent expedition. While you are indeed qualified, Mount Draggle is forbidden from the public for a reason, and remains at #7 on the official list of Equestria’s most dangerous territories. As such, I have contacted the Royal Equestrian Rangers stationed in Vanhoover, and they have agreed to supply a qualified member of their ranks to accompany you on your expedition. I understand this may upset you, but please understand that I’ve done this for your own safety. I cannot emphasize enough the danger of your endeavor, Miss Lilligold.

Should you accept these terms, you are to report to the Royal Equestrian Rangers Headquarters at seven in the morning on the 8th day of April. From there, you will meet your guide and may begin an expedition that is to last no longer than four days. If you have not returned to the Rangers by midnight on April 11th, a rescue party will be sent to recover you. If, however, you do not accept my terms, send a response indicating such, and the expedition will be called off. The offer will remain available unless otherwise noted.

Again, thank you for your correspondence. I sincerely hope I have not made a mistake in allowing this. You have my faith.

Be careful,
Princess Celestia of Equestria

P.S.: On a personal note, be extremely wary of the phlume. That plant is older than I am, and it was frighteningly strong when I encountered it. I have no idea what it is capable of so many centuries later. Don’t let your ambitions blind you. Take care of yourself.

Needless to say, I am ecstatic beyond words! Forgive me if this entry is a shorter one—I’m just far too excited, and I have so much to prepare! Before anything, though, I must go thank Debs for her recommendation, since that seems to have tipped the scales. Perhaps I’ll gift her with another dynasty lotus to mark the occasion.

In regards to the escort from these Royal Equestrian Rangers, it’s not ideal, but it shouldn’t be cause for worry either. Knowing myself, I’ll be an awkward mess around whoever they’ve assigned, but hopefully that means they’ll be just as willing to ignore my company as I am to ignore theirs. Either way, I won’t let it bother me. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, after all!

Brainstorm of the Day: Naturally, a golden dynasty lotus. A simple project, but a monumental one.

***

April 7th, 1004
9:56 p.m.
Ranch Springs Hotel, Vanhoover

I opted to travel to Vanhoover a day early (can you blame me?). It’s quite a lovely city from what I’ve seen. The district of Old Vanhoover even reminds me of Elmshire a smidge. The climate is quite cold, but I’ve come prepared for that—and prepared for much, much more. So much, in fact, that it necessitated the use of my bottomless pitcher plants to hold everything. This city mare is more than ready for you, Mount Draggle!

Out of curiosity, I stopped by the Headquarters of the Royal Equestrian Rangers. The outfits they wore were so unique! Tan campaign hats and scarlet overcoats all around. They were quite inspiring, truth be told. Unfortunately the pony who will be accompanying my expedition—one Sergeant Evergreen—wasn’t present. She was off doing field work of some description. I should take that as a good sign, I suppose.

At any rate, I have an early start tomorrow, so I’ll wrap up here. I may stay up a tad late looking over my research notes for the phlume one last time, but I have them pretty well memorized anyway. I must do something to bide my excitement, though. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough!

Brainstorm of the Day: Mountain palm trees. Red trunks and tan leaves, with the same snow enchantment as the everwhites. Not extraordinarily original, but probably quite pretty.

***

April 8th, 1004
~9:00 a.m.
Enroute to Mount Draggle

My goodness, Sergeant Evergreen is a character. By far the most pronounced Vanhoover accent I’ve heard. “Aboot? Hoser? Eh?” Needless to say, she should make for an entertaining companion. She was rather quiet when we first met up, but then, so was I. Now that we’re out of the city, she’s a little more talkative. Not much, though, which is fine by me.

I’m not sure how much she trusts me out here in the wilderness. Granted, I don’t look nearly like your average outdoorspony, but I’ve had more than enough camping trips to the Woodwind to know my way around a compass. And my research on The Drag is extensive enough, I’d wager I know parts of it better than the good sergeant herself. She’s never even heard of the phlume!

For future reference, “The Drag” is a nickname the Rangers have coined for Mount Draggle. Surprised I never encountered it in my research. It’s quite clever. “No hike in the Range doozier than The Drag,” so Evergreen tells me. As if I didn’t know.

The forest is getting thicker, but I don’t think we’ve crossed into the Hydious Woods quite yet. Still no danger, and no unique plants or creatures to speak of. We did stumble upon an anthill, which I did my level best to pretend didn’t exist. I swear, insect repellent is among ponykind’s greatest accomplishments. Evergreen seems content to whistle along with the cicadas and flutter with the butterflies, so I’ll let her deal with all that. I know I’ll have to grow accustomed to the bugs if I want to do this expedition, though. So long as I keep my goals in mind, I should be alright.

From here on, I’ll probably keep these entries short but frequent. I’ll want to document anything interesting, but I can’t spend too long with my nose in the book. Back to the silence of the trail, I suppose.

Brainstorm of the Day: Swarmtrap. An aerial flytrap that seeks out and consumes any type of insect. I love you, Audrey, but flies are only a sliver of the problem.

***

April 8th, 1004
~3:00 p.m.
Hydious Woods

Just encountered a very peculiar breed of plant. It looks like a vine with pine needles growing along its length. It’s coiling up and around a tall spruce tree. It’s mostly green with bits of black, and

Nevermind. Evergreen just informed me that it’s a highly venomous millipede. I nearly jumped out of my skin. She got a good laugh out of it. It was rather humiliating. I’ll do my best to forget it ever happened, and I hope she can do the same.

Who am I kidding? That’s a story she’s going to keep.

***

April 8th, 1004
~3:30 p.m.
Hydious Woods

We’ve just stopped for our first lunch break. Normally I probably wouldn’t make an entry on this, since I’d assumed we were simply going to eat in silence, but Evergreen surprised me. She was curious about my breed of magic, and she wanted to see it in action. I did the old mosslight trick, and she seemed quite thrilled with it—more so than most who see it. I believe her exact words were, “Golly, I figured it’d be just for show. Ya didn’t tell me there was a practical use for your tricks!” I don’t think she meant to offend me, but it came off quite rough.

She suggested I could use mosslight as a natural trail marker, which is quite a good idea honestly. Why didn’t I think of that?

***

April 8th, 1004
~10:00 p.m.
Mount Draggle Base Camp

I feel like a filly on a camping trip with her mother.

Evergreen’s heart is in the right place, and her survival knowledge has certainly been helpful (especially with a particularly giant wasp that is sure to appear in my dreams tonight), but I really don’t think she trusts my own capabilities. She wants to do all the dirty work—if I see a plant that piques my interest, she insists upon gathering it (or avoiding it, in one irksome case). She doesn’t understand that I need to get into the thick of it myself for this expedition to pay off. Second-hoof observations won’t cut it for my purposes.

Despite the interference, though, this first day has been rather productive. No signs of the phlume, which is to be expected at this point, but there were several flowers that were also on my checklist (lion blossoms!). Notes on all of them can be found in my research notebook, of course.

Evergreen and I have agreed to do the night watch in shifts, so we both get a chance to sleep. I think during my first shift, I’ll take the opportunity to explore the surrounding area on my own. I can’t hear any animals, nor did my research indicate any dangerous wildlife living this low down the mountain. Plus I saw an interesting microswamp that Evergreen suggested we avoid on the way in. It’ll be dark, but the mosslight should help.

***

April 9th, 1004
~6:00 a.m.
Base Camp

Went out to the microswamp at around three in the morning. I found nothing unusual save for a large root that didn’t seem to belong to any of the surrounding plants. It was bulbous, and I believe it was purple in colour. Perhaps a remnant from a plant that used to live there, but I have no way to know,

Allegedly, Evergreen saw me leave in the night. She says she followed me to keep an eye out and was impressed at the level of caution and expertise I displayed. Maybe she’ll be more willing to see me as an equal rather than some nosy tourist now. Regardless, we’re going to begin our ascent today. Things should get more interesting from here.

Brainstorm of the Day: Songshrooms. Small mushrooms that can sing, each one producing a note in the sequence of a song. Simple in theory, but probably very hard to fine-tune. Table this idea.

P.S.: Evergreen makes a mean oatmeal. I must ask her how she learned to use a camper’s stove so well. I’ve never been good with it.

***

April 9th, 1004
~9:00 a.m.
Draggle Ascent

Pink snow. Pink snow! It’s so unbelievably simple, but so beautiful too. I’m stunned I’ve never heard talk of it. Evergreen calls it watermelon snow. She says it’s actually quite rare, and caused by a certain breed of algae, which makes it all the more wonderful! Note that it doesn’t actually taste like watermelon, and that ingesting it may kill you.

She’s laughing that I’m so excited about this. I don’t care. Pink snow! It’s the same shade as my coat! I’ve taken a sample and preserved it carefully. I can’t wait to do work with this plant.

Second Brainstorm of the Day: Everpinks! Everwhite trees combined with this special algae. Also make the snow safe to consume, and make it taste like watermelon. Eat your heart out, Mango Leaf!

***

April 9th, 1004
~12:00 p.m.
Draggle Ascent

We happened across a family of dead moose.

Pardon that tonal shift—I’m just not sure how else to put it. Evergreen is quite stricken at the moment, so we’re taking a break. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen her not smiling. She clearly needs this moment alone.

It was a rather grotesque sight. We have no idea how these gorgeous creatures died. They all have a peculiar yellow sap mixed in with their blood, and strange-looking flowers are budding from their fur. I’m not nearly crass enough to even consider sampling those flowers. The look on Evergreen’s face… I know when to leave well enough alone.

Perhaps I’ll go see how she’s doing. We need to continue our hike, but I would hate to push her too quickly.

***

April 9th, 1004
~8:00 p.m.
Second Camp

After the events of today, we opted to set up camp a little bit early. We found a nice sheltered area, which should be nice since Evergreen says it might rain during the night. I don’t claim to be a meteorologist, and I trust her instincts, so it’s best to be prepared.

I found fewer odd plants today, but the wildlife is becoming more and more diverse. We had one particularly striking encounter with a snow badger. I think it helped to calm Evergreen’s nerves after the earlier incident. She seems to have a great appreciation for all the fauna around here—and the flora, if I’m being honest. She’s become much more at ease than when we first began our trip. Perhaps I have too.

Still no indications of the phlume. If the rumours are true, it should be nearer the summit, but I’ve never found anything detailing the exact location. We haven’t even seen any caves where it might be dwelling yet. I suppose we’ll just have to call it a night and hope for the best in the next two days.

Lo and behold, just as I wrote that and closed my journal, Evergreen whisked me away to a nearby clearing. Apparently stargazing is a favourite pastime of hers, and she wanted to take the opportunity before the clouds rolled in tonight. I must admit that it was rather gorgeous. The way the galaxy and the stars all swirled together like a luminescent sea. It’s something I’ve never seen through Elmshire’s lights. I’m glad she shared it with me.

***

April 10th, 1004
~4:00 a.m.
Near Second Camp

Something attacked us in the middle of the night. I have no idea what, and neither does Evergreen. It came during her part of the night watch, and she thought it might’ve been a bear, but it had tentacles of some kind. Nothing in this forest should have tentacles. The closest thing should be vines.

We made it out safely, although we had to sacrifice our camper’s stove in the process. It was an ingenious move, but I suppose campfires will be our kitchen now. I’m sure that will be no issue for Evergreen.

***

April 10th, 1004
~11:00 a.m.
Draggle Ascent

No matter how much research I did, no matter how many urban legends surrounding this mountain I’ve heard, no matter how much Evergreen told me about her experience in this region, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what we just encountered. It was both beautiful and terrifying. Mostly terrifying, though.

I think Evergreen called it an arachniden. A very large, very foul-smelling clearing taken up almost entirely by a truly massive corpse flower. The flower itself was a masterpiece of nature, but what the flower was host to… that’s what unnerved me. It was crawling with gigantic wooden spiders—timber widows, apparently. I don’t think I’ve ever stood more still in all my life.

We made it away from there unnoticed, and Evergreen did her best to calm me down (bless her heart). Writing this journal has helped soothe my nerves, but I’m still shaken. We must keep going though. I can’t let a mere living nightmare scare me away from finding the phlume. That would make this whole thing a horrible waste of my time and of Evergreen’s. Evergreen asked me to scratch that last. Blame her.

I’m almost positive that flower had no relation to the phlume, but perhaps its size has something to do with the phlume’s influence. Only further exploration will tell.

***

April 10th, 1004
~6:00 p.m.
Cavern, Nearing Draggle Summit

We’ve stumbled across a rather small cave. It’s actually not the first we happened across (we took our lunch break in the first), but it’s revealed something monumental.

There are strange tendrils poking through the cave ceiling. They’re reddish-purple in colour with yellow specks all along their length. There are also black, bulbous growths on all of them, pulsating. This is significant because it’s in line with reports of what the phlume is supposed to look like. I wonder if these are the roots of the phlume, but there’s no signs of the plant above the cavern.

On second consideration, these tendrils remind me of the odd root I found in the microswamp earlier in the expedition. If my hunch is correct, then what could that mean for the phlume? A root system that spans all the way to the base of the mountain? How big is this plant?

Do I still want to find out?

***

April 10th, 1004
~10:00 p.m.
Very Near the Summit

Things are very quiet in our camp. No birds chirping, no wolves howling—even the wind seems reluctant up here. Neither Evergreen nor I have been in much of a mood to talk lately. Perhaps I’ll try talking to her after this entry. I have a horrid feeling we’re both thinking the same things.

At the very least, our campsite is quite nice. It’s a rocky outcropping that stretched far from any of the mountain life, and it has an astronomical (no pun intended) view of the night sky. It feels safer than any of our other campsites. Just myself, Evergreen, and the night. No curious sounds or sights, and hopefully no chance of another midnight attack.

Alright, I’ve been dancing around the subject, but I suppose if there’s any safe place to talk about it, it’s here. I’m scared to keep going. Yes, I want to find out what’s at the summit, and yes, I’m still determined to see the phlume with my own two eyes, but I’m terrified that it might be the last thing I ever see. Strange things are happening on this mountain. Even Evergreen, for all that she seems to thrive in the wilderness, seems very on edge.

It’s bittersweet, really. On the one hoof, I’m glad Princess Celestia arranged for her to accompany me on this trip. I’m surprised at how well we click, and I can’t even imagine trying to endure this experience on my own. I was foolish to think I ever could. On the other hoof, though, I deeply regret having brought her into this mess. She clearly doesn’t want to be here anymore. I’m actually stunned she hasn’t exercised her authority as a sergeant to call this expedition off. At this point, I doubt I would argue.

But we are very near the summit. Hopefully we’ll be on our way back down by noon tomorrow. Until then, I’m going to see if I can coax some conversation out of Evergreen before we go to sleep.

Brainstorm of the Day: Almost forgot to do one of these. Luna’s rose: a flower you put near your bed that makes your dreams pleasant and keeps nightmares at bay. Difficult to execute, but would be a great salvation right about now.

***

April 10th, 1004
~11:00 p.m.
Third Camp

Keeping this brief so I can get back to night watch. Had a wonderful heart-to-heart with Evergreen. Turns out she’s scared too, but she wants to see it through for my sake. She admires my passion, saying it’s a rare commodity these days. That was the gist of it, anyway. She said it in her own Vanhoovery way, which I’ve come to adore.

I hope to have a new penpal once this expedition is done with.

***

April 11th, 1004
~7:00 a.m.
Third Camp

Just as the night wound down, there was a very brief moment where Evergreen grew too tired to maintain her watch and we both fell asleep. In that time, something came into our campsite. The ground nearby is covered with the same yellow sap that the dead moose had in their fur, and Evergreen says the dirt on the rock has been disturbed by some massive creature.

We are both fine, aside from our nerves. I don’t know what it was, and I pray we don’t find out. Either way, we’re starting for the summit.

***

April 11th, 1004
~11:00 a.m.
Cave Entrance, Draggle Summit

We have arrived, and I have a very difficult decision to make.

The summit is almost completely barren. There’s rock, there’s snow, and there’s a cave. I don’t think the cave is exceptionally large, but I have no way to tell from the entrance. We can tell a few things from here though. For one, the air inside is hot, humid, and putrid with a smell like death. I can make out a few roots pulsing along the cave’s walls, ceiling, and floor—whether they belong to the phlume is uncertain, but that’s the safe bet.

The worst of it is the sound, though. Horrid, strangled breaths are echoing to us from within. It could be some creature in great distress, or it could be the phlume itself, either in distress or causing distress. And every so often, a bloodcurdling howl comes from inside. I have no doubt in my mind that I will find the phlume if we venture into this cavern, but I fear what else we might find.

Evergreen just used her headlight and noticed traces of yellow sap dotting the cavern. I’ve never seen her face so pale. Still, she’s not vetoing the option of going inside. Is she really that determined to see this through? For my sake? We only just met a few days ago. It startles me how profound of an impact we seem to have had on one another. Four days alone in the wilderness will do that, I suppose.

I have to think this through carefully. One of my life’s ambitions sits just around the corner of this cave. But now that I’m standing here, I’m not so sure I want to find it anymore. Especially when it’s not only my life on the line.

I don’t know what to do.

***

April 15th, 1004
7:18 p.m.
Train to Elmshire

The phlume is the king of plants. It’s a flower and a monster rolled into one—a multi-headed beast that puts some of the horrors of Tartarus to shame. Its petals are jagged and red, arranged to look like a blood-drenched maw. Its body is a great, eldritch cluster of violet blobs speckled with red, staring every which way like a thousand dead eyes. It has vines for killing and a hunger for meat. It is the single most dangerous, terrifying botanical specimen in the world.

That’s what all the rumours say anyway. I wouldn’t know—I’ve never seen it.

What I do know is that there are some things in this world worth more than your passion. Friendship, for instance, is a rather big one. No matter how extravagant your talents, no matter how mind-boggling your feats, it all feels hollow without a friend to share in it. And under no circumstance should you ever, ever put your friends in danger, not even for your own benefit, or for theirs. I understand that now.

Evergreen and I had a perfectly safe, quick trip back to Vanhoover. We arrived just before our deadline, and I spent the night in her living quarters. After that, we spent a few days getting to really know each other, without the constant threat of some unseen monster looming around us. We even went on a few smaller, safer, and altogether more enjoyable hikes. I’m glad Mount Draggle happened, but those other few days with Evergreen are far and away the highlight of my trip.

I don’t think either of us really expected something like this to happen. We both seem content with isolation, but somehow we found even more comfort in one another. I think I can safely say I’ve grown as a pony through this endeavor. So thank you, Evergreen. I look forward to writing you.

Brainstorm of the Day: None today. Just take comfort in knowing that the Tree of Harmony already exists.

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