• Published 1st Oct 2016
  • 1,079 Views, 312 Comments

A Cavalcade of Cards - QueenMoriarty

Thirty-one random Magic: The Gathering cards. Thirty-one random-er pony stories.

  • ...

This Creature Has No Color

Zesty Gourmand stalked the streets of Canterlot, her iconic hooves the only sound on Restaurant Row. Hardly any light was cast on her pale skin, as the only restaurant that was seeing any business tonight was that blasted establishment, the...

No. No, she wasn't going to say its name. She would not write it, she would not speak it, she would not think it. She would remain silent. Zesty Gourmand would refuse to acknowledge the place's existence, and so it would fall into obscurity.

"The only empire that falls is the one that believes it cannot, my apprentice."

Zesty stumbled to a halt as the voice rang inside of her skull. It had sounded so real, he had seemed so alive... She felt the urge to turn around, to see if he was standing there behind her.

But he wouldn't be there. So she didn't turn around. She checked that her footing was solid, and she moved on.

Eventually, a light did fall on the cobblestones before her, and Zesty had to look up and see which restaurant it was. Who was it that refused to be drawn into that dress-peddler's publicity stunt, and kept to their station? When she saw who it was, even she could not help but smile.

These days, every place on Restaurant Row drew from the same well. They copied the same menu, dressed their waiters in the same uniforms, even mimicked the same simplistic decor. But every river had a spring, and it had all started somewhere. Specifically, here; the Special, by Dépourvu.

Zesty Gourmand strode confidently into the Special, sparing a professional nod of the head to the lone waiter on the floor. One of the most inspiring things about this restaurant, she had always thought, had been the way that it was set up so that it could serve a packed house with barely three ponies on staff with no drop-off in time or quality. He hadn't thought so, of course.

"They open a restaurant on the best real estate in Canterlot cuisine with a name like that, and they only hire a single waiter? Even if they flop, they'll get more traffic than that poor sod can handle on his own!"

The words stung, and not only because she hadn't heard his voice so clearly in all these years. She tried to shut it out by glancing down at the floor of the Special, where her tile sat. A single concrete tile with three hoof-prints, her hoof-prints. The first three-hoof rating, the moment that kickstarted her career.

"Why not four hooves?" he asked.

"Because I'm still eating," she said, holding up the hors d'ouvre for emphasis.

Three hooves, four words, and the landscape of culinary Canterlot irrevocably shifted. An apprentice became a master in the space of a single review. And for the past twenty years, she had been confident that the smile on his face had been one of genuine pride in her.

And less than an hour ago, a hatter twelve years her junior had taken the Row from her.

Zesty sat at a booth, and glared at the empty space that sat across from her. "Why listen to them?" she asked, and the waiter wisely slunk out of her line of sight. "What do they know?"

"They know what they like." It hadn't been the Special, but it had been a good place. Even the air hung thick with flavor. "And they don't know what's behind the doors of a new restaurant. So I tell them. And they listen to me because I like the same things they like, but I'm louder than they are and I have a glossier mane."

That had been the Baron Savory in a nutshell. There were maybe three pictures of him that didn't show him eating undeniably common food with the most enormous, genuine smile on his face. He had been the biggest name in the food critic scene while he was alive, and the echoes of his name still carried more weight than even Zesty could command. And all he had ever done was eat food and say what he thought of it at the top of his lungs.

He wouldn't have been overturned by a specialty tailor.

"Have you made your selection, madam?"

Zesty turned to the waiter, and she felt her teeth grind of their own accord. "Waiter, there are two items on this menu, and one of them is the dessert. I'll thank you not to address me as you would a foal."

The waiter blanched, and Zesty fought the urge to mirror the gesture. Those hadn't been her words; they had been his. Specifically, the words he had said when they first went to the Special.

"Never could stand these high-class Canterlot types," he muttered as the waiter turned away.

A much younger Zesty couldn't hide her surprise. "But they're just as high-class as you, and you've lived in Canterlot almost all of your life."

"Except I don't show it," he chuckled, his towering frame shaking with the laughter. "And as the storm-watchers say, that's the difference between caviar and lobster, right there."

There had always been rumors that Savory had come into his barony by dishonest means, and sometimes it had been very easy to believe so. But considering the abundant honesty that he radiated every other moment of his life, it always seemed just unlikely enough that it wasn't worth pursuing.

The serving tray clinked on the table, jerking Zesty out of her reverie/hallucination/possible haunting. She stared down at the bland, virtually tasteless food, and tried not to shovel it into her face.

The day he died had been the only time she asked for seconds.

Zesty choked on her morsel. For a moment, she could have sworn that she felt the same storm of tears on her face. What was happening to her? Maybe it was the food disagreeing with her.

"As if a pony could ever call this food," he scoffed. "I'd compare it to sand, except sand actually has a texture. The only saving grace is that the portion size is so small! And you tell me this isn't the appetizer? Utter garbage! I'd say a complete lack of effort was on display, but no, you would actually have to be a master of the craft to fail so spectacularly! In which case, why fail? Why doesn't your chef turn his obvious skill towards something that ponies will actually want to eat?"

But she had loved it. Every bite had seemed like heaven, the barest hints of tastes and sensations standing out like absolute explosions amidst the setting of utter blandness. The baron was right about one thing, and that was the skill needed for such a dish. What better test could anyone devise for the cooks of Canterlot? What more artful transformation of cuisine could exist? She had endorsed it, and made a name for herself off of the spectacular way she had done it. The baron had given her his approval, the Special her inspiration, and Canterlot had done the rest.

The power vacuum left by the baron's death had invited a new critic to rise to the top. Zesty Gourmand took it almost by pure default, and at first without even knowing. Her unprecedented binge at the Special caused an inexorable swing towards the Sans-Couleur school of cooking, and she had quickly ceased to see it as a trend and more as Restaurant Row's graduation to a higher level, where it ceased to become chemistry and transformed into art.

"What changes have I wrought in my time on this great world? None that I could care to name. Been a voice of common sense and good taste in a world where tyrants and mine-over-thine is the status quo. Given the Row back to the restaurants, but only in spirit. They already had it. All I have done is led a good life, and been good to the ponies I met throughout. And eaten a lot of good food."

The months leading up to his death had been very philosophical on his part, and very filling for both of them. The baron had drawn up something of a grand tour, a swansong of all his favorite places to eat. And when it turned out that he had more time left than they thought, they had done the circuit again. It had been torture, both for her heart and for her stomach.

"Gustatorial hypersensitivity. You've spent your whole very short life thinking of it as a curse, meaning you have to eat all these mild foods and not open your mouth too much. But I'm here to tell you, it's not that." He stuck out his own tongue for comparison, which made a young Zesty giggle. "It's a gift. You can taste every ingredient. You can understand the combination and preparation of foods better than their makers. With enough practice, you could reverse-engineer anything you taste." He pulled a pepper out of his jacket, and dropped it at her hooves.

"Eat it. And then, if you can, get up and follow me."

And she had. The pepper had burned like nothing else, but she followed. Becoming a critic was painful and never got easier, but she followed. And when there was not a pony left to follow, she led. And now she had reached the end of her own road, and nopony had followed.

Nopony save the one who had pointed out the path to her in the first place.

She finished her meal. Slowly, patiently, cleanly. Then she paid her due, nodded to the waiter, and said all that needed to be said.

"Tell your chef that the baron was right. This restaurant won't last another day on the Row. And don't expect my hooves to hold you up. My ratings will be trod underhoof by this time tomorrow."

With that, she was gone. And at last, Canterlot began to heal.

Author's Note:

Because colorless mana. And ruined businesses.

I think it's more interesting than an Eldrazi brawl, at least.

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