• Published 18th Sep 2017
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The Ponies You Come Home To - Mitch H



'Pinkie' Rock just wants a simple life, a family life, somewhere simple and far away from the madness which is Ponyville and, er, family.

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Foals, Flints, and Flapjack

Oatmeal was grey, when she wasn't red-faced and screaming. She was tiny, demanding, furious at the world for having brought her into it, and she was the most beautiful thing Pinkie had ever seen. When Pinkie saw Bed Rock looking in at the two of them, she felt so proud that she was like to burst.

She was also more tired than she'd ever been in her life, even more so that one run out past Quadrupycchium when the Roamish hoof-cavalry had cut off the detail and they hid in a swamp with a company of Celestia's Own Griffish Rangers for six starving days. Oatmeal cried, and ate, and cried, and now and again slept a little in between the crying.

And somehow Pinkie and Bedrock kept the co-op from going under in all the foal chaos. Well, give credit where it was due – Pinkie's littlest brother Flapjack helped. A lot.

But Oatmeal scared the horseapples out of Flapjack. Her tininess, her rages, all her yelling – Pinkie's little sibling was terrified of his tiny little niece. Pinkie learned to not ask Flapjack to take care of the newborn foal. Fillies were clearly not within his range of capability.

Flapjacks were. As were bread-baking, muffin-making, kitchen-running, a little light clerking and retailing in the show-room, working in the supply closets – Flapjack had been invaluable in bringing the co-op through that calamitous spring, and the lean summer that followed.

The fall was looking to be fatter than the summer had been, thank Celestia for that. Now that the claims up the Quartzite Draw were starting to produce export-quality slate and flints, the East Valley's penury wasn't quite the crisis it had felt like in the spring. There were starting to be actual bits in circulation. Pinkie's credit ledgers were still more red ink than black, though.

Cash was good, all the same. The first time she'd tried to pay Flapjack his wages, he looked at the coins, and asked her what he was going to do with them – buy something from the empty shelves? After that, Pinkie just marked down Flapjack's wages on a page in one of the ledgers, and made sure to include that line-item in their budgets. He'd find a use for the money someday.

None of the customers asked where Flapjack had come from. The rockhoppers were too busy and too desperate to question a pony who could feed them, and feed them on credit at that. Flapjack helped matters by continuing to be the most silent pony you ever did see. Pinkie never saw him exchange more than a half-dozen words with any customer in all the time he'd been with them.

Words were for family.

Bed Rock had taken Pinkie's explanations about the sudden appearance of a sibling out of nowhere with admirable calm. Even when Pinkie stuttered through a brief and very… edited version of how the mirror pool worked, how ponies used it... she could tell by Bed Rock's level expression that he didn't buy her cleaned-up descriptions of the practice. Bed Rock let it pass without comment. And in general, he was kind to her brother's mirror-clone, especially after Pinkie had let slip some things she'd suspected about Flapjack's likely treatment at the hooves of his 'big brother'.

It helped that Flapjack was so bashful, and sweet-tempered. Hardtack had been a hard brother to love, with a mean streak a mile wide, and precious little concern for the feelings or needs of other ponies. He'd always been getting into fights, and had made a regular practice of disappearing for days or weeks at a time. He'd come back covered in bruises and cuts, smiling an angry smile, snickering whenever anypony asked about what he'd been up to, out wherever it was he went to disappear.

Flapjack, on the other hand, was gentle as an April shower. He was a shuffling, shy demonstration of how the mirror-pool distorted as much as it reflected. As far as Pinkie was concerned, the clone brother was ten times the pony his progenitor had been. But unfortunately, that had other knock-on effects.

For one thing, it became increasingly obvious to Pinkie that Flapjack was young, terribly young. He hadn't existed this time last spring; Hardtack must have pulled him from the mirror pool at most a month or so before she and Bed Rock had returned from the demobilization center. Little siblings come out of the waters retaining a little bit of memory and knowledge derived from their creators, but by the nature of the magic, it tended to fade fast. Especially if what they started out with weren't used constantly on a day to day basis, day in, day out.

As the borrowed memories of Hardtack faded, the parts that weren't used fell away. Flapjack became more and more his own pony, and he shed those last physical and verbal tics which had marked him as a copy of her brother. It left him strangely… undeveloped. He was like a full-grown yearling, awkward when he thought about how to move his limbs, but graceful when distracted and concentrating on other things. His vocabulary shrank to those words and expressions they used around him on a daily basis. Because he was so reserved and quiet around other ponies, it was almost as if he'd imprinted on Pinkie and Bed Rock. Like a puppy. A puppy almost half again her weight, and a hoof and a half taller than his 'big sister Pinkie'.

Bed Rock got real quiet when Flapjacks cutie mark faded away in late July, though. Pinkie had to admit it had been unsettling, to say the least. But she thought it was maybe part of the process, maybe something that was meant to happen. Part of Flapjack becoming his own pony. They made him wear a long apron over his flanks after that, though. No point in scaring the neighbors.

Pinkie didn't tell Bed Rock at the time, but she envied Flapjack when his copied mark went away. She thought about the cutie mark she shared with Cherry Bread, the mark Cherry had always lived up to so much better than Pinkie had ever managed. Pinkie kind of wished she could have left it to her sister, like a bequeathal. To start over again… find your own mark, make your own mark.

The discovery of a cutie mark was wasted on the young, anyways. Better to know your destiny when you were old enough to know better. To be more your own pony, than your family's. Your mother's

Meanwhile, it was like having a toddler in the co-op, dealing with Flapjack. A toddler that could bake, and run the front desk if you didn't stress him. On the other hoof, Pinkie discovered that the recovering clone, while he was still a practiced, professional baker and retail worker, had, when it came to the ledgers, and the accounts... To put it plainly, Flapjack had become as illiterate as a timberwolf.

Well, not quite that bad. More like, the new Flapjack was like parrot who had been taught how to record transactions in a ledger, but didn't understand what he was writing. He knew that these marks and those were how you closed a transaction, this mark and that meant this customer or that. She found herself yelling at the poor colt on a number of occasions as she tried to untangle the messes he'd made of her nice neat ledgers, all uncomprehending confusion and missed columns, before she finally, furiously quizzed him on his reading comprehension – and found he had no earthly idea what he was doing.

He'd just been watching what marks she'd made for which customers, and doing his best to follow along.

After that, she spared an hour after every day's evening rush, trying to teach him his p's and q's. But Pinkie was nopony's idea of a schoolmarm.

She talked to Bed Rock one weekend after he returned with the weekly supply load, and they started planning. They made resolutions to order schoolbooks and spare writing materials and, eventually, maybe a schoolmarm. Flapjack wasn't the only uneducated rockhopper in the East Valley. And Oatmeal wouldn't be the last foal in town, even if she had been the first. Although the way things were going, maybe there wouldn't be a town at all – maybe they'd just be an appendage of the main Valley, and she'd have to send her precious little filly off to stay with her grandmother at the main store just down the road from the Valley's prized schoolhouse.

Well, that was a heartache for another year. This one was a screaming foal disrupting the lunch hour at the co-op. Pinkie bound her howling filly onto her back, and hurried out the back and up the track beyond the Quartzite place. It was a sunny early-fall day, and she saw Purple Quartzite in the distance, out in the fields, turning over bits of this and that in the baking dirt uphill of what once had been the twins' tent. What canvas they'd been able to salvage, plus some building materials from the co-op, had been set up in a more secure location on the side of the unstable slope away from the landslide. Pinkie found Red Quartzite laying in the sun outside of the twins' new hovel on some rolled-up bedding, cleaning the flints his sister had brought him.

Whatever had caused the landslide, it had exposed a leyline, something strong enough that ponies could jumpstart the farming process in its vicinity, all along the rent in the exposed hillside. The part of the slide which had fallen into the Quartzite's claim, that was theirs. Purple Quartzite had worked her hooves to the frog, coaxing a bumper crop of some of the loveliest flints Pinkie had ever seen, flints which were exactly what the market wanted that first summer.

Not that Pinkie had ever given the first thought to flints or other such stones before she'd come to the Valley. But the Valley focused your mind on the important things, no matter what you might have concerned yourself with before you came there. And this fall's important things? Foals and flints.

Red Quartzite put aside his work for a bit and cooed and aahed at little Oatmeal, while Pinkie looked over the twins' latest harvest, and cooed and aahed in return at the darling little cherts and marl Red had been busy knapping into clean, salable stock.

At the rate the Quartzites were going, they were going to be one of the founding investors in the co-op. They were making bits. When the accounts were settled for the year, and the paperwork finally filled out, the East Valley would need a grange board, a president, a director, somepony to take responsibility for matters. Pinkie's frogs itched to get those pre-written incorporation papers for the co-operative signed by the right ponies. Some days, she'd be willing to see them signed by any ponies. She and Bed Rock had been running the co-op on spec, waiting for some semblance of a grange leadership or council of town elders to emerge. The Quartzites were her two prime candidates for the job. If only Red would get up off of his goldbricking flank.

The other ponies involved in the slate and flint strike were a bunch of go-getters who had traded in their dry claims over by the washed-out road for fresh claims on the upper edges of the leyline exposure. These new uphill neighbors of the Quartzites were also on Pinkie's short list. A half-dozen rockhoppers that had split up the strike-face among themselves, and between the lot of them they were producing flints and slate almost as pretty as those the Quartzites were turned out of the suddenly activated dirt along the floor of the Quartzite Draw.

When, that is, the lot of them weren't butting heads over the new claim-lines that had gotten sloppily staked out in a tearing hurry. Bed Rock and a couple of the uninterested rockhoppers from the other draws had broken up more than a couple fights in the last couple months. The new-claim rockhoppers would have the bits to be grange founders and maybe leaders one day, but they were a quarrelsome lot today.

Most of the magic was flowing through the Quartzites' place, though. Pinkie could sort of picture the flows now, as if the landslide was still ongoing, or like a gentle waterfall, or a spring – eddying here, rushing there, pooling… here. Red Quartzite had begun to play with her suddenly happy little filly, amusing Oatmeal by shining sunlight through a bit of clouded quartz he'd cut out of a block of chert. Pinkie left the stallion as he made rainbows dance in the dust for the fascinated infant.

Pinkie walked slowly, following the lines of her vision.

A pool. A wide, not that deep, but still close to the surface – pool.

Pinkie reached out with a hoof, and turned over the dry dirt over the center of the imagined pool, her other three hooves planted firmly in magic-suffused soil, and then, suddenly…

She felt the surge.

There was something solid under her frog, something pushing up out of the earth. She got the edge of her hoof under the thing in the packed dust, and pried it up and out of the dirt.

A munged, filthy bit of something weighty and solid. She brushed it off, and discovered that she'd found herself a beautiful piece of chert, white with streaks glittering a little bit green and black once she spat on it and cleaned off the dirt.

Jasperite. Huh.

She brought her new 'find' over to Red Quartzite and the now-fussy filly, and showed it to the crimson-coated stallion, who still wouldn't get up on his hooves. His cast had been off for a month and a half, but he still wouldn't put any weight on the healed limb. He just sat there in the dust in front of his half-built house, and stared at the bit of chert she'd found, not forty feet from where he had been sitting.

Sitting like an old, crippled stallion.

"Damn, boy," she prodded him. "Look what some fool city-mare found on your property. Maybe you ought to go look for yourself one of these days?"

He blushed and frowned, looking down at his gimp leg.

"I know it hurts, rockhopper. But it ain't ever gonna stop hurting until you start exercising it more. Come on, get up, come look at this." She showed him the pool, which was still spreading along the flat space below his house.

Red wobbled a bit, weak from his long convalescence. But Pinkie didn't let up on him, and she walked him back and forth across the 'pool' she had noticed, pointing out the edges, and encouraging him to poke around. He found bits of flint and quartz ore everywhere he put his hoof down. This was his talent, after all. This was his land. He could do it, if he just stopped feeling sorry for himself.

He wasn't the first pony to catch a raw break. Ah, well. Pinkie wasn't sure about Red Quartzite yet, but she knew his sister was a good 'un, and she hoped that meant that Red might make something of himself yet, if he got over feeling sore.

She left her future grange-chairman, or maybe town elder, digging in the dirt, pulling treasures out of the soil. The longer he went, she thought, the less he looked like he was favoring his gimp leg.

Maybe some ponies just needed some prodding.

As she walked away, Oatmeal fussing and sniffing on her back, she thought to herself, so that was what a bonanza looked like. The flows, the magic in the dirt. Her family had never been farming folk, true-dirt earth ponies. But maybe it was something she could do, or help with, if she let herself think past what she'd done in the past.

She had a baker's mark, but maybe not a baker's life anymore.

The track down out of the main Valley was full of new ponies. Word about the rock strike had spread. New would-be rockhoppers passing through. Pinkie eyed the under-equipped new ponies, and estimated to herself how much they'd have to order for these new ponies. These sooners – no, shouldn't call these folk that. They missed the first wave. These were settlers.

Oatmeal began crying in earnest as Pinkie reached the turn-off for the co-op. The new mother hurried on home, to find some privacy so that her hungry little filly could drink her fill.

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