• Published 8th Jul 2019
  • 656 Views, 307 Comments

The Rains of Vanhoover - kudzuhaiku

It was raining in Vanhoover. It was always raining in Vanhoover.

  • ...

At last, like-minded companionship

The shower was a torrential tropical cloudburst, a monsoon with stifling, breath-stealing humidity. A fine mist drizzled down from the ceiling, while powerful floor jets hit all of the right places. Side-mounted nozzles did a spectacular job of blasting the tension from his muscles. Nut had missed this. It pained him to admit it, but this shower left behind a feeling of cleanliness that common showers could not match.

It was the second time this day he stood in this very shower.

Today was not turning out to be his day. His return home left him with mixed feelings. As much as he loved his family, he resented them a great deal right now. But, he loved them, and if the truth were to be told, he did miss them. Even a bad moment spent with family was better than no moment at all. He wished there was some way to reach them, some way to spill the contents of his mind into theirs so that they might see things his way. Understand his motivations. Maybe even appreciate what he was doing. Was that too much to ask?

Neverending hot water was a glorious luxury; he hated that he liked it.

‘Twas a simple luxury, just hot water. Here, in this place he once called home, it had no meaning. It was just something that was there. Always. But in Vanhoover, water was expensive, and so was heating it. To make water hot required coal, wood, or electricity. A water tank only held so much water; a long shower might empty it and then it would take time before it filled, and was hot again. Though, in Nut’s experience, many water heaters only warmed the water.

“Is there room in there for two?”

Nut peeled his eyes open, blinked once, then twice, and then squinted at Pod through the fogged-over glass door. “Pod, you’re betrothed.”

“Well, ‘tis true. Shall I get Taffy and see if the three of us might fit? I’m confident that we will.”

This… this was not the response that Nut was expecting, not at all.


“Tater told me about Black Maple, Nut. She had much to say.”

“Pod…” Nut closed his eyes and his head came to rest against the fogged-over glass door.

“If Taffy and I could wiggle our way into there with you, we could give you advice, Nut. Perhaps tell you what you need to hear. You seem troubled, and I’m worried. Let’s be honest, shall we? I still love you. But I’ve also grown. I love Taffy. Like, I love Taffy in a ridiculous way that I did not believe possible. Being in love with her, I’ve had to overcome a few things. I still love you, Nut. I love you so much… that I want you to be happy, even if it isn’t with me. For surely you would want the same for me… which, I suppose, is the reason I am with Taffy. There’s a lot to sort out, I’ll admit.”

The tropical deluge continued, unabated.

When the glass door opened, he almost fell over. His eyes fluttered open just as he was shoved aside, and Pod boldly strode into the shower with him. She’d done this when they were younger, and showers were a time of playful exploration—though a line was never crossed. Sometimes, when he was troubled, she’d come into the shower, just as she had right now, and they would talk. Sometimes for hours, until they were wrinkly and stewed.

“It’s a bit hot, Nut,” she remarked as she body-bumped him out of the way so that she could close the door.

He backed into a curved corner and then sat down upon the hot tiles. A drenching downpour soaked his head, and when Pod sat down, she too, was quickly saturated. When wet, Pod was a much darker green, and there was something appealing about her. She had matured quite a bit in the past year, but Nut had a hard time seeing it due to his farsighted nature.

“Are you going to tear me apart as well?” he asked. “Gestalt did it. Clove has done it. Oh, and Secundus. Secundus most of all.”

“Nut… my self-absorbed friend… it’s time you learn the truth.”

“That I’m a terrible pony?”

She scowled. “It bothers me that you think that. Nut, your goodness changed me. Changed my thinking. You… you challenged me. Broadened my horizons. You greatly disturbed my world view and now, my life is topsy-turvy, and it is all because of you.”

“Should I apologise?” he asked.

Pod sighed, and then leaned over a little to soak her ears. “Nut… Secundus adored you. He loved you, Nut, and not like a brother.”


“Secundus was a sword and a sheath, Nut. He carried a torch for you. I got him roaring drunk, Nut. Well, I was too. It was just after you left. We got soused. And Secundus, he poured his heart out. He loved us both, Nut. As a couple. He wanted to be with us. With me. With you. And he felt this way for a very long time. At a young age, he figured out that you didn’t like him that way… but he had hopes of getting with you with me in the middle. To hear him tell it, it was quite romantic, and not the typical adolescent threesome fantasy.”

“I had no idea…”

“Well, Nut… you do tend to be a bit self-absorbed. But that’s fine. Nothing to be ashamed of. That is, after all, part of your charm. It is why we love you. Well, it is the reason why I love you, and apparently, Secundus found it quite endearing as well. Until you left… after you left, it became something that he rather hated about you. Feelings change, I suppose.”

Nothing about any of this made Nut feel better about himself.

“I guess Secundus saying goodbye didn’t go so well,” Pod said as water poured down her dark green hide. “Not the pleasant farewell he no doubt hoped for.”

The circumstances of Secundus’ departure now made more sense, as well as Secundus’ emotion. This, of course, made Nut feel awful, and almost as if on cue, his stomach sent a warning shot of hot bile rocketing up his throat. The taste, though terrible, now somehow felt deserved—this was punishment and he had it coming.

“So… Tater told us about Black Maple. Taffy and I interrogated her thoroughly, though it didn’t take much. Poor dear is starved for intelligent conversation. She’s smart, Nut. Scarily so. She’s willful, thoughtful, forthright, a little sarcastic, and in desperate need of nurturing. During a private moment, Taffy told me that Tater is emotionally stunted, Nut. At least, Taffy believes so. Her growth and development seems retarded a bit. Which makes sense, and I agree with Taffy. Tater has been held back.”

“She wasn’t allowed to grow or develop,” Nut replied, sullen and out of sorts. “Her intelligence was treated as a handicap, I believe. A liability. A detriment.”

“Oh, bother and blast,” Pod swore.

In a moment of wet, naked vulnerability, Nut leaned on Pod, and allowed his weight to rest against her. Her touch filled him with confusing, uncomfortable emotions, and if the truth were told, even a bit of desire. But he didn’t care. He felt her rubbing the contoured angle of her delicate jaw against his windpipe, and the sharp, pointy tip of her horn grazed his cheek.

“Do you like Black Maple?” asked Pod.

To which Nut replied, “I don’t know. It’s confusing. There are moments when I hate her. But there are also moments when I admire her. She’s smart, Pod. As smart as any Canterlot pony… and for a time, that threw me off. It shook up my world view. Ponies from Canterlot were supposed to be the best and brightest. But, I suppose that is why I left home. To find the truth, one must boldly go forth and seek it.”

“What did you find, Nut?”

“I found ponies so locked into the struggle of basic survival that the struggle to do good was largely irrelevant. And yet, for some of them, there is something to be said for their simple goodness. Black Maple… she is a force for stability and control. A harmonious bulwark for the community.”

“She runs a brothel—”

“She commands a fortress that protects some of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, keeps them safe, and holds back the gangs, pimps, drug peddlers, and criminal syndicates that would otherwise exploit them. Black Maple has remarkable altruism. There are moments when she is truly inspiring.”

Reaching out, Nut entwined his foreleg around Pod’s, and he clung to her.

“You’re boney, Nut. I don’t like it.”

“Near starvation is normal for many. Why should I be the exception?”

He felt her nuzzles grow a bit more aggressive and his conflicted sense of desire for her caused more acid to bubble in the back of his throat. She was hot—her soaked hide was almost as hot to the touch as the water itself. He imagined that all of her was hot right now and the thought caused him to feel more than a little feverish. But as always, he showed restraint. Having a go at her right here in the shower would only complicate things.

The closeness however, even if it did fan the flames of lust, was still pleasant, something he missed. It was a thing he longed for and now that he had it, he was aware of how much he missed it. How much he needed it. His mind recalled the sensation of cuddling up on the couch with Black Maple—and wished he’d done more to exploit the situation. Then, much to his dismay, he thought of Secundus and all of his pleasant enjoyment turned bitter, like the bile that boiled the tender flesh of his throat.

“Being a Canterlot pony, our goodness costs us nothing,” Nut said to Pod. “We throw a party. Guests are invited. It becomes a contest to be charitable. All of that… it sickens me. It’s fraudulent. Fake. Then we do it again. We cling to our fad causes, and none of us ever suffer for our efforts, unless there’s food poisoning from some terrible caterer.”

He shuddered, overcome by the taste of bile.

“In Vanhoover where I live, the struggle to survive is such that, well, accomplishing anything good is an afterthought for most. You just sort of muddle through the day, survive the night, and then do it all again. There’s an expression… lather, rinse, repeat. So when something good is done, when some great act of charity is accomplished, or some act of altruism takes place, it means more. These ponies, Pod… they sacrifice. It costs them greatly to act beyond mere survival. I’ve walked the wards and the boroughs and I’ve seen with my own eyes some of the most impoverished ponies within this nation. If we are to be judged by the lives of the least of us, then we nobles are guilty. Condemned. We’ve failed.”

“Vanhoover threw off the noble yoke,” Pod replied. “They deposed their duly appointed ruler and then made a choice to live this way. Such is the cost of willful insolence. You should respect that.”

“I can’t.”

“But they did this to themselves. Brought this on themselves. They made a choice and now must live with the consequences.”

“Pod, if you saw them, if you knew them, you’d hold a different opinion..”

“So you’d throw the noble yoke back on them to save them from themselves?” she asked.

“I… I don’t know what I’d do,” was his naked, honest, vulnerable response. He pulled away from her, looked down, tilted her head back so that she’d look up at him, and as she squinted to keep the water out, he searched her eyes. “All manner of troubling implications are raised. Is it tyranny to do what is best for a pony? I mean, I bucked the system… would my parents be right to make me fall back into line? I would surely hate it. But this poverty, Pod, there are so many that do without. Surely something can be done to help them… for their own good. This stays on my mind, Pod, and it eats at my insides.”

After one last glimpse into the windows of her soul, he let her go, and she angled her head so the water wasn’t flowing into her eyes. He knew her well enough to know that she was troubled, maybe even a little shook, and this felt a lot like victory after the woeful outcomes of previous encounters. But it was not a satisfying victory. It felt hollow and meaningless, because of one unpleasant truth.

For all of his intelligence, he had no idea how to solve things, how to fix them.

The solution to make things better eluded him. For all of his rebellion against the status quo, what few answers that presented themselves seemed to involve embracing his birthright. Which unnerved him. Left him unsettled. He thought about what his mother had said, about having a chit-chat with Princess Celestia, and getting him installed in a position of governance. It was so simple for his mother, who was so self-assured in her own position in life. She didn’t care that the city had declared itself a free state. To his mother, the solution was painfully obvious—restore a state of rule over the city.

What if his mother was right?

He thought of Hickory and became even more unsettled. The Widowwood held the right to rule as a religion, with royalty as divine providence and the nobles as Almighty Celestia’s messengers, the beings that had come down from up on high to do Her will. Hickory, in the midst of everything he had faith in coming undone, still believed in the word of a noble and the promise made upon a noble name. Which, if the truth were to be told, Nut found horrifying in the extreme.

“The world isn’t what we were raised to believe it is, Pod.”

“Well then, Nut, what is it?”

“I haven’t figured that out yet, and for daring to look past the clouds that separate us from the world below, I have been called out as a fool.”

“Mmm,” Pod mmmed as she resumed her drenched muzzle-nuzzles against his throat. “I’m not so sure, Nut. Twilight Sparkle was sent to the provincial backwater of Ponyville and she became a princess. Surely, some good will come of you going to the industrial wasteland of Vanhoover. Had Twilight stayed here in Canterlot, surely she would have become yet another vapid socialite, the sort that you detest. This is why I have thrown my fate in with Taffy, Nut. Her career will take her to the places where troubled, disadvantaged foals exist.”

Pod’s words relieved him far more than any tankard of ale or glass of malted milk.

“I think, Nut, the trick is you can’t do it alone,” Pod continued. “At least, that seems to be the lesson of Twilight Sparkle. Everything she needed for her success was found in Ponyville—and not Canterlot. I believe the same is true for you, Nut. That’s why you needed to leave… and sadly, the same is true for us, I think. You and I. Everything you need for your success is to be found in Vanhoover, with perhaps the exception of your apprentice. But Vanhoover is the place where you will find your Applejack, your Rainbow Dash, your Rarity, your Pinkie Pie, and your Fluttershy. Alone and by yourself, you’ll not accomplish much, but together, great things are possible.”

“It occurs to me that I don’t actually know some of those ponies you mentioned,” he said to her in a moment of painful, naked honesty.

“This is why you’re an idiot, Nut.”

“Thanks, Pod, you always know just what to say.”

“Oh, I know, no sense in wasting words to tell me that.” She chuckled, and then reached up to caress his neck with her foreleg. “While the Ponyville analogy works to some extent, I’m not so sure the Elements of Harmony apply to you and your endeavours. Maybe they do, but I would imagine that such a gritty city such as Vanhoover would require a wholly different set of Elements. A team of Elements applicable to the city and its environs. I have no idea what those might be, but I do imagine that it might be a bit of good fun to ponder what they might be.”

“I’m not sure I follow, Pod.”

“Taffy and I attended a public lecture,” she said as she continued to stroke his neck. “Twilight does a fair bit of public speaking. She said, during the lecture, that while it is very flattering that groups of friends attempt to emulate the Elements, she said that not every group of friends fits such well-defined roles. During her lecture, she said that there were other virtues, other positive aspects, and that we would all do well to embrace these wholesome aspects. She closed her lecture by saying that the Magic of Friendship is not restricted to the ebb and flow of the Elements of Harmony, and she made an analogy that the Elements of Harmony were but six colours in a whole box of colour crayons. It made Taffy cry.”

“So what I hear you saying is, I must recognise the good in ponies, or other creatures, and determine what makes them special. Identify their virtues.” Immediately, he thought of Black Maple, and how he’d left Tater Blossom with her. Black Maple had played possum when he’d returned, but she’d heard him coming when he was still down the hallway. This certainly presented the feisty pegasus in a new light. What was her virtue? In which way was she exceptional, and what made her stand out?

And that was but one of his many relationships, the friends he valued and adored.

“I think I’m ready to face the world again,” he announced.

“But I have not yet turned into a prune,” Pod replied.

“Well, perhaps a few minutes more then.”

“Yes, just a few minutes more. Of this. Just this. Me and you. Just like when we were young.”

Naked, not wearing a stitch, Nut stepped into his bedroom and found that it was populated. Taffy lay on his old bed, a book cradled in the crook of her forelegs, and his apprentice was examining his bookshelves. Tater Blossom looked quite different, and he almost didn’t recognise her. She’d had a trim; her mane was now cut into a short, smart, sensible bob, and the long hair along her broad neck was now close cropped. It was almost as if she’d been transformed into a Canterlot pony, but with a look of practical sensibility rather than sophistication.

“Miss Blossom, you look stunning.”

She turned around, a blush visible, and then her mannerism became coy as she shuffled in place. “Taffy talked me into it. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but then I remembered that manes grow back. So I done tried me something new and it’s great. I don’t look like a hayseed hick no more. It’s mighty kind of ya to say somethin’ nice ‘bout how I look.”

“Having been exposed to high society, Tater became rather fretful about her appearance,” Taffy said with her nose still stuck in her book. “I ensured that she was outfitted with sensible apparel. You may thank me at any time you deem apropos.”

Flustered without knowing why, Nut felt that now was the right time. “Thank you.”

“Yes, Pod wanted complicated, clothing that Tater had no hope of dressing on her own with.” Taffy lifted her head, inspected Nut for a short time, and then gave voice to her observations. “I don’t much like your boneyness, good sir. Laundry could be done upon those ribs, and a cuddle with you would be like snuggling up to a fuzzy sack of sticks. What are we to do with you?”

“Is it really that bad?” he asked, suddenly self-conscious of his appearance.

“Yes,” Pod, Tater, and Taffy all said together.

“Very well then.” Nut turned to face his wardrobe. “Perhaps it was for the best that I asked for financial assistance.”

“Nut, need I remind you that unicorns require excessive calories to fuel magic use?”

“No. No, you do not, Pod. I graduated magic kindergarten.” Turning his head around, he gave himself a once-over, and then stood there, frowning. It was a bit worse than he cared to admit, at least when he compared himself to three healthy, solid mares. He could see his spine, which he suspected was a bad thing. A year of rubbing elbows with the commoners had taken a toll.

“Even when there’s food, he doesn’t eat much,” Tater said.

“I see no point in stretching my stomach. It’s shrunk a bit, I suppose, which makes it easier to fill. At some point, I just learned to do without. It seemed normal.”

“Well, that’s horrid.” Taffy slipped in a bookmark, closed her book, turned to look at Nut, and scowled. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

“But it is that way. And I am almost positive that if you looked hard enough here in Canterlot, you’d find it here, as well.” Since he no longer wished to see himself, Nut swiveled his head around to look at his wardrobe. “It is a distressingly common problem.”

“There was always plenty of food at home,” Tater said as she shuffled in place.

“Really, I’d rather not talk about it.” Nut flung open the doors to his wardrobe, and squinted inside. “What did you acquire on your shopping excursion? Once I am dressed, I’d like to see it.”

Denim. Nut had mixed feelings about the fabric. It was no tweed, but it was tough and durable. Waxed denim even more so. The full body vest was lined in shearling, so it would be warm even if it were drenched and waterlogged. It was, indeed, practical and apparently stylish if it could be found in a Canterlot boutique. Denim was a peasant fabric, at least from Nut’s understanding. Meant for protective coveralls. Worn by miners and factory workers who worked in dreadful environments.

Now also worn by the fashionable Canterlot elite.

A bright canary-yellow rain slicker of rubberised canvas. It was a nice one, too, with strapped flaps that secured to the legs. The slicker had an oversized brimmed hood, which was a clever design. Canterlot was no stranger to rain, so the slicker could be trusted and relied upon. It was no mere fashionable accessory.

Tater said, “This spear…”

“That spear is Commander Hurricane’s spear,” Pod said to Tater while Nut kept up his inspection. “Well, one of his spears. Pegasus ponies favoured spears because they were simple weapons that could be easily gripped in the fetlocks and dropped upon enemies. The spear your looking at was given to Smart Cookie as part of a ceremonial surrender. Another spear was given to Princess Platinum. Though, nopony knows what happened to that one.”

“Nut has all these weapons.”

“Yes, Tater, and he is skilled with all of them.”

“What is that, exactly?”

“That is a sai. A diamond dog weapon from Inujima. Nut won the pair of them in a contest. No magic allowed, which meant no telekinesis. Nut chose a staff, a simple weapon. Easy for a pony to grip.”

Nut remembered that contest all too well. Every creature involved in that fight was rather surprised to see a unicorn enter, and none of them expected a unicorn skilled in a bipedal fighting stance. It was a proud moment for him, and a memory of a much happier time, a time when the world made a bit more sense. His talent served purpose—winning contests—and things weren’t so complicated. He longed for a return to those days.

The last item was a burro poncho made of heavy wool. A rather soft wool, which was a pleasant surprise. Or maybe not wool at all, Nut couldn’t tell. Bipedal creatures wore ponchos that hung down to cover their front and back, while quadrupedal creatures wore ponchos that hung down on the left and right. This had a hole off to one side, while a bipedal poncho had a hole placed right smack dab in the middle. It was a practical garment, though it was not considered fashionable.

All three items could all be worn together, which would offer near-immunity to foul weather.

Surrounded by those who believed in him, Nut recovered some of his confidence. Even if Pod and Taffy didn’t fully understand what he was doing—he himself didn’t fully understand what he was doing—they still found merit in his actions and stood with him. It was almost as if he’d been friends with Taffy the whole of his life, though he had only just met her. Peculiar as it was, there was a connection there that could not be denied, though that connection might very well be a shared love of Pod.

After a trying morning, a lazy late afternoon felt right.

Nut reclined in a chair with an enormous tumbler of malted milk, trying to nurse his soured stomach back to a non-volcanic state. He watched as Taffy showed Tater the phonograph, and he was pleased to observe his apprentice’s keen interest in hifi technology. As for Pod, she was cross stitching, one of her many hobbies that she maintained.

There was a faint, soft crackle as Taffy placed the arm down upon the record, and the warm, fuzzy sound of analogue technology filled the music room. Horns could be heard—a sound almost like an orchestra drawing breath—and then the woodwinds too, joined in. After a brief intro, a cello could be heard. Just brass, woodwinds, and a cello, a curious trio of sound.

“Rhapsody of Recovery,” Taffy said to Tater. “Octavia wrote this after the Battle for Manehattan. She says this music is her expression of the emotions she felt when every member of her family was safe and accounted for. You can read the short essay printed inside the album cover if you wish to know the meaning and history behind the song. The horns represent how, at last, she could breathe again, and the light, airy accompaniment to her cello symbolises her state of recovery.”

Ears pricked, her head tilted toward the phonograph, Tater listened.

“That’s right. Allow yourself to be drawn in. Express yourself, Tater. You’re among friends.” Taffy leaned close, slipped one foreleg over Tater’s withers, and then in silence, she waited for the earth pony filly to be swept away.

The rising swell of music left Nut with a buoyant sense of spirit. There was something sad about the cello, something profoundly sorrowful, but the brass and woodwinds were upbeat, almost joyous. It was a discordant contrast and as the music played, Nut found himself with a sense of melancholic relief. Such sweet sadness—a cathartic sadness even—which stood out with the optimism of the horns. He found his thoughts cradled in the lulled lows of the cello, while his spirit drifted like a leaf on the wind, blown about by the horns. The contrast was almost impossible to describe, and could only be experienced.

And Tater happened to be experiencing it. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but there was a smile upon her battered face. There was something in her eyes, but Nut couldn’t make out what it was. He read her facial expressions, trying to understand this fresh mystery, but her thoughts and feelings, whatever they might be, remained unknown. This was new to her, an experience beyond her understanding, and watching as she took it all in was a much-needed reminder that life was a worthwhile thing.

Eleven minutes.

The rhapsody played for eleven minutes, and it was far too short. When the cello ceased to play, Nut felt a tightness in his throat. The woodwinds went silent, and then the brass too, blared out a final prolonged gasp. It was over and Nut had no response. He felt strangely empty and when he went to draw breath, he almost didn’t for fear of disturbing the silence.

“I felt the same way when I was on the train with Nut,” Tater whispered. “Everything was so scary. I thought fer sure that we’d be attacked. Nut made me hold my head high and I had to keep rememberin’ that we was dignified ponies. But I couldn’t breathe the whole time we was leavin’. My chest ached and my heart was a-hurtin’ and it felt like time itself had gone all slow. But then, when we was on the train… when the place where I was born was behind me… I could breathe again.”

“So, the music made you feel something.”

“Yes, Taffy, it sure enough did.”

“They’re beginning to explore music therapy in the Crystal Empire,” Taffy said to the earth pony that she held close. “In my opinion, the idea has merit. Music can be a form of healing.”

“All I know is, the music made feel better. Can we listen to it again?”

Taffy nodded. “Yes, let us listen to it again, and then, when it is finished, I want you to tell me what you are feeling. I wish to know what comes to mind, if it makes you think of any other moments or events. Can you tell me?”

“Ya, I s’pose.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Taffy said in a soft, reassuring way. “But it might help.”

“It does help. I’d like to talk.”

“Good.” As Taffy spoke this word, she moved the arm back to the outside edge of the record so that it might play again. “Now, deep breaths. Breathe in time to the music. Allow it to carry you to a better place. Now… begin.”

When the horns began their brassy introduction, Nut allowed himself to breathe in time to the music…

Author's Note:

Things sorta fell apart there for a time. Sorry. Those of you on the Discord already know why.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!