• Published 20th Aug 2020
  • 449 Views, 25 Comments

A Town's Story - RoMS



Luster Dawn hates field trips. Especially when it's about gleaning a story on an event that tore a no-name town apart: Ponyville.

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1. A Pea Outside The Pod

Luster Dawn wasn’t the type of gifted unicorns who should’ve felt stuck staring at a door. But there she was. And she was miffed.

It wasn’t even the most beautiful of doors. Heck, it was, mildly put, a downright mediocre one in the old sense of the term. A laminated wooden plank, likely made from an oak supplied by the nearby farm. Once a vibrant red, it was now a few years beyond the need for a paint job.

And thus Luster stared, pestering under her breath for being sent here. Why here even? A small town lost in the Equestrian countryside with a dirt road and a once-a-day train being its only contact with the outside world.

Ponyville.

A town where ponies enjoyed the Dolce Vita, lulled to the sounds of loud cicadas and harangs of rare street vendors, and humbugged by the litany of a village smalltalk. It was not the town where she, Luster Dawn, would learn! Could learn… Or ever find a place.

This place was alien in every sense of the word!

Well

She bit her lip and rubbed her face, applying a light smear of dust picked up by her hoof.

She was being too harsh. As always. That was a repressed shard of anger talking, not the Princess of Magic’s prized student. Ponyville wasn’t a tramp’s town. It was a town, sure, but not just a town.

The School of Friendship was stuck right outside the gate — in parlance — and the Friendship Castle stood towering over it all, a museum to Princess Twilight’s past feats.

But that was it.

Ponyville was past-tense. Once the place where Princess Twilight lived, it was now an imprint of its past. A slow moving, routine-bitten landmark. Everything important happened in Canterlot now, as it should.

And so being sent on a tour of a past life was an errand, a punishment, and Luster cursed it. Such a waste of her many talents.

“Bad thoughts, Luster,” she whispered under her breath, tapping her forehead with her hoof. “Remember what Teacher Twilight said. Breath in, breath out. There’s always more than meets the eye.”

Her magic fiddled around inside of her backpack and she produced a rolled-up letter, stamped with Princess Twilight’s regal seal. She read the address yet another time, then looked up at the door, the name on a small brass plate, its lock, and the handle — fashioned for an earth pony.

What did she have to learn from an earth p–

“Thoughts, Luster. Thoughts,” she grumbled under her breath.

“So, are you going to knock or what?”

The commanding voice snapped Luster out of her own mind. She stumbled to make way, her leg slipping off the patio’s stairs and down she went into the flowers that adorned each side of the door. Laughter soon followed.

Thankfully, it was kind.

“Sorry,” Luster sputtered, frantic to dig herself out of the plants, her elbows sunken deep into the freshly-watered mushy ground beneath.

A bordeaux mare stood by the stairs with a grocery bag slung over her shoulders. The well-manicured hoof that covered her face hid a wide smirk.

Enough was enough. Golden sparks lit Luster’s horn and she lifted herself out of the flowers. Two quick and precise airborne moves and there she was, enwrapped in a translucent yellow hue and gracefully standing two steps away from the mare. That would surely showcase her magical prowess!

But it wasn’t enough of a firework’s display to mask the heat warming her cheeks.

“I am so sorry, young lady,” the mare said, shaking her head; Luster ground her teeth. “I didn’t mean to scare you like that, but you were fairly spellbound by —” She eyed the door with furrowed brows “— I don’t really know, to be honest.”

Of course she didn’t know. She wasn’t Luster Dawn, stuck in that tiny town, standing in front of a purplish middle-aged mare with three smiley-face flower thingies for a cutie mark.

Luster closed her eyes, inhaled, lips pressed together. Bad thoughts were creeping in yet again.

She cut the tapping in one of her hindlegs then dusted the dirt and petals off herself, magicking away the compost stains that now peppered her backpack like scout badges. Done with cleaning up, she fetched Teacher Twilight’s letter off the ground.

Be amiable, be humble. Yeah, right... Luster cleared her throat.

“Name’s Luster Dawn, Mam,” Luster started, extending the letter to the Ponyville resident and fellow Equestrian. “I am Princess Twilight’s student. Just out here to deliver a letter to Miss Mayor Mare.” Biting her lower lip, she sifted air through her teeth. “Which I suppose is you since you know, you’re here, next to the door of the house where Miss Mayor Mare lives. At least, that’s what I was told And you got a grocery bag with vegetables on your back. So! You definitely must live here. Anyway... Teacher Twilight asked me to ask her, and I really mean you, a simple– single question. A really innocuous one for such a tedious trip to this place, really. I mean… Eh, what I mean to say is that, I’ll be out of your, and this town’s, mane in a jiffy once it’s done and–” Luster closed her eyes and let out a long-winded sigh. “I’m being awkward as Tartarus again, aren’t I?”

“Again?” The mare chuckled. “That I don’t know. But if it’s your self-assessment, I can definitely say it’s a trait you likely got from your teacher. Pegasi of a feather and other whatnots, am I right? You’ll grow out of it, eventually... maybe.”

Luster bashfully blew her cheeks out at the remark and the mare laughed again. That motherly, unalarmed amusement with a smidge of concern only her teacher gave her in Canterlot. Luster Dawn didn’t come here to get lectured! That, she was certain. But there she was, getting tut-tutted by a stranger.

What a punishment this trip was. Small towns couldn’t even give her the change of scenery she’d been promised but hadn’t even asked for.

“And sorry to disappoint,” the mare continued, “but I’m not Madame Mare — and, honestly, it’s just Mare these days, young lady. It’s been a couple of years since she’s retired. Name’s Cheerilee by the way.” She extended her hoof, “and I’m her wife.”

Luster’s agoraphobic horror of earth pony fashions kicked in when Cheerilee helped herself and reached for her hoof, and vigorously shook it. The greeting steadfastly wrapped up and sent on its proverbial way, Cheerilee stepped by Luster’s side, opened the door and, letting it sway open, invited her in.

“Mare!” Cheerilee called as Luster’s ears picked up at the muffled music coming from the back of the house. “It’s me! We’ve got a surprise visitor.”

The music cut out and a sturdy, albeit aged, voice rose from beyond one doorframe or another. “Come on in, I was just finishing making some tea. Is it Lady Belle? She was visiting her friend Miss Bloom at the Apple farm.”

“‘Fraid not,” Cheerilee replied, dropping the grocery bag and turning to Luster, “no offense.”

Luster munched on the inside of her cheek as she stepped into a house cluttered with books. Well… ‘cluttered.’ Relatively compared to her room or Twilight’s office.

The house smelled of paper, tea, and cake, and looked comfy, like a kindly old granny’s abode. The memory of a second-hoof bookstore hidden behind an unremarkable door in a sidestreet in cold cold Yak-Yakistan sunk in.

Luster hated nostalgia.

She squinted at the desk by the left side of the door. While it housed many horseshoes and bags underneath, its countertop was sunk below a heap of hoof-written papers, strung about and haphazard.

“You’re a teacher?” Luster asked, looking more closely at what seemed to be a flurry of hoof and claw-written essays.

“You’ve got a keen eye,” she said with a nod. “I’m Ponyville’s elementary school teacher, but I also give lectures at the School of Friendship.”

Luster raised an eyebrow at the mention of the School of Friendship, but took care not to show it to her host. She’d read about the school before, but it had always been a thought quickly cast aside. Friendship really was an elementary thing in the end, i.e. beneath her concerns.

As Cheerilee counted her vegetables, Luster dropped her bag under the desk, taking care that it didn’t touch the mess that already inhabited this space. She only kept Twilight’s letter, held tight in her magic.

“I think I can spot a yak in your cohort,” Luster noted as she looked closer at the pile of essays and picked up the shortest she’d ever read.

Boring,’ is what it said, with a stamp of a hoof on the bottom of the page.

“Grading, any teacher’s own homework,” Cheerilee replied without looking. “Director Glimmer had the bad idea to let students pick a topic this year. Again.” As curiosity piqued Luster, Cheerilee clicked her tongue and motioned with her hoof. “Anyway, let me introduce you to Mare. So you can deliver your letter and ask your questions. Then you’ll be on your merry way out of our little town. It sure must not seem like much to an outsider, especially to a Canterlot student.”

“Do I look that bored and impatient?” Luster asked, shoulders slumped slightly. Yet again, her bad thoughts popped at the seams. They were ready to burst like a dam of negative impressions. She could only roll her eyes at herself. Which she did.

“Kind of? I’m just very good at reading students, you know. After twenty years of teaching you get pretty good at detecting boredom.”

Luster nodded and followed the teacher into a large living room that was littered with artifacts, paintings, widgets, gadgets and items that would be more at home in a cabinet of curiosity. Or a good old fashion museum.

A zebra’s mask, a gold dagger hanging on the wall, a Saddle Arabian lance darkened at the tip next to a dead chimney.

Were these two mares using it for poking embers!?

So many things that had come from across the world and were lined up for anypony to see, now collected a thin layer of dust. Books, grimoires, legal deeds, and dusty boxes. An eclectic bric à brac only old ponies could gather and collect. And still, to Luster’s eyes, these embodied so many eye-catching stories, hinted at so many far-away and alien cultures. She suddenly wanted to know more. But she doubted the couple had their own in-house curator.

Such a waste.

Luster!

Yes, tough thoughts, bad thoughts… But wasn’t she right? Could they truly appreciate what they owned?

Thoughts, Luster. Silence.

She forced a smile on her lips, and mapped out her many questions in her head. Then, she realised she’d stopped in the middle of the doorframe leading into this oversized and overencumbered room.

“Oh my… you’ve travelled a lot,” Luster stated, her voice shaken with bemusement.

A quick laugh answered back. Mare’s. “More like the world has come to us,” she said. “For better, and especially worse.”

A beige rump back-trotted through an open door frame on the opposite side of the befuddling living room. Its owner, an old mare with a mane grey like oxidized silver, held a tray in her teeth. Steam followed after her, tracing the air from three large ceramic cups.

Luster bit her lip, her magic crumpling the letter and cracking the seal that had held it shut till then. She was going to get stuck at an old granny’s house because of Teacher Twilight. She hated it. What a punishment that was from her Teacher. Fumingly so. So many annoyances for a mere letter and silly question.

Luster’s eyes darted left and right for an exit. But there was no envisageable escape. Instead, she only had even more questions for each of the items that stared back at her, and each question led to even more down the road.

Luster was, irremediably and for the next few hours, doomed to withstand the boredom of older ponies’ talking. Earth Pony had a tendency to talk nonetheless and she hadn’t even brought a book to read.

Damn her teacher.

She must have been laughing while sipping coffee in her high tower.

Cheerilee’s chuckle rose by Luster’s side. While she’d been lost in her thoughts, the Ponyville teacher had had the time to go and drop her grocery bag somewhere else.

“Don’t worry, we’re not going to be keeping you here for supper. Unless you want to, of course,” she whispered in Luster’s ear. “And don’t worry, Mare doesn’t bite.”

Luster didn’t have to turn around, she could feel Cheerilee’s amused smile, scorching at her back like sunlight. Luster took a long breath of the tea-smelling air, and let it comb out of her half-closed mouth.

It was going to be a long, boring, annoying, and wasted afternoon.

And she was already hungry.

Admitting defeat, Luster dropped her behind like an anvil on a set of cushions, hoping the sound of crushed feathers would hide the growling of her belly.

But for naught, Mare left the tray of tea on the coffee table in the middle of the room, smiled, and evaded Luster’s stare to go into the kitchen, from where she came back with a box of dried butter crackers.

Luster bowed her head, closed her eyes, then rolled them. She could hear her Teacher laughing from Canterlot at the thought of this cruel ordeal.

What a weird test, Luster thought, looking down at the damaged letter and the red mark of where the seal had hugged the paper closed until moments ago. She shook her head, opened her eyes wide, cursed her hastiness, and finally glanced at Mare and Cheerilee who now sat next to each other on a sofa on the other side of the living room. Purple against creme white, they contrasted each other. An odd couple, but a couple nonetheless.

She took a deep breath and finally spoke.

“Thank you for inviting me in,” Luster said, breaking out a quick smile. “I’m…” She drummed her hooves against the fluffy carpet that covered a laminated parquet. “Well, to be frank, I didn’t expect this when Teacher Twilight sent me here.”

“She really is as awkward as she was,” Mare noted to Cheerilee with a smile.

Cheerilee turned to meet her wife’s eye. And shook with laughter. “She does take after her, doesn’t she?”

Luster shuffled on her haunches. She’d been quite judgemental. She still was. She deserved this, in a sense. If you judge others too harshly, others will do that to you as well. That was what Teacher Twilight had told her many times before. Luster loved being right. But she hated being right about being wrong.

She frowned. They didn’t call Teacher Twilight ‘Princess.’

“You know Teacher Twilight?” Luster asked.

“We do, actually,” Mare said with a smile. “She wrecked my town far too many times for me to count. Though I’ve forgiven her as many times as necessary, it doesn’t stop her Highness from sending flowers on the monthly.”

“Your town?” Luster remarked, more to herself than to Mare. Tapping a hoof on her lip, she turned to Cheerilee. “Didn’t you say I had to drop the Mayor title?”

Cheerilee burst out laughing, and held a hoof on Mare’s shoulder. The former mayor gave her wife a raised eyebrow, chest out, “Don’t you have some respect for your wife, Cheery, for your old scrag of local government officer?”

“I’m being blunt again.” Luster groaned. “Stupid, stupid…”

She smacked her forehead, then reached out with her magic and grabbed her steaming cup of tea. Sipping the green brew would keep her silent.

Cheerilee and Mare reached for their own cups and each took turns to grab a biscuit in the metal box that sat on the plate. Luster followed suit, picking up not one but two in her golden magic.

“So, what brought you here?” Mare asked over her cup, the steam fogging the edges of her black-rimmed glasses. She pointed at the letter by Luster’s side.

Luster gracefully flew the letter over to the two mares. Cheerilee grabbed it, snapped the remains of the seal clean off, and unfurled the paper open for her and Mare to read.

“You didn’t have to break it apart,” Mare whispered as she motioned at the bit of wax seal now lying on the carpet.

“It was already damaged.”

Mare looked over the rim of her glasses at Luster and the student bit her lips, evading the mare’s blue eyes.

They began reading.

“I see,” Cheerilee muttered after a moment, her eyes darting from left to right. She then looked at her wife.

Mare didn’t answer, or even looked at Cheerilee. She merely nodded, her eyes narrowing to slits as she rubbed her chin. After a while, she hummed to herself.

Luster hadn’t read the contents of the letter, and now she wished she had. Of course she knew better and would never break open correspondence. But shuffling on her seat while waiting for the two old mares to make up their minds was utter torture.

Luster’s horn glowed and she dragged the bit of wax evidence to her side, out of sight. Cleaning after oneself: that she’d learn from evading her teacher too many times, and failing at it.

“You mentioned a question?” Cheerilee asked, startling Luster.

Luster caught the tea cup she’d been mindlessly levitating before it crashed on the carpet. “Yes… Yes! Definitely,” she muttered. “I mean, I don’t know if it is related to the letter’s content, but…”

Luster recalled Teacher Twilight’s face when she tasked her to go to Ponyville. Uncertainty, painful memories, an unsure smile… regrets? Luster had rarely seen her teacher show these emotions. Her Highness was a talented rulemaker, but even she had done stuff in the past that she wasn’t proud of. And this, Luster guessed, was why she’d been sent here today.

“Teacher Twilight told me that you had to teach me a lesson.” As she earned two questioning stares, she clapped her forehead again. Stupid. “I mean, she didn’t tell it like that. She said you have a valuable experience to teach me, Miss Mare.” Luster motioned her hoof. “You were a mayor for years. In a sense, you’ve successfully managed a place, no matter how small, eh… I don’t mean Ponyville is small as in small. Not at all… I, uh… It is small compared to Canterlot but it’s still a place… A– I’m going to shut up now.”

While Mare and Cheerilee chuckled, Luster sank into her cushion, trying to make herself smaller in the vane hope her spine would turtle down into itself like an accordion, to disappear inside her own fleshy shell. What a terrible mental image, Luster…

“You think Twilight wants me to tell you about town shenanigans?” Mare asked, putting the letter down in her lap.

“I guess?” Luster replied with a shrug. “Why else would Teacher Twilight send me here?”

Cheerilee and Mare shared a glance, and Luster saw the lack of certainty that came with their half-smiles. For what reason would Teacher Twilight have sent her here if not for some local state-crafting stories from two aging earth pony mares? Thoughts, Luster! Thoughts. But really, Luster couldn’t understand why here. And especially why… them?

The two mares each took a singular, coordinated deep breath. And a heavy lump dropped down Luster’s throat.

Why else?

“To tell you of her biggest failure,” Mare offered along with the royal letter.

As her horn lit up to retrieve the missive, Luster was doubtful. What was she talking about? Teacher Twilight made mistakes from time to time, sure. Even princesses could be clumsy. But failures? Nah. Nyet! No. That was not possible.

“You’ve got such a look on your face, Luster,” Pinkie Pie said, peeping out from behind the sofa.

Luster jumped.

What?

“What?” Cheerilee and Mare echoed, pivoting in an instant to catch Pinkie Pie jumping over the sofa’s headrest and sliding down to sit at the rightmost side of the sofa.

What!?

“Surprise, Luster!” Pinkie burst, blasting a gerbe of confettis all over the living room. “How’ve you been?”

“How?” Luster babbled. “Aren’t you supposed to be… not here?”

“Ah, flabbergasted!” Pinkie retorted, waving her hoof. One or two candies hopped out of her mane. “I had a hunch, ya know! You were doing such a mean face back at the Castle that I had to follow you. And I was in Fillydelphia yesterday with Cheese and Lil’ Cheese. But you know, my eyelids fluttered and my tail shivered. And I knew it! You —” She pointed at Cheerilee and Mare “— were going to talk about me.”

“Filly…” Cheerilee started, and Mare finished, “delphia.”

“Wait. Wait a minute,” Luster interrupted, dragging her hooves to her temples and rubbing them vigorously. Though she knew Pinkie Pie, because she always visited Teacher Twilight, she only ‘knew’ her. “You know when somepony is talking about you?”

“Will, actually!”

Luster so wanted that power.

Pinkie burst out laughing and instantly turned to her two compatriots. “You were going to talk about the Wall, right?”

Mare didn’t say a word. She rolled her eyes, threw up her hooves in defeat and nodded.

“You didn’t even read the letter,” Cheerilee said with a smile, more of a statement than actual surprise. “Even after all these years, your doozies haven’t blunted at all. Never change, Pinkie.”

Luster growled. “What is this Wall you’re talking about?”

“It happened in Ponyville about ten years ago,” Mare said. As Pinkie and Cheerilee gave her two pairs of furrowed brows, she sighed and cleared her throat. “It was right after Twilight’s coronation, but not before Celestia and Luna handed power to her.”

“It took about two years, right?” Luster asked.

“It did, yes,” Cheerilee confirmed.

“But, and there is the question, Luster. Do you know why it took so long?” Mare asked.

Luster stayed quiet. She didn’t know. Why would she know? Teacher Twilight took things pretty slowly usually. It was her trademark: being cautious.

“Everything being equal I would say she was held back outside of Canterlot,” Luster offered through pinched lips. “But since I’m here, I guess that something happened in Ponyville, right?”

“It did,” Cheerilee said. She took a profound inspiration. “Most of the ponies in town call that… uhm, event, the Wall. It nearly destroyed Ponyville.”

Luster doubted that. She’d have heard about it if… Should have...

Or would she? Ponyville was small, remote, if not isolated. She’d pestered about it all the way there, on the train.

Ponyville was past-tense. Again. And Equestria was evolving fast, everchanging, always moving forward. Why would anypony mention an event that only concerned the here, Ponyville; and the then, a decade ago. Ponies forget, and it was a good thing they did.

Luster nodded to herself and, upon realizing something, rolled her eyes — she took her time. “Alright, I guess it’s lecture time.”

Luster was expecting a story, a retelling, but Cheerilee and Mare’s faces darkened. Pinkie Pie’s twisted slightly, though she never let her smile drop.

A low sense of unease settled in Luster’s stomach as the three adults shared quick glances. In the silence, they still talked to each other. Common understanding permeated throughout the room, pushing out the smell of green tea.

Something had happened. Something dire. Luster’s haunches tightened. What did Teacher Twilight send her here to learn?

Cheerilee and Mare turned to Pinkie Pie, and her ear-to-ear smile.

“You call dibs?” They asked.

“Sure do.” She laughed.

Luster leaned forwards. She expected a story from her teacher’s great friend.

What had happened ten years ago that had so darkened the faces of these mares? What could be the Princess of Magic’s greatest mistake?

Luster leaned even further forwards, mouth agape, a leg fluttering in anticipation at Pinkie Pie’s fluttering smile. A first. And after a few seconds of silence, that stretched on like molass, Pinkie finally spoke.

“There’s never enough sweets.”