• Published 20th Aug 2020
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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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11. Reflections

“So you solved the case,” Luster mused, her hoof stomping the grassy knoll that extended down to the river.

Now she looked at the stump again, it had blackened traces of a long gone fire. Time had passed. And the river had returned with it.

“It wasn’t much of a case, really,” Sweetie Belle said with a laugh.

“As I said,” Mare continued, “it all came down together, right here.”

Luster rubbed her face and sighed. This was hardly the resolution she expected to this tale. “Let me get this straight,” she said. “You were drinking your asses off, during a biting cold winter, while discussing the stupidity of a message-teleporting book, when all of a sudden she —” Her hoof shot at Sweetie Belle “—wrote you, in that same book, from the other side of whatever the Wall was?”

“Sounds about right,” Sweetie said, nodding along to the absurdity of it with a wry smile on her face.

“But why then? And not...” Luster gesticulated, “not before.”

“That’s where the terrifying, fun, eh, fun-ish thing was,” Pinkie said, startlingly popping out from behind Luster. “Time!”

“Time?” Luster repeated, distancing herself from the pink swirl. “As in Teacher Twilight messed up with time?”

As Pinkie confirmed, Luster’s rump dropped with a thump and she rubbed her chin. She felt little rocks hidden under the green prick at her flanks. But that was a distraction. She was at a loss. Time… Time… Now rubbing her temples, she let out a long, drawn-out sigh. Teacher Twilight had never talked about time spells before…

Actually, she had.

“Time, right?” Luster repeated once again, a rhetorical question rather than anything else. “Teacher Twilight always told me time was a no-go zone. She never taught me anything related to that.”

“Twilight and Starlight,” Sweetie Belle said. “Those two cuckoos weren’t at their first try, I reckon.”

Luster grumbled. Hardly believing her teacher would do such a foolish thing. And yet...

“Twilight did specify in her letter to speak about her gravest mistake,” Mare said.

“No,” Luster retorted, a cutting edge to her voice. “You said ‘failure,’ I have a good memory.”

“Yes, yes, you’re right.”

“But, come on! Teacher Twilight can’t be that reckless… she couldn’t. That black thing, eh, the Wall, it could have only been an enemy, a– a monster.” Luster looked at Pinkie Pie first, seeking some kind of cheer. But the party pony looked away. She moved on to Sweetie Belle, who rubbed her leg apologetically. And so, she was left staring at Mare and Cheerilee who stood side by side a bit lower on the hill, at eye-level with Luster. “I can’t believe it.”

“Everypony makes mistakes, Luster,” Cheerilee said. “Even Twilight.”

Luster puckered her lips and growled to herself. Only after a while did she look up at the group. “This is one of the most over-engineered lessons I’ve been given.”

“This is Twilight we’re speaking about,” Pinkie chuckled. So did Sweetie Belle.

“It’s a fact,” Mare said. “Do you still have Twilight’s letter?”

“Yes.” Luster fished for it in her saddlepack. “Why?”

“I figured you hadn’t read it. Twilight left a footnote for you. Go ahead. Read it.”

Luster frowned and unfolded the letter. Swallowing, she crossed the text to the bottom — to the truth. She closed her eyes to wrinkles. A long breath in, then out, she opened them back up to the world and found the mention of her name, and the text that towed below.

And she folded the letter back, a long sigh dug its way out of her lips.

“Later, maybe,” she whispered.

Mare, Cheerilee, and Pinkie Pie had walked off down to the dirt path below, next to the stump where they exchanged a few reminiscent laughs — and a long time ago tears and cries. Only Sweetie Belle and her warm smile remained by Luster’s side.

“Afraid of reading it?” she asked, laying her hoof on Luster’s shoulder.

“Eh.” Luster hadn’t much to say. She tucked the letter out of sight. “This is just one overly engineered lesson… or a punishment.”

“Are you okay?” Sweetie Belle continued.

“Yeah. Yeah…”

Luster ran her hoof through the grass. Though green, it had the stiffness of summertime. It would turn yellow soon enough. She pouted, then held her face in her hooves, letting out a groan.

“It’s been a grim story so far,” Sweetie Belle said after she cleared her throat. “I guess.”

“It’s just… It’s one long grim story,” Luster said. looking over at Mare, Pinkie Pie, and Cheerilee, gathered around the dead stump. “All the ponies that left. All the stores that closed. And everything that crumbled down around them. I know it’s resolved now, though.” Luster pointed at the town itself, a grimace on her face. “Everything’s back up, if it really was ever gone behind the Wall. And still, when I see those mares. It’s like the scars are still there if you scratch a little. The way they look at each other, the brickwork of the town. Everything. Behind closed doors, it’s all silent walls and aged ponies.” A deep breath followed. “I really can’t imagine what they went through.” Luster turned to Sweetie Belle. “What you went through.”

Sweetie Belle waved her hoof and huffed dismissively. “Pah, it was pretty quick.”

Luster laughed. “Quick? It sounds like you were in there for months, I mean. You were in there for months, right? How did you survive?”

“You don’t get it, do you? Time of course!”

“Teacher Twilight can be cryptic when she wants to be,” Luster mumbled.

“Ah, yes.” Sweetie Belle closed her eyes as she nodded. She failed to wipe the smirk off her face.

Luster drummed her hoof over the grass. “Mare spoke of a mistake. I get it. That event was of Teacher Twilight’s own doing? And it was related to time.”

“Yes. She did snort the glue again,” Sweetie Belle said, chuckling into her hoof, and upon seeing Luster’s confused expression, followed up, “It wasn’t the first time she played around with time. But that attempt… I think it was, and will be, her last.”

Luster racked her brain for an example of her teacher waxing theory about time magic. But she had nothing. “She never taught me anything about that.”

“There’s a reason for that.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“You can get stuff like the Wall,” Sweetie Belle said, a tight expression on her face. “You know Starlight right?”

“By name. Isn’t she the director of the School of Friendship?”

“Yes. But that’s not the question,” Sweetie Belle said. “Starlight is one of Twilight’s key work-mares and a reliable confidant. But do you know how they started?”

“Let me guess. Enemies?”

Sweetie Belle laughed. “Yep. Their confrontation ended with quite the twist apparently. Neither Twilight or Starlight talked about it much. What I do know, though, is that it involved time magic too.”

“Time…” Luster lied down and sighed. Sweetie Belle followed her example. “This whole ordeal is just a lesson on time magic. It’s so... convoluted.”

Sweetie shrugged, jabbing her hoof up at the sky. “Is it? I mean, Twilight has taken a lot from Celestia. Mostly using metaphors, and whatnot, but...” She cleared her throat. Luster studied the pointed look on her face. “It’s just– She’s still a town pony deep down. I don’t know what to say... She must care so much about you, you know?”

“Yet, she sent me here, across the land, far away from Canterlot to learn a lesson I don’t quite get. So much for ‘don’t use time magic, Luster, it’s very bad’,” she mimicked using her teacher’s tone. Sweetie Belle chuckled while Luster threw her hooves up with a sharp grunt. “It’s a punishment. It’s all over that letter.”

“Twilight would never punish somepony if there wasn’t a valuable lesson tagged onto it.”

“Or a twelve-step to-do list?”

Sweetie Belle cackled. “You’re right. But still, Twilight wants you to learn from her mistakes. It nearly broke this town and that haunts her. She loves Ponyville so much.”

“If she loves it so much, why doesn’t she come here more often?” Luster growled, only then holding a hoof to her lips. “She… She can’t, right?”

“Responsibility takes what we love away,” Sweetie Belle said. She threw her head back against the crumpling grass. “Or takes us away from what we love. In a sense, it’s the same thing. It’s only when you lose something that you really learn to cherish it.”

“But she didn’t lose this town in the end.”

“But she nearly did,” Sweetie Belle retorted. “Her recklessness nearly undid the town. But, you know, you can rebuild walls. Confidence and town life not so much. Ponies can hold grudges and Twilight has always been afraid of rejection. Still... I don’t think that’s what matters here.”

“What does, then?”

Sweetie Belle stretched her hooves above her head, wrestling a satisfying pop out of her shoulders. Then she looked at Luster with a thin-lipped smile.

“You’re destined for great things, Luster.”

“Nah,” Luster cut, waving the praise away, though not without a lingering pride burning white-hot in her heart.

“No, no. I mean it. You wouldn’t be Twilight’s prized pupil if you weren’t. And in a sense, you are gifted with the fact that Twilight is your teacher. I think she’s trying to be different from Celestia.”

“What do you mean?”

“Celestia was more… hooves-off. To say the least. And sometimes, it nearly condemned a lot of us.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Celestia is… an institution more than a pony, I think. A monument? Eh, a monolith. And sometimes, I think it led to mistakes on her part, which then fell onto Twilight’s shoulders. Those quickly became crushing.”

Luster rolled onto her side and looked at her hindlegs, enclosing a small patch of grass.

“Right,” she said, “Teacher, eh, T– Twilight wants me to learn from her mistakes?”

“Yeah. And she wants to be specific.”

“Yeah.” Luster’s chest swole as she held onto another sigh. “I’ll have to think about it.”

Sweetie Belle rolled to the side as well, to face Luster. Her long, unicorn curves shone under the sun. She was beautiful and Luster was kind of jealous. Anything to look like that when she was older.

“Twilight is trying to walk in her mentor’s hoofsteps,” Sweetie Belle said, “but at the same time to resolve some of the shortcomings she had to grapple with.”

So Luster was some sort of blank canvas. She didn’t know what to think about that.

“What about you?” Luster asked, quite jarringly.

Sweetie Belle frowned, then her eyes grew wide. She smiled and chuckled. “Oh, you mean inside the Wall?”

Luster nodded. “Yes, you’re the pony that actually went in, right. How did it feel?”

“It was… weird.”