• Published 20th Aug 2020
  • 464 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.

  • ...
2
 25
 464

4. The Last Blossom

I opened my eyes to her side of the bed, empty and cold. With the shutters closed, the walls across the room didn't catch more than a sliver of outside light. I felt my alarm clock on the nightstand at the tip of my hoof. Its hands. It wasn’t even seven in the morning yet. Then I remembered my clock didn't work right anymore. I set it aside.

The barely visible stains sticking to the ceiling taunted me, reminding me of the rains that had plagued Ponyville during the last summer. I lingered, watching for a while until I found the fortitude to drag the bedsheets over my head.

Not even her smell remained.

And I had to start with the day.

I crawled out from under the covers and welcomed the autumn’s cold bite on my fur. We’d forgotten to turn on the heating. I switched the shutters open and the blinding morning light kicked in.

“Good morning, Mayor,” I whispered to my reflection in the nearby mirror. What a mess of gray hair my reflection had. Dissatisfaction scratched under the surface. “Let’s get ready for another marvelous day.”

I straightened up — two push-ups —, went to brush my teeth, then put the coffee pot on the kitchen fire. Once I had sipped it with a side of hay, I crawled back to the washroom, cleaned myself up, and brushed those teeth again. I smoothed out my grey mane, wiped your glasses, and avoided the mirror in the white light of the clean-tiled room. I had to be on par for the day. For everypony else.

I slung my trench coat over my shoulders and headed out.

This was all a good old routine. One Mayor Mare had always known.

Little activity buzzed in the street when I locked my door. And so, I hurried out and reached the town square in a jiffy. Only a few dead leaves welcomed me on the Town Hall’s staircase and, walking up the building’s gate, I quickly made a crisp red-and-yellow dust of them.

I fetched the hefty golden key in one of my pockets, only to pause. Before I slid it into its lock, I turned around to survey the plaza. Not a single soul to see or greet.

Looking for ponies quickly turned into a mindless wander. The many closed-up shops and dark houses snatched my attention. But I shook my head, closing myself off to this empty world. The cold morning air rushed in and out of my nostrils. Those mornings... Ponyville didn’t smell like bread anymore.

I turned the key and pushed hard against two heavy weights: the gate itself, and the one that lurked down at the back of my throat.

The sunlight dashed through the unlocked door and chased away the darkness nesting in the main hall. Three months had passed since the last town gathering and dust had coated both carpets and benches. Cleaning up would have to be done someday soon. But since there was no planned gathering before the end of the year, I hadn’t bothered draining the town’s limited coffers.

I couldn’t fancy my misplaced aesthetic pleasure.

I closed the Town Hall’s gate behind me and hurried upstairs. I knew this place like the bottom of my hoof and so didn’t need to pull back the large bordeau curtains that obscured the windows. Easily enough, I locked myself in my rickety office.

What a tidy mess it was. Paper piles and gutted reams stacked over and against each other in a haphazard display of provincial bureaucracy. Yellow and blue post-its covered everything — to-dos, key notes, and other mentions I dared not remember by rote for longer than a day. I had marked and earmarked the whole.

I’d not even sat at my desk when Ditzy was already knocking on my window. Always on time. That, she was. I waved my hoof at her and trotted to the pane’s small sliding lock.

“Hello, Miss,” I greeted as I let her in. “Hope you’re having a wonderful day.”

“Sort of, Mayor.” She stumbled in, shaking herself while a bit of sweat rolled down her brow. She was panting. “Sorry for being brusque… but I’ve got to help somepony move this morning.” She hoofed around her worn-out satchel and cleared her throat. “Quite a few letters for you today.”

“Moving in, I hope?” I asked with a half-forced grin as three letters slid my way.

Ditzy’s eyes briefly focused on me. Her smile came and went, replaced by a grim chuckle — a parody of one. “Always optimistic, Mayor. That’s why we still vote for you.”

My mouth opened slightly. I bit my lips rather than talked. Fleeing the view of her feeble smile, I stared at her satchel instead, and the trace of a removed Ponyville Postal Service patch.

“Thanks for being here, Ditzy.”

“Sure thing. Whatever I can do to help, Mayor. What would be a town without a post office, right?”

And like that, she and her short-lived smile flew past me through the window. The crack of a forehead against one of the building’s colonnades and a ‘ouch’ followed suit.

I drank in the heavy silence before I could muster the courage to settle back into my comfy reclining chair, the three letters lined on my desk waiting. I leaned forward.

The first one bore Father’s name.

The second one was serious. Official. The interlaced sun and moon of the Equestrian coat of arms adorned its front. I licked my lips and put my father’s missive to the side.

Muttering a half-assed laugh, I held the royal letter to the window’s light. The paper envelope shone with its smoothness. It was heavy, even accounting for its contents. A wise pony had once told me that a nation’s wealth could be valued by the quality of the mundanities a Crown could waste bits on. It rang true. With the splurge on such a hefty caliper, the Canterlot Post showcased the depth of its coffers.

I turned the envelope over to read the address. Written instead of printed — a rare occurrence. A well-sharpened quill had carved the paper deep, allowing the light blue ink to happily seep in. I registered the address, and stiffness settled in me.

Not an address but a name. Without preceding titles.

Celestia

I turned the letter over twice, but found no mention of urgency, no red stamping. It was just a plain, albeit very regal-looking, letter. One from Celestia herself.

And yet, I reluctantly put it away, squarely over my father’s. I hesitated, mind you, but I set it aside nonetheless. It didn’t matter how hard I wanted to open it.

The last letter bore a red wax seal imprinted with the herald of Filthy Rich’s lawyer. Strangely, the name on the letter wasn’t his. I studied it for a much longer time than the two others. I was unsure of what to do with it.

I finally swallowed and fetched Celestia’s letter again and brought it to my muzzle, smelling it. And this got a laugh. At myself mostly. Was I expecting perfumed letters? Maybe… But I just smelled the reek of my old, dusty office. Age overtook any other scent.

I let out the breath I didn’t know I had held. My decision was made.

The princess could still wait.

I retrieved a small dragon claw from my drawer. Some ponies would have raised eyebrows at such a strange letter opener, but it was a gift from a great, adventurous friend who partook in action archeology — let’s not think about that too much, it’s a can of worms all on its own.

I snatched Filthy Rich’s letter and slid the opener under the lawyer’s seal, snipping it clean off. The red wax fell on my desk without a single crack to bear on its surface. And so, it was ready to join my decades-old mayoral collection of seals. I was proud of that collection, as boring as it sounded. Each seal had a small story to it, or rather behind it.

I unfolded the letter and scoured its content, quickly reading through each paragraph’s first and last sentences. If the envelope to Celestia’s letter was heavy, the message in this one carried a weight of its own in the measure of words. I skipped the salutation bit, and sank deeper into my seat.

“It’s a marvelous day, Mayor. You just have to accept it.”

Stillness and silence quickly became unbearable. I brushed my mane back, pulled myself from the comfort of my inaction, and sprung for the door. The letter fell to the floor, and I left it there. I didn’t turn back.

I hurried out to the streets, an important visit to make in mind, and it couldn't even be past ten o’clock yet.

As I crossed half the town, I recognized that it was a wonderful morning, as it always was in Ponyville. Routinely so. Beautiful chirping birds, clouds, houses… And especially beautiful roses, all lined up, ready to be snipped by the workaholic cream pony I had to visit.

And as I predicted, Roseluck was hard at work in her garden. She sure loved cutting those roses. All of them… methodically. Maybe a bit too ardently.

“Good morning, Miss,” I uttered as I entered her garden. The gate slammed shut behind me, nearly covering the heavy clang of secateurs dropping on the tiled pathway somewhere beyond two lines of shaven vines. "Eh, sorry for startling you. Hope you’re having a great, sunny day!”

“I am not,” Roseluck gibbed a bit too late, still hidden low behind mangled rose bushes.

The moment she straightened up, her eyes went first to the sky then to me.

“How are you doing?” I asked, a stretched out smile on my lips.

Her squinting eyes were my answer. She arched down to bite at something around her hooves where I couldn’t see. Grunting through gritted teeth, likely steeling her jaw, she came back into view with her garden gloves in her mouth. Which she sent flying over my head.

I ducked out of the way, only for them to land on the workbench by the gate behind me.

“I can only guess you received my letter, Mayor?” she said, the hint of a scowl in her tone. “I mean, my lawyer’s.”

I watched the gloves fold and deflate, espousing the shape of some garden tools beneath them.

“I’ve– You mean Flithy’s? Uh, yes. I did.” I gulped, readjusting my glasses up my muzzle as I turned back to her. She didn’t look happy. “I wanted to speak with you about that. I–”

“My choice is final, Mayor,” she cut, brushing a lock of mane behind one of her two twitching ears. Her pained smile snipped in its bud the plea I was ready to make. “Just… Just know I’m angry, Mayor. I know you’re here to ask me to reconsider. But, I just... I just won’t. And if you open your mouth, whatever you’re going to say, you’re just going to make me even angrier.”

“Nothing wrong in trying, right?” I mumbled.

Her eyes locked on mine with fire raging behind them. I stepped back and crooked over a little. With eyes like hers, I felt like prey to a mother bear’s wrath. But her face lightened, her shoulders flexed, and a chuckle escaped her, followed with a shake of her head.

“I’m angry. Just… not at you,” she said with a sigh. “I’m sorry.”

Her lips pinched shut and silence settled between us. We just stared.

I wished I could have bargained right here and there, voiced a sliver of how much I understood her. I did, from the bottom of my heart. We faried in the same boat in the end. It was just proverbially called Ponyville. But my pride and hope of keeping it all together stood in the way — like a bulwark against a reality I wasn’t ready to contend with… yet.

I knew Roseluck had come to accept it at the time, and I still hadn’t. Something was over and I hadn’t quite understood what yet. Indeed, I was the captain of this ship. Let’s say the helsmare to be less arrogant. At that moment, it didn’t matter where the wind blew. The tiller was broken.

I swallowed. No matter the style, that thought was still an arrogant one. I had to admit. But I wouldn’t let my town go without a fight.

As the silence drew on for long, I took a tentative step towards the end of the range of roses and joined Roseluck by her side. She smelled of dirt, roses, and sap. And bottom of the shelf sadness.

“Are you… really sure about it?” I muttered, avoiding her deep green eyes by studying the mangled olive sprouts crushed under my hooves.

A shudder crawled along my spine as I lingered on what spectacle unfolded around me.

Roseluck had sacked her garden.

All the plants were cut down. Each root, each branch, each flower bore the scars of scissors, saws, and pruners. And past them, eating at the fence of her workplace and household stood the Wall.

I spent my days trying to avoid thinking about it, looking at it. But sometimes, it was impossible.

The Wall. The proverbial elephant in the room.

The Wall. That unfathomable darkness had grown larger yet again.

Its smooth surface, as large as a Manehattan skyscraper, had touchdowned with Roseluck’s garden. In a few days, it would eat a quarter of it. Then half. Then, finally, everything — her house included. It wouldn’t stop at her house. I knew it. And nopony could stop it.

For now. For now. I prayed.

I shook my head and cleared my throat. “I mean,” I continued, “I feel like if there is any time to address the elephant in the room, it might be now.”

I had to force those words through my teeth.

“Please,” she said before I could continue my tirade, “don’t make this harder for me, Mayor. I–”

“Good morning everypony!” Pinkie boomed.

The garden gate burst in, a pink whirlwind tearing through the air and up over a bonsai tucked in between dried cacti. Two legs found their way around Roseluck’s neck and mine. We didn’t even get the chance to breathe.

My hooves scraped against the garden tiles and I ended up head to head with Roseluck and Pinkie, who was hugging us both tightly.

“Why the grumpy face, Rosy?” Pinkie asked, punctuating her words with a giggle and a boop. “Not something I can’t do anything about, though! I’m sure we can find the right thing to stretch a proper smile on those sorry cheeks.”

“Rosy...?” Roseluck spelled slowly.

“Yes, exactly!” Pinkie chirped, with a smile and a roll of eyes. “No need to be so gloomy and formal.”

Roseluck hurked and slipped out of reach. Her hoof struck the ground in a sharp, stony clap that startled Pinkie and I. A pruner fell off her pinafore, clanking against the tiles amidst the sudden silent that had befallen us.

Roseluck swiped the garden scissors with a swift kick. The tool somersaulted to her flank, and a swing of her withers sent them flying to the workbench by the gate, where they joined her gloves.

Pinkie whistled at the feat, clapping her hooves together. But soon enough, her eyes settled on the desk, then the garden. Her joyful wonder turned into a grimace. Once any hint of a smile was gone, nothing remained but an apprehensive, careful study of her surroundings.

The more Pinkie watched, the more I felt like I was looking into a mirror. She tried to smile once again. But…

The short-lived grin became hesitant, and then vanished. Her face offered a harrowing flurry of emotions, twists and turns, wrinkles and crinkles. They settled into a rare sight: a forced smile. One that didn’t hide the darkness lurking in her eyes.

“So what can I do for you, Rosy?” Pinkie asked. Any ounce of boisterous certainty was gone. “It just hurts to see anypony sad these days and–”

“Stop. Right there.” Roseluck closed her eyes, sifting a deep breath through gritted teeth. “You, Mayor, everypony. Stop.”

“But we’re all alone h–”

“Stop!”

A vein within her neck pulsed. Her body shook from head to hoof. Her lips pursed back over her teeth. Her words faltered at the tip of her tongue. As I failed to step in, she was the first to break the silence.

“Well then, you’ll keep seeing ponies being hurt, Pinkie. Have you seen the Wall? The one, right here, that’s eating my fence?” She snarled, brushing her mane back. A few leaves fell out of it. “Come back when you have any idea of what to do. Not like anypony knows anything anyway. Even the Canterlot ponies don’t bother coming here anymore. For what they’re worth.”

The cold, black blob that had loomed over us for several months now, like a sword hung on a fraying string. Twilight’s castle had apparently not been enough of a meal. The town was here to satiate it. And because it was hungry, it had grown tremendously, consistently. More houses, more boutiques, more, more, more. Always. A quarter of Ponyville was already gone and we weren’t even that far into the Fall yet.

I hated it. Everypony did, of course, but pride told me I did more than anypony else. The Wall was a personal attack. It had already taken too much away from my town. And I wasn’t talking about the town proper only. No. it’d also taken ponies — even if figuratively. They packed up and left. Day after day.

I swallowed and nodded. There and then, in this garden, where so many flowers had bloomed to decorate my town, I knew very well who would be the next flower to be cut down. Yet another departee. She stood in front of me. With a bright red rage on her face.

Roseluck’s hoof slammed against the tiles again. She pointed past Pinkie at the section of her garden fence that had gone overnight into the darkness. It was already touching the end of a row of roses with its cold embrace.

Everything it touched browned and died, as if the winter had come under the cover of the night, caused its seasonal destruction, and left without a trace.

Well, I would be lying twice with that metaphor. The Wall wasn’t cold metaphorically. It was cold! Its round smoothness gave off a terrible chill, and the unmoving bushes that sadly fell into its radius wore a shroud of frost.

“That…” Roseluck hiccuped, her hoof still pointing, her eyes still boring into mine, “will eat everything. All I’ve worked for.”

Her rump hit the pavement, slamming dust aloft. A muffled, angry sob followed.

“Oh come on, Rosy,” Pinkie comforted as she rushed to her side. “It’s mean and big, and... hungry. But it’s just like a very dark, uh, party balloon, right?”

“A very terrifying one,” Roseluck muttered. Her hoof played with a few dead leaves that lay by her side. “It will leave nothing. Not even a trace of my work will remain. Of this town.”

A long sigh escaped her lips. Her chest fell in resounding defeat. Pain stung like a vice around my heart. Even though it would only be for a few more hours, she was still one of my constituents. I had to do something, but really… I was powerless.

So I imitated her: staring away at the hundreds of petals and buds and burgeons that littered the ground. Each rose she’d tediously grown now lay beheaded, left to rot. Even the smell of mulch and compost was missing. I saw no bags lying about. She had sold everything.

Roseluck hunched forward and held her face in her hoof. “It’s been three months.”

Three months indeed since the Wall had appeared. But it felt like its own little eternity.

“We’ll find a solution,” Pinkie whispered.

“I’ve already found mine.” She coughed, wiped her face in the back of her leg, and rasped. “It’s up to you to decide for yourselves.”

Pinkie hugged the garden mare; Roseluck didn’t balk away this time. Instead, she lay her cheek in the crook Pinkie’s neck. One last headpat from the party pony as tears matted both their coats.

“I pinkie promise,” Pinkie muttered.

“Somepony will help,” I offered after I mustered the courage to swallow down the spiny knot in my throat.

“Twilight’s gone,” Roseluck heaved, her face now buried in Pinkie’s mane. “Everypony’s going away. Even Discord fled to Canterlot. It’s just us… you know.”

I had nothing to counter back. She was right. The Princess was gone, and so was Miss Starlight Glimmer. Everypony guessed they had been inside the castle when the Wall appeared. Forked tongues had spread further rumors. Allegations her friends had worked hard to dispel.

“Any party balloon wants to be big, Rosy,” Pinkie said and she wiped away Roseluck’s tears. “We just need to find a way to pop it. Right…?”

There was no shine in Pinkie’s smile. Gone was her brightest, or sincerest. She only had a smile now.

Most of the town’s denizens were like Ponyville’s accounting books. Yeah, terrible comparison, I know. But still. I could read them, the books and the ponies, and I could point out fake entries. Seeing Pinkie then sent my heart tumbling again. I held a hoof to my chest.

“Come on, Rosy, we’ll find a solution,” Pinkie mumbled, tears carved their way down her cheeks.

“It gets bigger everyday, Pinkie. It’s never going to stop,” Roseluck stuttered, tapping against a few torn flowers lying next to her. “I’m… I’m leaving. There’s nothing left for me in Ponyville. And you can’t do anything about it.”

“It’s like a hungry hippo. It’s gonna be full at some point,” Pinkie said. “The Wall... It sounds really scary, I know. But you know the song, Rosy. Giggle at the ghosties. That’s what we do here in Po–”

“Shut up,” Roseluck breathed. “Please. Let me make my choice.”

I worked through the tension in my legs, swallowed the acrid taste in my mouth, and ignored the apprehension in my chest. I asked, “Is there no way you’ll reconsider?”

Pinkie threw me a pleading glance.

“I wouldn’t have bothered with a lawyer and some boring legalities if I weren’t,” Roseluck said. “They cost money.”

“Come on, Rosy–” Pinkie pleaded again.

“Declared bankruptcy.” Roseluck wrangled herself out of Pinkie’s embrace, her face twisted as she eyed us both. She pinched her lips then sighed. “I made my choice, okay? And Pinkie, please stop calling me that. I’m not a filly you can bribe with a lollipop.”

“But we’re friends, right? I got to try anything for my friends,” Her strained voice died in a whimper, her composure crumbling like a sand castle falling to the wave of sadness that washed over the three of us. “You have to see the bright side of things! Look, you’re cutting all your roses. You must have got a massive order from Canterlot!”

Roseluck studied the mess she’d made of her garden. She chuckled — a dark, rumbling laughter that never got past her teeth.

“I appreciate the attempt, Pinkie.” She hesitated. Long. Drawn-out hesitation. Her chest rose in a slow ascent. She looked at me with discomfort. I knew that sharp words were forming in her head. They quickly made their way down, armed and ready to stumble out of her mouth. They came out in one single take. Unhesitant, decisive… Incisive. “But we’re not friends. Acquaintances, maybe. But friends? I don’t know. I don’t know anymore.”

Pinkie faltered, the words landing with such strength her cheery expression melted away in surprise, shame, and hurt. I too felt that gut punch.

“Ros– Roseluck,” Pinkie bargained. “I don’t want another Quills and Sofas… or like what happened to Timeturner’s shop. You have to stay open, for all of us. We need you as much as you need… us?”

I hadn't heard of Timeturner in a few days. Either every single one of his clocks had broken down or he had broken them himself. They lay in a heap in front of his former shop.

“It’s not your choice to make, Pinkie.” Roseluck stepped back and towered over her. “It’s mine, and I’m leaving. With my business officially bankrupt, I’m hoping to turn a new chapter in my life.” Roseluck bit her lip and, shaking her head, sighed. “Wonderful things end, Pinkie… They always do.”

Roseluck gave me her best close-lipped smile, but it didn’t hide the tiredness and redness in her eyes. She radiated sadness, and a cold resolve. Her chest rose and fell in a staccato, her breath coming out in heaves. There would be no negotiation. I was certain of it. Pinkie would only hurt herself carrying on. Yet another collateral damage.

“You have to recognize it, Pinkie,” Roseluck continued, never looking away from me, “and, sometimes, those beautiful things going away, they happen to be whole towns. A party always ends.” She clicked her tongue and nodded, not to me it seemed, but to herself. “It always does.”

I clenched my jaw, barely nodding, and broke away from her stare to go and hug Pinkie. Her sobs, Ponyville’s saddest sound to my ears, rattled my core, left thorns in my throat, and brought my soul to a silent scream.

This was the terrible result of something Equestria couldn’t fight yet. If at all. And as a mayor, I could only reckon the burning resentment in my chest, the heated hatred for the Wall, and that dread for the future. The future of a place I’d cherished and loved that was slowly withering away to a pestilence I could not impede.

“It is final...” I told Roseluck over Pinkie’s shoulder. More a statement than a question.

Roseluck nodded with confidence and sympathy. “Yes. Thank you for the precious help all these years, Mayor. I am... sorry for Ponyville.”

“Stop her...” Pinkie muttered in my ear between two muffled hiccups. “Please.”

Roseluck and I shared a long, difficult look, both of us immobile until I granted a silent approval I knew she didn’t need.

A personal life-changing choice always impacted everypony around, but I hadn’t come to her garden to hoofcuff her to this place. Those shackles, the ones I loved to wear, were only my own to bear.

Roseluck had already cut her ties, cut everything standing in her garden, and thrown the results of her vendetta in a large wilted and withering pile somewhere, if not directly into the Wall. Scorched earth without a fire. An exit without fanfare.

“You cut everything?” I asked, motioning at her garden, shedding any ounce of accusation from my tone.

“I’ve seen what touches the Wall,” Roseluck whispered, her eyes glassy, her breath short as she glared daggers at the silent and cold culprit. “I don’t think plants feel pain but… I’m not going to risk it. No living thing deserves to be touching...” She glanced up at the summit of the eldritch mountain, “that thing.”

I finally noticed a small satchel behind an empty flower pot, its flap open. I readjusted my glasses to get a glimpse of the many small pouches tucked inside, each marked with sharpie or stamped with a sticker.

Seeds.

“Yeah,” Roseluck mumbled, catching on the object of my curiosity. “Soon, the Wall will have eaten everything. Better harvest the seeds and hope to get a clean start somewhere else.” She wiped some stray tears off her cheeks. “Snip this life in the bud, you know. Hoping to grow some new roots somewhere else, right? I… I just hope you’ll all be okay. It’s not because I leave that I don’t care.”

“I– I– I’m sorry,” Pinkie said, working her jaw against my shoulder. “I just wanted to cheer you up. And a lot of ponies need cheering up these days. With… uhm — ” She motioned at the Wall with her hoof without looking. “ — that. Nothing’s been right since it came here.”

I hugged Pinkie tighter and let her cheek rest in the bend of my neck. As Pinkie’s breathing slowed, Roseluck and I exchanged a quick smile. An earnest one.

At this time, I’d usually clear my throat. I usually did whenever I was about to address my little ponies. A kind of ritual. A way of steadying myself and being ready to face the day’s issues, to clearly enunciate the town’s charted course. But I had no path to offer that day.

I nodded instead.

“Thank you for all the roses.”